Laney College student with Tower Administration Building in the background. Laney serves an estimated 11,000 students annually. Photo courtesy of Laney College
By Laney College President Tammeil Y. Gilkerson
Laney College has long prided itself on being Oakland’s City College, right in the heart of downtown, serving as a gateway to a college education for many in our community. One of 114 community colleges in California, Laney serves over 11 thousand students per year – students that represent the rich diversity that reflects the greater Bay Area.
More significantly, for decades Laney has been disrupting the negative narrative about the City and the community we serve by celebrating the rich cultural backgrounds, resiliency and intelligence that our students embody. Our students are warriors who despite centuries of racial, social and economic oppression, continue to rise and seek out opportunities to better their lives and their communities.
Our alumni represent elected officials, community and business leaders; individuals who are actively contributing to making our communities and nation stronger.
In the last week, there has been renewed attention on affirmative action policies and the Justice Department’s investigation of possible discrimination against Asian-Americans. While focus is on entrance to Ivy League schools, community colleges like Laney have historically served as an open door providing the ladder of opportunity for all students, including first-generation, immigrants, and those seeking retraining.
What gets left out of the message constantly, however, is that we are the best step into traditionally competitive four-year college and universities, providing a high quality, affordable option for everyone.
Here in the state, approximately one out of three University of California students transferred from a community college, according to the UC System. Take for example, Aaron James Price one of our Laney students, whose essay, “From Homeless Veteran to UC Berkeley,” was published in the Oakland Post just a couple of weeks ago. His story is not unique to the Peralta Colleges.
It’s time to change the narrative in our community. We are not the “junior college” second option for students. We are the first and best choice and the economic engine that drives innovation and change in this community. Moreover, Laney, in particular, is at the forefront of training multi-ethnic leaders who can meet the demands of working effectively in the diverse society we live in.
Today, people of color make up the majority of California’s population and are expected to represent the majority of Americans in just a couple of decades. I believe the debate around affirmative action is critically important and that we cannot be in denial about the future of our nation and the need to produce the next generation of leaders who have been exposed to a diversity of ideas, perspectives, and people that make-up today’s global community.
At Laney, we’re ahead of the game. Our students are living and learning in spaces that are preparing them for the global society we live in. Now more than ever, the state, business and educational community must reframe their previous ideas about community colleges. It’s time to invest heavily and join Laney College in continuing to disrupt the narrative about our students and our community.
When our students rise, our communities rise.