Austin Walsh/ Daily Journal
Jason Martin, left, Arin Lopez, middle and Ben Nash hold a panel discussion Friday, Sept. 30, during The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans summit on the Skyline College campus in San Bruno.
A series of open and honest talks at Skyline College served as a sounding board for local black students to address the opportunities and challenges they face while pursuing a college degree.
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans held a summit Friday, Sept. 30, on the community college campus in San Bruno featuring discussions by school officials and students addressing the current educational and social environment for communities of color.
Students acknowledged the pressures they have come to know while seeking a degree, as part of the seminar designed to plumb the depths of the experience of black people on college campuses.
“The toll it takes to exceed expectations can be heavy because you are expected to represent your entire culture,” said Ben Nash, a student at Chabot College in Hayward.
Nash spoke alongside fellow students Jason Martin of Skyline College; Arin Lopez, who attends a local middle college program; Robert Pinkney of San Jose State University and Millicent Hunter of San Francisco State University in a discussion coordinated by director of the federal initiative David Johns.
Nash advocated for the services available on community college campuses to help students cope with the internal struggles they may face, but said greater assistance along the way would also be a tremendous asset.
“We need high school counselors to show students that community colleges are good opportunities,” he said. “You become the person you are going to be for the rest of your life in community college.”
He noted the California community college system is especially attractive because it is often cheap, welcoming to communities of color, relatively easy to gain admission to and simple to transition from to other university systems.
Martin said his experience in community college was also helpful in rebuilding the confidence he lost as a student who may have fallen off track in high school.
“I’m glad I did it because I have the support I need,” Martin said of his decision to enroll in community college, rather than simply pursue a job after high school.
Johns said Martin’s experience can be useful in better understanding how to help students who may feel disenfranchised by the traditional educational path.
“Too often we ask what is wrong with you, rather than ask what is wrong,” said Johns.
The seminar at Skyline College was part of nearly a dozen other similar events held across the nation featuring discussions regarding support and resources available to students as well as recommendations for opportunities to improve education.
Regina Stanback Stroud, president of Skyline College, said in an email talks featured during the local event align with a federal effort to address the value of making a college education more attractive and attainable.
“Skyline College is committed to student success and particularly focused on decreasing the educational opportunity gap that exists, so it is fitting that the White House Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans be held here,” she said.
Though much of the conversation focused on education, ongoing conflicts between black communities and law enforcement were also addressed during the talks.
“I’m concerned what I see on social medial might happen to me or someone I know,” said Lopez, in reference to the protests occurring both online and in communities across the country following law enforcement using lethal force often in conflicts with black men.
Pinkney too acknowledged prevailing the social unrest frequently influences his perspective.
“I pray often for the safety of my brothers,” he said.
Martin said resented the lingering feelings of distrust between his community and police.
“It’s unfair that I have to be aware of those around me as well as those who are supposed to be watching over me,” he said.
But he expressed a reluctance to allow the hurdles to stop him from achieving his goals of attaining a college degree.
“We should always be mindful of our surroundings, but it shouldn’t hinder us from doing what we need to do,” he said.
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