Minding the Obligation Gap in Community Colleges and Beyond

Theory and Practice in Achieving Educational Equity

by Jeremiah J. Sims (Author) Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza (Author) Lasana O. Hotep (Author) Jeramy Wallace (Author) Tabitha Conaway (Author)
©2020 Textbook XXVI, 250 Pages


It is difficult to find justice-centered books geared specifically for community college practitioners interested in achieving campus wide educational equity. It is even more difficult to find a book in this vein written, exclusively, by community college practitioners. Minding the Obligation Gap in Community Colleges and Beyond is just that: a concerted effort by a cross-representational group of community college practitioners working to catalyze conversations and eventually practices that attend to the most pressing equity gaps in and on our campuses. By illuminating the constitutive parts of the ever-increasing obligation gap, this book offers both theory and practice in reforming community colleges so that they function as disruptive technologies. It is our position that equity-centered community colleges hold the potential to call out, impede, and even disrupt institutionalized polices, pedagogies, and practices that negatively impact poor, ethno-racially minoritized students of color. If you and your college is interested in striving for educational equity campus-wide please join us in this ongoing conversation on how to work for equity for all of the students that we serve.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface: The Endless Loop of My Misguided Community College Pathway Jeremiah J. Sims
  • “We’re not the cause, we’re the effect”—Nipsey Hussle
  • “Just cause you live in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.”—Tupac Shakur
  • I Have to Keep It 1000%
  • Enough Is Enough
  • Finding My Footing
  • It Takes a Village: Building a Community
  • Note for the Reader
  • Chapter One Naming the Obligation Gap
  • Flipping the Script: Disruption for Good
  • Who Are We Talking About? Poor Ethno-Racially Minoritized Students of Color
  • Bursting the Myth: There Is No Meritocracy
  • No Money, More Problems: What Is Racialized Capitalism?
  • How Black Can I Be? Focus on the Plight of Black Students
  • Importance of Naming: What It Means to Be Minoritized
  • California Community Colleges as a Microcosm
  • What’s in a Name? European-Americanness
  • Don’t Push Me, Because I’m Close to the Edge: Inequity by Design
  • Wasn’t No Accident: Exploitation, White Supremacy and the Creation of Hyper-ghettoes
  • Shifting the Paradigm: Moving Further Away from the Achievement Gap
  • Overview of the Book
  • Chapter One Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Two Embracing the Obligation: Social Consciousness and Epistemological Disruption
  • A Personal Reflection: Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza
  • Obligation Gap
  • Rooted in Injustice: American Educational Ideology
  • Whitewashing: The So-Called Purification of Education
  • Eugenics and the Advent of the Community College
  • Impact of Eugenics Theory on Educational Institutions
  • Systemic Injustice
  • Organizational Inertia
  • Epistemological Disruption
  • Reconstruction of the Community College
  • Civic Consciousness
  • Hitting Close to Home
  • Brave Leadership
  • Our Noble Purpose
  • Chapter Two Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Three Minding the Programming Gap
  • Racial Literacy in Education
  • The Equity Training Series
  • Equity by Design
  • Ready for Takeoff: Skyline’s Equity Summit
  • Community of Practice
  • Theoretical and Philosophical Foundation
  • Reading Your Campus: The Importance of Cultural Literacy
  • Impact on Campus Climate
  • Dean Level Support for Campus Wide Equity
  • Chapter Three Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Four Minding the Pedagogy Gap
  • What Is Educational Equity?
  • Operationalizing Pedagogy
  • Content Is King … but Should It Be?
  • Change Is Going to Come, Because It Has to: A Word on Curriculum
  • The Historical Function of Knowledge: John Dewey and William Torrey Harris
  • Epistemology and the Political Nature of Knowledge
  • We Have to Do Something: What Is Cultural Competency and Why Is It Important?
  • Are We Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Benefits and Limitations of Culturally Relevant Teaching
  • Words Are Powerful: Discussing Emancipatory Literacy
  • This Is Not Just a Third-World Problem
  • The Need for a Critical, Problem Posing Education
  • Schooling Is a Contested Terrain
  • What’s in a Word? The Dismissal of African American Language and Why This Is Important
  • Stereotype Threat and the Disadvantages of Non-standardness
  • Deconstructing the Privileges Associated with Adherence to the Standard
  • Time to Switch It Up: The Need for Critical-Reality Pedagogy
  • Socio-academic Synergy: Cultivating and Curating an Educationally Nurturing Atmosphere
  • Socio-academic Synergy: Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor
  • STEM Education and Critical-Reality Pedagogy
  • Critical-Reality Pedagogy
  • A Closer Look at Black Men
  • This Is Not the Oppression Sweepstakes
  • Why Critically-Committed?
  • Discussing White Fatigue
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Four Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Five Enacting Educational Equity
  • Enacting Educational Equity Train-the-Trainer Series, a Case Study
  • Site
  • Methods
  • Participants
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Findings
  • Data Analysis
  • Discussion
  • Theory into Practice
  • The Nuts and Bolts of E3T2S
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Five Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Six A Critical Race Critique of Shared Governance
  • Looking Back: A History of Faculty Governance in the Community Colleges
  • A Case Study in Governance: The California Community Colleges
  • Looking at Governance through a Critical Race Lens
  • Deconstructing the Master Script
  • Reimagining Curriculum and Pedagogy: Multiculturalism
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Six Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Chapter Seven Faculty Leadership in Enacting Educational Equity
  • Equity-Minded Faculty Leadership
  • Overcoming Resistance and Creating an Institutional Vision of Equity
  • Creating a Sustainable Culture of Equity and Student Success
  • Educational Equity and Faculty Purview
  • Student Preparation and Assessment
  • Curriculum
  • Faculty Hiring and Evaluation
  • Professional Development
  • The Role of Adjunct Faculty
  • Conclusion: Evaluating the Impact of Equity Leadership
  • Chapter Seven Review: Considerations and Questions
  • References
  • Epilogue: In Closing
  • We Have an Obligation
  • We Are Obligated to Close the Programming Gap
  • Striving for Educational Equity Must Be a Collaborative Effort
  • Time for Some Action
  • Developing and Equity/Justice-Centered Campus: Suggested Characteristic
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index


