Building a safe learning environment
August 29, 2017 |
Born and raised in a Tanzanian refugee camp after his family fled a war-torn Congo, Mkongwa Cosma Ekyoci has found a home at San Diego Mesa College.
“I feel like I belong here,” said Ekyoci, who resettled in City Heights with his family nearly five years ago and enrolled at Mesa this fall through the San Diego Promise program. “I feel comfortable here. I’m having fun.”
Ekyoci is not alone. City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges and San Diego Continuing Education have instituted a number of policies and practices aimed at ensuring that all students – from refugees and undocumented immigrants to those who come from families with deep roots in the community – feel welcome.
“The San Diego Community College District is an inclusive organization, governed by a supportive Board of Trustees,” states an email sent to students, faculty, and staff in advance of the fall semester that began Aug. 21 at City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges and Sept. 5 at Continuing Education. “The District is committed to providing high-quality educational opportunities for all students without regard to race, ethnicity, cultural heritage, national origin, religion, immigration status, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, medical condition, or disability.”
Campuses do so in a variety of ways, including the Umoja program, which is designed to assist African American and other historically underrepresented students who want to transfer to a university. Ekyoci says Umoja, which borrows its name from the Swahili word for “unity,” is among the reasons why he feels so at home at Mesa. Other clubs and chapters supporting a diverse range of students include the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Urban Scholars Union at City College, the Black Student Union and the Baha’i Club at Mesa College, and the Filipino American Student Association and the Student Veterans Association at Miramar College, to name a few.
San Diego Continuing Education, meanwhile, is among the leaders in providing citizenship classes for immigrants and refugees, enabling students to focus on their English language skills and knowledge of American history and government in preparation for the citizenship test and immigration services interview.
The District also is committed to safeguarding students who are undocumented immigrants. The District has long had a policy against assisting federal immigration officials with immigration enforcement on campus, unless legally required, and college police are directed to request federal immigration officials to cease any activity on campus that has or appears likely to cause a disturbance, interferes with regular campus activities, or has or appears likely to result in harm to persons or property otherwise lawfully present on campus.
In addition, the SDCCD Board of Trustees on Jan. 26 unanimously passed a resolution urging President Trump to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to work and study in the country without fear of being deported. That was followed by hosting immigration information sessions on campus and working with the San Diego Unified School District in organizing community forums, resource fairs and other outreach activities supporting students lacking the proper documentation to be in the United States.
The District is taking such actions during a rise in overt racism. According to a recent report from the California Attorney General’s Office, reported hate crimes increased by more than 11 percent last year, the second consecutive double-digit increase, with violent crime accounting for nearly two-thirds of reported events.
Ekyoci said such efforts have helped him feel good about his future at Mesa, which he hopes will lead to a future in law enforcement. “We have different backgrounds here,” he said. “We’re all from different places.”