Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) is leveraging its community connections to foster meaningful discussion on matters related to social justice and racial equity.
The area institution recently organized a virtual summit titled, “Equity and Advancement of Minority Women in America.”
The Zoom event on May 10 included breakout sessions on topics such as leadership and mentoring; politics, policing and civic responsibility; life skills; and, mental health and spirituality.
The event’s keynote speaker was Orange County Sheriff’s Office Master Deputy Ingrid Tejada-Monforte.
The daylong summit kicked off with a 45-minute discussion by a panel including college students, educators and professionals.
Boosting retention, graduation success rates
The issues of college graduation success rates and retention among minorities were among the primary topics during the forum.
Figures presented from Center for American Progress show spring semester undergraduate college enrollment nationwide decreased 4.5%, with larger declines among Black, Latino and Native American populations.
Ways to minimize the disproportion was a point of discussion.
Dernika David is president of the Florida African American Student Association, which represents over 200,000 students in colleges and universities throughout the state of Florida.
She underscored the struggles of a person of color navigating the college experience.
David explained many minorities — who may be first-generation college students — don’t have the financial backing or support from parents, grandparents and other family members.
She emphasized the importance of colleges and universities having Black student unions or related multicultural organizations. They provide an opportunity to connect with “a leader or someone that’s going to guide you and support you.”
Put another way, she said: “A lot of students need coaches and people to keep them on track, so I think that is an important thing we need on campuses.”
Higher education systems and other organizations must do better in promoting information and accessibility about scholarships and financial aid, added David.
“College is expensive,” she said. “I have a lot of students ask me like, ‘How did you get this scholarship?’ because they don’t know the resources or they want to be networked with someone that can go ahead and get them into a scholarship or be financed throughout college, so we need to have the resources ready for these students.”
Dorian Howell is student government president of PHSC’s Porter Campus in Wesley Chapel.
He feels there’s plenty of scholarships and grants available — at least through the PHSC Foundation. But, he said: “It’s also about getting the word out to the communities that really need it.”
Marsha Kiner serves as interim executive director and CEO of the Association of Florida Colleges, which represents Florida’s 28 public community and state colleges, their boards, employees, retirees and associates.
She explained women of color frequently have the added plight of attending college at an older age — while trying to raise a family and, at the same time, making other financial and personal sacrifices.
Mentors who have navigated such experiences are critical to the success of future generations, said Kiner, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in educational leadership.
“Those of us who’ve already kind of been on the journey need to ensure that we are stepping up and reaching back and providing support,” she said.
Kiner otherwise provided positive words of encouragement to young females of color striving to earn an education and achieve success: “Understand your journey, and never, ever be afraid to use your voice.”
PHSC student Paloma Alejandro agreed with the idea of colleges offering mentorship and support groups to women of color.
She is seeking an associate’s degree, while raising a child and managing a full-time job.
“I think it’s important to meet to discuss our successes and opportunities,” Alejandro said. “I think it’s important for us to realize that others around us are struggling in the same areas, or others around us are successful in the same areas.”
Narrowing the gender wage gap
Finding ways to close the gender wage gap and economic inequity for females of color — was another talking point.
Various studies were cited from Lean In, a nonprofit organization founded by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. The organization aims to help women around the world to achieve their ambitions.
In comparison to white men, Lean In reports:
- Asian women on average make 13% less
- White women 21% less
- Black women 37% less
- Native American women 45% less
- Hispanic women 45% less
Student government president Howell suggested that others follow the footsteps of his mother and start a small business where you can be your own boss.
Howell’s mom, who is Asian, ran a profitable nail tech/beauty salon in Pinellas County, earning wages that he said mirrored some medical doctors and surgeons in the area.
Howell also observed: “You can increase your income just by learning some new skills, going to college, or even getting a trade, but it takes a community of encouragement for females to grow from here.”
David, meanwhile, challenged fellow younger generation of minority females to “know your worth,” particularly when it comes to working for a large company or corporation.
“These capitalistic companies at the end of the day can replace you, and just know exactly what you’re going into, the pay that you want, because sometimes that can be negotiable in some companies,” she said.
David also advised women to take initiative, and learn about stock market and cryptocurrency investments to increase wealth.
Those arenas can be intimidating for some, she said, given “that it’s almost like a men’s club, but just for white men.”
However, the panelist detailed learning about such financial resources and tools of the trade from a white male co-worker.
“What I would say is just shadow and learn from others that may not even be in your same community,” David said.
“Because of him, I was able to invest in stocks and cryptocurrency, which is something that I never thought I would be able to do and understand, but I took that understanding and taught my siblings and taught my friends, so it’s using your resources and helping others with what you’ve learned, and not gatekeeping.”
Other panelists suggested researching various industry pay and then having the courage to step up and not accept anything less.
PHSC student Hope Henry stated: “We need to be comfortable with uncomfortable, and doing things you’d never thought you’d so, so in order to instill change, you must challenge yourself and the system in front of you.”
Uplifting women of color
Kevin O’ Farrell, provost at the PHSC Porter Campus, called the educational seminar “a very timely topic” in the midst of ongoing conversations regarding social justice and racial equity.
He then quoted Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American to serve as the nation’s vice president.
O’ Farrell said: “I’m often reminded of what now vice president Harris said when she was accepting the vote this last November when she made the comments, ‘I may be the first, but I will not be the last.’”
Published June 02, 2021