From the President: This Time, Our Future Must Be Different
June 2, 2020
From LTCC Superintendent/President Jeff DeFranco: Our position of privilege often masks the experiences of people of color in our community. I hear the call and am thinking about how our institution can make change, and how our systems can be more equitable. I've started to lay out some of my thoughts on this in a statement published at medium.com - the full statement is below as well.
This Time, Our Future Must Be Different
It’s difficult to find the right words. Even now, a week after the on-camera murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police officers, and all of the fallout felt nationwide, I’m still trying to understand the world, how to respond as a community leader, and how to explain it to my kids. All of the frustration, sadness, and outrage — it all seems so familiar since we’ve all been witness to these acts before, all seen and read and heard about cases of unarmed black people and other people of color killed in police custody when it was clearly avoidable.
This time, somehow, it’s even more awful. I think it’s the deepening sense of hopelessness and frustration we’re feeling because incidents like this keep happening, over and over, decade after decade, and nothing changes. I distinctly recall the Rodney King beating, trials, and riots as a teenager. That experience left an indelible mark on me, and I’m saddened that nearly 30 years later, nothing has fundamentally changed in our country. There have been so many countless victims between then and George Floyd now. It keeps happening. I know I am not alone in these feelings, and that is why I feel the need to speak out as a college president and let students, employees, and the community know that I am an ally and that I’m committed to using my position of power and privilege to speak out. Racism has plagued our country for too long. This time, our future must be different.
Deaths like these continue to happen because systematic racism in America is a continuous, corrosive problem. Institutions and systems support inequality in this country, either because they are broken or because they were intentionally set up that way and are succeeding in perpetuating inequality. Either way, we cannot allow systematic racism to remain unchallenged.
Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) is, of course, an institution. We’re not perfect, and we have reflecting to do. However, I can ensure our community and especially community members of color that I, our Board of Trustees members, and the college are all allies in the work that lies ahead, to challenge and fundamentally change and replace systems and institutions that do not serve all people equitably.
Mr. Floyd’s horrific death comes at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic that has made it so painfully clear that black lives are at risk in a way white lives are not. They have been failed to a larger degree than white people by the healthcare system, the justice system, and by the workplace, where black people and other people of color are disproportionately at risk of infection due to socioeconomic inequities.
It can be easy to live in the relative quiet and comfort of Lake Tahoe and think that we are immune or insulated from our nation’s challenges, particularly for white members of our community. Our position of privilege often masks the experiences of people of color in our community. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I hear the call and am thinking about how our institution can make change, how our systems can be more equitable, and how I can do more.
LTCC serves a diverse student community — it’s a key component of our strength. We strive to empathize and feel for our students, and especially our students of color, who now are trying to process yet another reminder of the injustice and hate they face every day. The empathy and understanding that we have worked to ensure at LTCC can and should become a more formalized part of the college experience. We must recognize that our perspectives regarding how we support our students of color don’t always align with their lived experiences. We should speak out against racism and violence, and also address the unchecked microaggressions that occur far too often on our campus and in our community.
More specifically, we should capture and weave anti-racism into curriculum, and especially in our public safety programs. Community colleges like LTCC are the primary education provider for law enforcement and public safety. We can and must do a better job of presenting coursework that informs the next generation of public safety providers, helping them understand historic racism and implicit bias, the benefits of diversity and inclusion, and the power of building close relationships with all members of the communities they will one day swear to serve and protect.
These are some of the thoughts I’ve had as I reflect on the current state of our nation. I hope our community and country can come together, but that can only happen when we honestly and courageously acknowledge where the problems are and systematically address them. Even small institutions in isolated geographies like ours have a role to play. I stand ready to do the work necessary to address systemic racism and violence, and I call on the other leaders in our community and elsewhere to listen, speak up, take that hard look at who we are and who we want to be as a community, and see if there isn’t change to be made right here, right now.