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Viewpoint: Prioritizing equity and inclusion at DCTC and Inver Hills

Michael Berndt

By Michael Berndt, Interim President of Dakota County Technical College & Inver Hills Community College

I participate in many community conversations, and increasingly I hear leaders express the need to create more equitable and inclusive organizations and communities. We will never be less diverse than we are today, and that is why these conversations, and this work, are so important. At Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College, we have been working on equity and inclusion for several years, but we too recognize the need to intensify our efforts.

DCTC and Inver Hills will celebrate 50-year anniversaries in 2020. In those 50 years, our students and communities have grown increasingly diverse. This fall, Inver Hills served a population that was 33% students of color, 33% 25 years old or older, 17% the first in their family to pursue higher education, and 29% Pell-eligible — one measure of lower household income. At DCTC this fall, 29% were students of color, 18% the first in their family to pursue higher education, and 35% Pell-eligible. We work to adjust our practices and programs to better serve our changing population, but we know that engaging the broader community expands our capacity and our expertise in creating access and success for our students.

I recently attended the first-ever Powering Inclusion Summit by the Center for Economic Inclusion. This summit reaffirmed for me the potential of bringing employers, nonprofits, and community organizations, educators and philanthropic organizations together in order to secure the full participation of all our diverse members, so each can create more social mobility for themselves and their families, and so we can meet our critical workforce needs.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and this is why I am excited to introduce Michael Birchard as our new associate vice president of equity and inclusion at Inver Hills and DCTC. Mr. Birchard serves on the Minnesota Department of Human Services Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council and was previously the diversity and affirmative action officer at North Hennepin Community College. Mr. Birchard has extensive experience as a community organizer and has demonstrated the capacity to create meaningful results. His role at our colleges will be to develop and implement college-wide goals for equity and inclusion to ensure access and opportunity, eliminate barriers, and develop strategies for the academic success and advancement of people from many diverse backgrounds. This position is an important opportunity to elevate the college's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Real progress requires commitment across campus and the creation of this position provides more intentional leadership and coordination. It will also help our colleges deliver on the vision of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees and Chancellor Devinder Malhotra.

Equity and inclusion impacts many aspects of our college communities. We want an environment that values the cultural backgrounds and identities of our students and communities. We want an environment where all students can succeed and have opportunities to give back to their communities. We want environments where students feel embraced and graduate ready to lead change in their communities. As we move forward with our commitment to equity and inclusion, we invite the community to engage with us on this journey.