CONNECT, a public higher education consortium in Southeastern Massachusetts, was recently awarded $150k in Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) monies, from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), to increase employees’ core equity competencies and knowledge about racial equity, social justice, and structures that impact student success.

CONNECT’s approved proposal will provide five of the consortium's institutions of higher education, Bridgewater State University, Bristol Community College, Cape Cod Community College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Massasoit Community College, with professional development for faculty, staff and student workers.

As a consortium, CONNECT believes that improving policies, practices, pedagogy, resources, and support for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) will elevate and enhance students’ experiences, consequently improving our institutions and ultimately the communities throughout the Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod regions.

Earlier this summer, the DHE released its Strategic Plan for Racial Equity which outlined the following five strategies: 1) Establish the Infrastructure to Drive Racial Equity; 2) Transform Institutional Cultures to be Equity-Minded; 3) Increase Access to Higher Education for Students of Color; 4) Build a Culturally Relevant and Civically Engaged Educational Experience for Students of Color; and 5) Prepare Students of Color to Thrive Beyond Their Time in Higher Education.

In response, the Chief Executive Officers of CONNECT have collaborated to embed these strategies within its strategic plan and focus its HEIF proposal the DHE’s second strategy, Transform Institutional Cultures to be Equity-Minded.

As part of the HEIF proposal, the presidents of each institution will identify two designees from each of their campuses to serve as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leaders to champion these efforts. The DEI leaders will serve as conduits for holistically enacting systemic, sustainable institutional change to help break down the barriers that BIPOC populations have historically encountered. Once this initial phase of the project has been completed, the CONNECT partner participants will design and deliver a 3-day summer institute for one-hundred employees, representing each of its participating institutions. The 3-day train-the-trainer workshop will teach participants how to educate staff on the policies, principles, and pedagogy necessary to operationalize equity-minded values and practices.

“The CONNECT partners are dedicated to inclusion for all. This grant will give the partners the resources needed to support the DHE Strategic Plan for Racial Equity, designed to eliminate barriers in education for those that have historically been underserved and underrepresented, especially students of color,” said Dr. Laura L. Douglas, President, Bristol Community College and Board Chair, CONNECT Consortium. “These professional development opportunities for faculty and staff are critical in developing the equity competencies that are proven to impact student success.”

To achieve the DHE’s goals established in the Plan, CONNECT endeavors to collectively establish, enhance, fortify and transform the wrap-around services being offered to our BIPOC students, enabling alignment in our practices, particularly for transfer students.

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