Welcoming Faces and Places for Conversation: AACC’s New Programs Highlight Inclusion

Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Arnold, Md., appointed its first chief diversity officer last year, and since he began, James Felton has been busy implementing new diversity and inclusion initiatives.

He credits AACC President Dawn Lindsay for identifying the need for his position and for her steadfast dedication to diversity and inclusion efforts at the college.

“She saw the changing demographics of our students and realized that we needed to have a faculty that reflects that,” Felton says. “We had the strategic diversity plan, but we know that if there isn’t someone to put that plan into action, it just kind of sits on the shelf collecting dust.”

Lindsay serves on the American Association of Community College’s (“the other AACC,” as Felton calls it) Commission on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity and is a member of the Anne Arundel County Public School’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Equity and Achievement.

It was with her support that the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Leadership (IDEAL) was created at AACC, in collaboration with the diversity committee. Felton says the office’s name was chosen to reflect its diversity efforts and the college’s core values of access and inclusion.

Through IDEAL, AACC is launching several initiatives this fall that exemplify that dedication to inclusivity.

One of these is the Diversity Welcoming Committee, which assists during on-campus faculty interviews. Committee members are on hand to answer any questions job candidates of all backgrounds may have about the college and the Anne Arundel County area.

“We do this to show our dedication to having an inclusive campus and to provide a welcoming face,” Felton says, “but also to provide information on resources and programs at the school and answer cultural questions, like where to find certain cuisines or health stores, or where the diverse neighborhoods are — things you can’t always learn from reading the welcome magazines.”

Felton is also working to bring transformational intergroup dialogues to campus. Twenty-two people from the college and surrounding community — from sociology faculty to members of the American Red Cross — will be trained as dialogue facilitators this fall. The purpose of these dialogues is to create a space to talk about difficult topics, such as race and class, to facilitate understanding. Felton is planning a Day of Dialogue event in the spring, with sessions for both the community and campus to attend.

In a similar vein, this year AACC is considering reprising its “Year of Social Justice” theme from the last academic year. Throughout the last term, the school held a variety of events and discussions on topics ranging from Islamophobia to the history of medical experimentations on communities of color. Felton says AACC is very proud of the success of this initiative and the buzz it created on campus.

Next on Felton’s agenda is updating AACC’s diversity plan to be more equity-minded in serving the needs of a diverse student population.

“What I want to do now is figure out what resources and support the college needs to implement that speak to the social and lived experiences of students and faculty,” Felton says. “The [2009-2014] plan involved creating my position and bringing diversity to education and programming. Now we’ve moved past that to … thinking about how we can be fair and equitable and figuring out what that looks like”●

Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.