American River College Uses ConexED as a Tool for Promoting Equity in Education — Guest Post by Joshua Moon Johnson

Dean of Student Services and Title IX Coordinator at American River College

I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and I loved education for some reason. However, I was intimidated and insecure in educational environments since I came from a working poor family and my parents couldn’t really help me navigate educational systems. I was also trying to figure out my own racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and religious identity. Never feeling like I belonged and not knowing how to navigate educational resources were significant barriers to my succeeding in college. 

Since my early days as a scared college student who somehow succeeded, I have made it my professional and personal goal to advocate for and provide educational opportunities to those who have historically (and, yes, still currently) been excluded from our higher education systems. For the last 15 years of my career at colleges and universities, I have been in roles where my focus was to address systemic racism, ableism, heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, and other injustices. 

Equitable Online Student Services

I now serve as a dean of student services at American River College in Sacramento, California. My community college has over 30,000 students, many of whom are first-generation college students, students of color, newly or recently immigrated, non-native English speakers, lower income, persons with a disability, and/or transgender, non-binary, or queer. Due to societal injustices, the odds of succeeding are stacked against my students. As I aim to make education more focused on equity, ConexED has been a valuable student engagement tool to help my staff and me reach populations who have often been neglected in higher education. Before the pandemic hit, we were already exploring ways to improve tutoring services in an online environment, and we made equity and social justice a top priority. We decided to use ConexED because the features and tools of its online student services platform aligned with our values. 

ConexED allows students to access academic support services from anywhere. Many of the students have long commute times. We are in the suburbs of Sacramento and public transportation is sub-par. Some students have shared they spend one to two hours each way coming to campus. Some students spend more time on the bus than they do in the class or tutoring session they attend. Once we started using ConexED, those students could join a tutoring session from home, on a work lunch break, or even while nursing their baby, and save hours in their day. This was critical to students who do not have cars, who have multiple jobs, or who care for dependents. 

American River College Tutoring Center

Impactful ConexED Cards

Visibility, representation, and symbolic inclusion matter. Another population I have advocated for in education are transgender and non-binary students. Trans and non-binary students have long lived in fear on college campuses due to physical assaults, microaggressions, othering, and isolation. We have tried for decades to make our campus affirming and understanding of gender diversity, but still have a ways to go. Once we went remote, we had to think of new ways to symbolically show inclusion and understanding. One way that we use ConexED to intentionally name and include trans and non-binary people is by using pronouns on our tutors’ ConexED Cards. Tutors add their pronouns to their tutoring profiles as a small but meaningful way to create inclusion for those who might be hesitant to seek tutoring, to turn their cameras on, or to introduce themselves with their chosen name.

Some students are hesitant to ask for academic support when they are struggling, specifically those who have been told their whole lives that they were not smart enough and did not belong in educational settings. Black, Latina/o/x, Indigenous, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian American students have spent their whole lives being told by teachers, media, and other systems that they would never succeed in education, so asking for tutoring can feel like they are proving those negative voices right or fitting into a stereotype. As a tutoring program, we at American River College Learning Resource Center are aware of the damage educational systems have done to students of color, yet we still want to ensure we can support those students to be successful. 

Along with the many other efforts we do to destigmatize tutoring, we want to ensure our tutors represent the communities our students come from. We have been successful in hiring racially diverse tutors; however, when being fully online, some platforms do not allow those beautiful diverse faces to shine through. ConexED Cards have allowed our tutors’ faces, names, bios, and pronouns to be up, front, and center. We want our students to see that their tutors come from similar cultural and racial backgrounds, and possibly have similar lived experiences. The visual cards have allowed our minoritized students to see racially diverse tutors and help them feel at ease asking for help.

Solving Problems for All Students

The tools ConexED has offered for virtual student services could seem minor, but my experience has been that a little effort intentionally focused on equity can go a long way to support students who are used to being neglected. We are still in the early phases of creating an online environment for academic support services, but we are confident our efforts to center equity in all of our decisions will guide us to our vision and goals as social justice educators. Online remote tutoring is here to stay for us. We plan to continue providing all of our academic support services in a hybrid model, so students can access the support they need whether they are on campus, at home, or at their job. As a community college, we are here to serve those who have been disadvantaged and left out. We are here to transform our community, and education is the tool that will get us there.

About Joshua

Higher education administrator, student affairs professional, and social justice educator. Nearly two decades of diverse experience in the classroom, as a dean, director, assistant dean, and special assistant to senior student affairs officer. Experienced administrator in enrollment management, diversity & inclusion, residence life, marketing and public relations, LGBTQ+ services, international student services, BIPOC student support, non-traditional student services, women’s center administrator, professional development, advancement and fundraising, library and learning resources, student athletics, and research and assessment.