Jeremiah J. Sims

First and foremost, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The life that I am blessed to live with my amazing wife, Rachel, and our five boys, Judah, 9; Malachi, 7; Zion, 5; Freedom, 2.5; and, baby Jehu (10 days old at the time of this writing) is a living testament to His love, forgiveness, and mercy. Rachel, you are my rock. Words cannot express how grateful I am that our Heavenly Father gifted me with you. Judah, my bff, buddy, you inspire me. Your heart is pure. You are an amazing little guy. Malachi, like Judah, you are guileless. You do a lot of KaiKai stuff, that sometimes gets you in trouble; but you, little buddy, spice up our lives. Zion, your humor is a breath of fresh air. You are such a sweet boy. Freedom, daddy’s baby—well prior to 10 days ago—you are the sweetest of the sweet. You are a joy and peace-bringer. Like all of your brothers, you are clearly a gift from God. And, last, but certainly not least—baby Jehu; I thank God for you. You are an amazing little 8-pound human being. Your smile is heaven-sent. I love you, little guy. I also have to shout out my mom, Denise—I wouldn’t be here without you, and my cousin Big Body Blu as well as my brother, Joseph, and my nephews, JoJo and Elijah.

I also want to acknowledge my extended family starting with my former graduate advisor and current mentor, Professor Jabari Mahiri. Thank you for your ←xiii | xiv→continued mentorship, tutelage, and friendship. I also want to thank my brother, Professor Sepehr Vakil. Bro, you continue to inspire me. That won’t change.

I also want to thank my amazing co-authors. Dr. Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza, I cannot thank you enough for your sincerity and your realness. You have been an amazing mentor and even better friend. My brother, Lasana O. Hotep, thank you for putting me on, bro. I appreciate our relationship. Anytime I have questions about work stuff, you help me understand what to do by talking about life. Not sure how you do it, but it always seems to work.

Jeramy, my other brother. Bro, your zeal for learning and scholarship enlivened me. Seriously. I was deeply entrenched in a kind of intellectual ennui, and, frankly, I was fine with that. Then you came along pushing my thinking on stuff that I thought I already had a handle on. I can’t thank you enough. Dr. Tabitha Conaway, you are the younger sister-scholar that I didn’t know I needed. You have been a consistent source of intellectual rigor, and, a ready thought partner. Thank you for all that you do.

