Linn-Benton Community College always seems to grow. Whether it be through its enrollment or the programs that it offers, the half-of-a-century that the campus has been serving students has seen persons from around the world and of many races attend classes and find their futures. It was on January 11 that the college added another person and moment to its history of diversity and inclusion: Dr. Ivory Toldson.
A graduate of Howard University, Toldson arrived on campus to discuss academic access for persons of color, along with the travails and triumphs which they find in the United States campus scene, both past and present, so that we might all improve upon the future.
In Forum 115, some 20 or 30 persons gathered to hear Toldson share both anecdotal and academic descriptions of the lives that young African-American men and women live, and the circumstances that they bring with them when they arrive on college campuses, be they financial or social. Sharing statistics about college completion and degree attainment as a function of race and gender, he enlightened the audience of the massive discrepancy that exists between college degree completion with respect to African American males and African American females. That is to say that for every one African-American male that attends college, that there are two African-American females that attend institutions of higher education.
He further went on to explain that many of these young men take jobs in manufacturing, social services or the service economy to fund their futures versus pursuing college degrees. He stated that his goal is to convince more young men to attend college and obtain college degrees.
Toldson elaborated on his mission to minimize the educational attainment gap that exists between races and to help the United States fulfill its vision of a country where all persons can succeed merely as a function of their effort, rather than the economic circumstances into which they are born or raised. His research also revealed that many young African-American men and women are born into single-parent households and that this is a major obstacle for them to complete their education. He opined that community colleges have been instrumental in creating a better life for people of color as well.
To become more well-rounded people, we must all participate in a culture that is increasingly diverse as the United States careens into the 21st century. As our workspaces become more diverse we must become more inclusive. Toldson further commented that to participate effectively, we must not simply read books or articles about diversity, but that we must engage in community with persons different from ourselves.
But the creation of a better society for all of the citizens of the United States is not something that can be purely accomplished through reading a book or studying statistics. He went on to mention that reducing academic iniquity cannot merely be about numbers, but must emphasize the human experience. Toldson concluded his presentation with the following powerful words:
“Use people to study statistics, not statistics to study people.”