Teaching at a community college shows how underserved many low-income students are, but it also reveals what is possible and the extraordinary, yet unfulfilled gifts of our people.
Many years ago, I took a tenure-track job at a community college in the Chicago area, not because that was my dream job, but because it was a convenient job.
I had internalized an elitist vision for my career pathway and figured a Ph.D. would be the ticket to the 4-year college professor life. Teaching at a community college was going to be the job I’d have until I got the “real job” at a “real university.”
But something happened in my first year of teaching. A Latina student happened. At the end of an Introduction to Psychology class, this student came up to me and after waiting for the rest of the class to clear out said, “How did you get a doctoral degree? I have never met a Puerto Rican with a Ph.D.”
That question, those few words, would end up changing the course of my career and purpose. It both stuck and stung me. It made me realize that my very presence as a Latina with these credentials in that space could serve a purpose beyond the instruction. It revealed for me that it was precisely at a community college where I could have the most access to Latino students, and them to me, and where who I was as woman and Latina mattered.
I never looked back, and what I learned in my years as a faculty and administrator at a community college shaped my understanding and beliefs about education equity and why I believe it to be the cornerstone of any future worth fighting for.
What I first thought was a professional detour ended up redefining my purpose. I am certain that during her many years of teaching at a community college, Dr. Jill Biden has also experienced the inevitable life-altering lessons of seeing the injustice of education inequity firsthand. Year after year, she has surely seen how unfairly unprepared her students are for the rigor of a college education, and every year I’m certain that she rallies to meet her students where they are and bring them along. She knows how hard that is.
Dr. Biden knows that community colleges serve as a critical bridge to opportunity for mostly low-income and students of color that are systematically underserved and underprepared by their K-12 school systems. About half of Latinos that go to college attend a community college. It is where we go for the promise of the American Dream. She knows that the future of America rides on regarding the full humanity and potential of everyone in our society, especially the increasing number of students of color in the pipeline for higher education.
Dr. Jill Biden is precisely the doctor we need in the White House. President-elect Joe Biden’s plan for higher education already includes increasing investments in community colleges and making higher education more affordable, a welcomed relief for Latino families. When it comes to education, we are not problems to be solved, we’re not a disease that needs healing. We need leadership that believes in our humanity and our potential, because they have no doubt in their minds and hearts of this. We need leadership that has seen what is possible and are humbled by the extraordinary and yet unfulfilled gifts of our people.
I am confident Dr. Jill Biden knows that when it comes to education there are no silver bullets. There is not a single magical solution for the complex and entrenched challenge of educational inequity. Yet, I have to believe her experience allows her to see there is a path and that education must be a priority. We need her conviction and expertise in the White House. For one, this Latina doctor is hopeful and grateful that doctor Jill Biden will be in the house!