I also want to acknowledge the president of my college, President Mike Claire, as well as the members of CSM’s executive cabinet, Kim Lopez, Jan Roecks, Sandra Comerford, and Mike Holtzclaw as well as our district’s chancellor, Ron Galatolo. We have work to do; nevertheless, I am confident that we are well on our way to making real, substantive change for our most marginalized students under your individual and collective leadership. I want to recognize the board of trustees for SMCCD as well. Our board’s commitment to social justice is real.

Finally, I want to acknowledge a bunch of other amazing people that positively impacted me in way that are, perhaps, unbeknownst to them: Dr. Solomon Hughes, Adeola Morren, Dr. Hilary Goodkind, Dr. Angelica Garcia, Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud, Prof. Zeus Leonardo, Prof. Glynda Hull, Dr. Fredrick Gaines, Kenyatta Weathersby, E3T2S Cohorts, NFI, Annie Theodos, Tarana Chapple. I know that I am missing so folks, but this list could go on forever. I have been helped so much by my community. I hope that I am able to provide the same level of support as well!

Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza

My work is continuously inspired by those who struggle and the courageous familia, communities and villages who nurture children whose dreams have been deferred.

To Aramis and Kendall, my two heartbeats, you’re thriving is my everything.

I thank my spiritual brother, Jeremiah, whose encouragement made this book possible and my colleagues, Lasana, Jeramy and Tabitha for creating the safe space in which to share ideas.

←xiv |

And to my husband James, your love, constant support, and thought partnering are a blessing.

Lasana O. Hotep

To those, past and present, who commit themselves to the transformative work of liberatory education.

The work of the division of Student Equity and Support Programs (SESP) and the Equity Institute (EI) at Skyline College would not be possible without the support from the San Mateo Community College District Board of Trustees and Chancellor Ron Galatolo. Special recognition is due to the Skyline College leadership team of President Regina Stanback Stroud, Vice President of Student Services Angelica Garcia, Vice President of Instruction Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza and Vice President of Administrative Services Eloisa Briones for supporting the vision of SESP and EI. The students, faculty and staff of Skyline College are integral to the sustainability and success of our equity efforts.

Most importantly, this work would not be possible without the passion, investment and commitment of Katrina Pantig, Program Services Coordinator, and Monique Hernandez, Division Assistant of SESP. They are responsible for bringing the Equity Summit, Equity Training Series (ETS) and all of the other equity experiences to life with professionalism, excellence and a sincere focus on student success. I express my sincere gratitude to you two for your immeasurable contributions to our work.

Jeramy Wallace

I would like to dedicate this work to my family—Sara, Anabella, Avery, and Charlie—for their support during this book’s creation and for being the most amazing family a man can ask for; to my parents and siblings for providing the childhood that shaped me into the educator I am today; to my co-authors Jeremiah, Jennifer, Lasana, and Tabitha for providing the intellectual foundation that made this book possible; to my mentor James and my friends/colleagues Fred, Jon, Mick, Robbie, Katie, Fi, Teresa, and Stephanie for always expanding my view of social justice; and to all the students who taught me how to be a critical educator, but especially Walter, Dontario, Brandi, Jazzmin, Devante, Taylor, and Briana.

Tabitha Conaway

To my family and students.

With special gratitude to my Princess P, the sassiest toddler I know.

And, to Virgil, for encouraging me to write.

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 xvi→←xvi | xvii→

Preface: The Endless Loop of My Misguided Community College Pathway


As California Community Colleges work to develop, create, and ultimately implement Guided Pathways for students, working on this book caused me to reflect on my own misguided pathway through community college. I did not start my post-secondary career in a four-year institution. I started at a California Community College. My story, though uniquely my own, is not at all aberrational where first-in-family community college students are concerned. I grew up in an urban enclave in the East (San Francisco) Bay Area of California. I grew up in a geographic area that boasts a surfeit of community colleges. Within 20 miles of my front door, there were no less than eight community colleges; and, I took classes at all of them. Additionally, I graduated from a high school that was both housed on a community college campus and in partnership with said college to create what was referred to as a middle college experience. Briefly, the goal of middle college programs is to provide opportunities for interested high school students to take community college courses while completing their high school graduation requirements. If done correctly, a high school student can graduate high school with a diploma while having completed their undergraduate general education requirements and/or earning an associate degree. This, of course, requires committed, intentional work by students and their families. And, together students and their guardians must work in concert with school staff to achieve this lofty goal. It should take all four years of high school. I transferred to this school during my ←xvii | xviii→junior year; so, this option was not available to me. And, even if it were, at that time, I would not have completed the required course because, admittedly, I was not that all that interested in school or any future beyond the exigencies of my immediate socio-economic and socio-political existence.

