​College ‘answers the call’ with new racial justice program

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North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) began exclusively offering a Racial Justice and Social Transformation certificate this past fall as part of the school’s commitment to racial equity, according to college officials.

Kathy Hendrickson, dean of Fine and Applied Arts, Global, and Cultural Studies, stated that  faculty, administration, staff members, and employees from the City of Brooklyn Park participated in a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation workshop in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta. The Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on campus was also involved. 

That experience, input from staff members of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, along with student survey results led to the curriculum’s development and approval. Hendrickson stated that the program was really “an answer to a call” after the murder of George Floyd and civil unrest throughout the world. 

Hendrickson also noted that the population of NHCC mirrors the demographics of the population of Brooklyn Park. NHCC works with the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth of Minnesota, an organization created by the cities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center to advance positive youth development. Hendrickson hopes the alliance will have their youth leaders go through the program. 

According to NHCC’s website, the Racial Justice and Social Transformation Certificate is designed to build a cultural skill set relevant to every career and complements anyone in or pursuing a leadership role. After completing the program, students are better prepared for work in community organizing, management, and cultural fluency education. 

Through their studies, students learn to:

  • apply anti-racist approaches to personal and real-world problems to model racial justice advocacy; 
  • explain the social construction of race and systems of oppression in the U.S; 
  • analyze structural racism and the perpetuation of social inequities; 
  • learn aspects of Critical Race Theory within U.S. political, social, cultural, and economic institutions; and 
  • explain how one’s racial and social identities can dismantle systemic injustices or uphold oppressive practices.

The 15-credit certificate starts with two courses (although the coursework can be completed in any order). Students continue their coursework with six credits of coursework on cultures, relationships, economics, the arts, and more. Two required leadership capstone courses round out the certificate. 

Belinda Gardener, ​Foundation of ​Racial justice instructor
Submitted photo

Hendrickson stated that due to low enrollment, the Foundations of Racial Justice class was not offered during the 2021-2022 school year. But the class will be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings this fall.

 No hard data on enrollment numbers exist at this time. Individuals interested in taking the Foundations of Racial Justice class do not have to be enrolled at NHCC.  

The enrolled student population at NHCC is 46% White, 23% Black or African American, 14% Asian, 8% Hispanic or Latino, and 5% mixed race, according to the school’s 2021 figures.

NHCC’s BIPOC graduation rates have increased over the past five years. 2020 saw a rate of 48.23% for BIPOC students and 51.77% for Non-BIPOC.  2021 saw a slight decrease with 46.32% of BIPOC students graduating and 53.68% of Non-BIPOC students.

In regards to coursework, “We want to make sure we are doing it right,” Hendrickson said. She added that NHCC will continue to examine and re-examine the coursework to make sure it benefits students and the community. 

The certificate can be packaged for a business or group of individuals and can be customized to fit within a group’s desired timeframe. A scholarship that aligns with the certificate has been established, with assistance from the NHCC Foundation. Four scholarships for $1,000 have been awarded so far to help students with their college finances.

Charlie Oribamise, scholarship recipient ​
Submitted photo

Charlie Oribamise, a 62-year-old non-traditional student studying criminal justice at NHCC, was the first scholarship recipient. According to NHCC’s website, Oribamise arrived in the U.S.  in 1981 when he was 22 years old. 

After arriving here, he quickly learned about America’s racial divide. As a result, he developed a passion for justice. He said in a statement, “If we see people as human beings and go beyond categorizing, we’ll discover we’re not all that different.” 

He moved to Dallas where he started his studies. “There was a racial issue that was going on at that time that kind of woke me up. There was a Black engineer, who was accused of a robbery. 

“The people he worked with said he didn’t do anything, but the cops picked him up anyway,” Oribamise said. “I was watching this and hearing about it and I said, ‘Is this the activity that belongs in America? Is this the life that I’ve obtained here?’

 “I could be picked up too, just like that, because I’m Black,” he continued. “At first, I was just curious, but then it started getting to me. I learned that I have to be very careful where I go, what I say, because you never know. I wasn’t thinking this was the American society I’d be coming into.” 

His experience ignited his passion for criminal justice and finding solutions to big questions. “I want fairness. I want justice. I want people to be treated equally.”

Phaedra Goff is the most recent recipient of the scholarship. She started at NHCC in 2017 as a junior in high school through the Post Secondary Education Option (PSEO) program. 

The scholarship application asks applicants to write about a social issue they believe in. Goff was able to write about the abuse she suffered that led to her mental illness and how it affects her now. “I got to write about an issue I’m passionate about… I find that social awareness is one of my passions.” 

Goff has experience as an early childhood education teacher. This experience included teaching diversity to 2, 3, and 5-year-olds. “I found I had to learn a whole new set of language and practice it for the benefit of the kids…That language…made an invaluable difference in how the kids—and how I—looked at things.” 

Winning the scholarship helped inspire Goff to apply to the pre-counseling bachelor’s program at Capella University, where has been accepted. She plans to continue her education there in September after graduating from NHCC this summer. 

Trung Le and Abshir Mohamed were also recipients of the scholarship. Currently, students do not have to be enrolled in the Racial Justice and Social Transformation certificate to be eligible for the scholarship.

For more information about the Racial & Social Justice certificate visit bit.ly/NHCCRSJcert