Southwest student success efforts featured in Education Trust report on segregation

The Education Trust

The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families, recently published “Segregation Forever?”, where it examined Black and Latino undergraduate populations at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities.  Southwest Tennessee Community College’s student success efforts were featured as one of four “bright spots” in the state.  

“The bright spots offer insight into only a fraction of the much larger effort. Of course, each of these institutions shared unique, specific approaches, but there were threads throughout each conversation: institutional buy-in, coordinated efforts between academic and student affairs, and explicit supports for Black and Latino students, all of which led to their success in enrolling Black and Latino students,” the report stated of Southwest, Austin Peay State University, University of Memphis and Nashville State Community College.

The report highlighted the efforts of Dr. Jacqueline Taylor, associate vice president for Retention and Student Success and Dr. LaDonna Young, dean of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Mathematics. It detailed the launch of IDEAS or Inclusive Design for Equity in Academic Success last year under Taylor’s leadership. Funded by a $2.1 million Department of Education grant, IDEAS has partnered across the college to increase professional development for faculty and staff in equity and inclusion in teaching and learning. In addition, IDEAS has added more than 25 equity and inclusion practitioners that have enhanced advising support and decreased academic adviser caseloads. Southwest’s Academic Advising, SMARTS and peer mentoring programs also have been expanded with the onboarding of additional supplemental instruction leaders who serve Southwest’s top “gatekeeper courses”. 

“It is such a blessing to see Southwest considered a “Bright Spot” within our state,” Taylor said of the report. “Our equity work is making a difference in the lives of our students and community. To be able to proactively fulfill the social and economic justice mission of the community college through the innovation of IDEAS as well as our retention and student success efforts for promising student populations we serve is truly a wonderful opportunity to impact campus and community in transformational ways.”

Southwest President, Dr. Tracy D. Hall, says this spotlight is yet another affirmation of the transformational work that is taking place at Southwest.  “Our commitment to increasing the upward social and economic mobility of all Southwest students, but, especially for those who historically have been disenfranchised, fuels our work at Southwest,” Dr. Hall said. “This is our why and to be recognized as a bright spot in this critical work by such an esteemed think tank, affirms not only the importance of this commitment, but also our strategies and efforts to address this long-standing challenge in our community.”

Dr. Young’s work to hone in on student performance in remedial courses, of which 70 percent of Southwest students take, and the launch of the Gatekeeper Faculty Fellowship, were singled out as outstanding tactics in tackling the achievement disparities between students of color and white students.  The Fellowship was an immersive experience that enabled Southwest to examine Memphis’ history and culture through readings and site visits to Black and Latino neighborhoods, leading to the development of more culturally responsive, equity-minded teaching.  “This work has been particularly revealing and rewarding,” Dr. Young said. “We can drive student success through more culturally responsive teaching and curriculum and to have the work of the 19 Gatekeeper Faculty Fellows as a part of a statewide conversation is a fantastic development that I hope will only enhance and inform our work and the work of other institutions across the state.”

Kudos to Dr. Taylor and Dr. Young on their leadership and this spotlight on their work in Southwest’s journey of transformation.