Nevertheless, my apathy regarding school, and if I am honest, life, did not preclude me from signing up for classes semester after semester. I am not a glutton for punishment, I assure you. My motivation for signing up for classes, continually, even though I knew that I had no designs on ever completing college was much more pragmatic. I was compelled to go to school by my circumstances. To fulfill the requirements of the Section 8 (low-income housing) voucher that enabled my (single) mother to afford her monthly rent, I was required to be enrolled in at least 12 units of college coursework following my high school graduation. So, semester after semester, I signed up for a full load of courses; and, semester after semester, life would take over and I would stop going to school. However, my inability to complete my college coursework had no bearing on our Section 8 status. There was a caveat to the Section 8 requirement: I only had to sign up for a full load—I did not have to complete any coursework. I was not engaged. So, I struggled in community college. It certainly did not help that I was attending the same community college that I had only months earlier earned my high school diploma from.

Much of my academic failure can be attributed to the exigency of my circumstances (Woods &Harris III, 2016). Like many low-income community college students, I had familial and personal concerns that demanded my full attention. The reality of living check to check for college students is this: any unexpected expense, seemingly no matter how small, holds the potential throw even the most promising semester into chaos. It always seemed that I was beginning to hit my academic stride, then, like clockwork, something would come up. After nearly eight years of off and on full-time community college enrollment, I was able to complete only one semester. Unsurprisingly, I was eventually dismissed from my first community college (because of my abysmal 1.1 grade point average).

Community college had become my personal purgatory (Woods & Harris III, 2016). My vicissitudinous community college journey lasted nearly a decade. The starts and stops are innumerable. I would enroll, long after the Section 8 voucher was no longer a consideration, with renewed vigor only to have a semester changing issue arise. I needed to work. However, it was incredibly difficult to work full-time and go to school full-time. I attempted this feat several times, only to withdraw well before my courses were completed. It became a running joke in my family. Nevertheless, once again, I returned to community college—determined ←xviii | xix→to finish and move on. However, after a near decade in community college, I had amassed a paltry 12 units. I thought that I was much farther along in the transfer process. I wanted to be out desperately—not because I hated school anymore, but because I had purpose for the first time.

“We’re not the cause, we’re the effect”—Nipsey Hussle

I am part and parcel of the amalgamation that is marginalized urban youth. As a young African American male growing up in the ghetto, I was forced to confront and ultimately overcome many of the same issues that young people of today are relentlessly inundated by, for example, poverty, violence, low expectations, every day of their lives. I grew up in Richmond, California, a town that in 1994—the year I graduated from high school—had the highest murder rate per capita in the entire United States. The ever-present, and seemingly omnipresent threat of violence affected everyone within its range, especially those of us who grew up in single parent homes in low-income subsidized housing. Poverty was all encompassing and ubiquitous; however, it was still embarrassing—even though we were all poor. I remember the utter dread at the idea of being caught using food stamps, and my dismay upon realizing that the last of the real milk was used up, which meant that I would have to turn to the welfare-provided concoction ambitiously referred to as “powdered milk”.

My background is full of the distractions that accompany poverty and hopelessness: a bank-robbing, drug-dealing father (who was later incarcerated and died of AIDS), widespread alcoholism, domestic violence, homelessness, unjust police harassment, drive-by shootings, and robbery at gunpoint. My circumstances strengthened my resolve to assist others who are now treading the path that I once walked. I do not have to manufacture empathy because I see them. I see poor ethno-racially minoritized students of color in me; we are formed out of the same clay, molded by the same circumstances. As an African American male growing up in the ‘hood, I had no choice but to internalize the horror at what lay before me. In fact, this internalization—being apprised of my environment at all times—is what kept me alive. And yet I knew that I had another purpose for living.

Like I mentioned above, one of the conditions of renting the Section 8 apartment that I grew up in was that there could not be a father present in the household, so the apartment complex was filled with single mothers, most very young, and their children. I lived in these apartments for more than 15 years and eventually became the elder statesman of the complex, as well as the resident mechanic, ←xix | xx→babysitter, and barber. Whenever I took the time to interact with these fatherless young men, whether it was offering a free a haircut, or participating in hastily organized game of parking-lot football, their countenance was immediately lifted. I realize that their joy was not so much a result of me the person, rather, it was attached to what I represented, what they were severely lacking—a positive male role model.

“Just cause you live in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.”—Tupac Shakur

This care and concern stayed with me; however, I was not able to see all that we faced on an institutionalized level yet. I was only a teenager myself, so my view was necessarily more local. As I matured, I became more aware of the effects of institutionalized inequality. I could not turn my back on these black boys on the margins. These young men with untapped potential needed an opportunity. I am one of them; moreover, I am one with them. People often ask me what changed—what helped transform me from a failing community college student to Dr. Jeremiah J. Sims. The truth is that my Heavenly Father had and still has favor on me. The truth is that I trusted in the support system that He placed around me. My faith grew. I grew. The truth is: my desire to go further in my education is was no longer exclusively for me; it is for the students like me. If I can grow, anyone can grow. I was hopeless and angry, bitter and somehow, simultaneously, apathetic. But, here I am.

My first stint in my junior college career was desultory at best. I had to support myself financially, so I was not able to be a full-time student. I was perpetually housed in the purgatory known as academic probation and was not able to catch up. Since my grades were bad, really bad, I quit school and joined the work force full-time. I became a used car salesman, which turned out to be a lucrative profession. I enjoyed a level of legal monetary success that was rare in my social circle. Still, I was very empty. I knew that this was not my calling. I could not ignore or turn a deaf ear on the stories I heard of young men that I knew who were no longer with us, young men that were murdered or incarcerated before they’d had a chance to explore their potential.


XXVI, 250
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XXVI, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Jeremiah J. Sims (Author) Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza (Author) Lasana O. Hotep (Author) Jeramy Wallace (Author) Tabitha Conaway (Author)

Jeremiah J. Sims, inaugural Director of Equity for the College of San Mateo (California), is an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley where he earned a B.A. in rhetoric, with honors, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in education. Jeremiah’s work, chronicled in his first book, Revolutionary STEM Education: Critical-Reality Pedagogy and Social Justice in STEM for Black Males (Lang, 2018), details his experiences as an educator working toward a revolutionary, paradigm shift in the STEM education of and for Black boys. Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza is Vice President of Instruction at Skyline College (California), with over twenty years of higher education experience. Dr. Taylor-Mendoza is continually inspired by the brilliance, power, and endless potential of community college students. Her research focuses on the intrinsic resiliency of students of color and institutional approaches to addressing systemic, structural inequities. She holds a B.A. in psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, an M.S. in counseling from California State University, Northridge, and a Ph.D. in education from Claremont Graduate University.  Lasana O. Hotep, inaugural Dean of Student Equity and Support Programs and founding Executive Director of the Equity Institute at Skyline College (California), earned his B.A. in speech communications and history at Texas State University, San Marcos and his M.A. in history from Arizona State University. For over 15 years, he has worked at large research universities, two-year colleges, and as a consultant to educational and corporate entities in addressing issues of race, gender, and social justice and their impact on organizational success. Jeramy Wallace, Associate Professor of English at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California, received his M.A. in English from Notre Dame de Namur University and his postsecondary teaching credentials from San Francisco State University. He has written and presented widely on race, educational equity, and social justice in community colleges. Tabitha Conaway, Basic Skills Coordinator at the College of San Mateo, holds a B.A. in African American studies from University of California, Los Angeles, an M.A. in education from National University, an M.A. in history from California State University, Sacramento, and a doctorate in education from San Francisco State University. Her research interests include juvenile hall-to-college pipelines for previously incarcerated youth, counter-narratives, and creating educational equity concerns for historically underserved and underrepresented students in higher education.


Title: Minding the Obligation Gap in Community Colleges and Beyond
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