BLACK Center at Santiago Canyon College
By Dianne Anderson
No more excuses for not getting to class, whether a lack of financial aid, lack of food, or lack of transportation – that’s because the first Black Legacy Achievement Center of Knowledge, B.L.A.C.K. Program for short, at Santiago Canyon College has it all.
The center opens the way for Black students to come together, restock or augment their groceries as well as gas cards, which these days are as good as money.
“No one can focus when they’re hungry, that’s just a physiological need. Unfortunately, so many children and adults, specifically various demographics of BIPOC [Black Indigenous People Of Color] where we see the most because they are low income,” said Dr. Loretta Jordan, assistant Vice President of Student Services.
Jordan said the one-stop center helps students access everything they need, both physically and mentally, to survive the rigors of academia. Because low-income students deal with so many basic needs, her first goal toward matriculation was to change the trajectory and eliminate the barriers.
In response to the reawakening of the Black community post-George Floyd’s murder, Jordan was tasked to develop the framework for the center by the chancellor, whom she said recognized the need to recruit more Black students, and provide support and development.
As the first Black student center on campus, she wants to draw students and employees for dialogue, to bring the village together like family, and assist each other with a circle of “Folk Talk” sessions.
With a background in psychology, she sees how mental health is at the core of how the community develops its potential. Either she or her coordinator will guide conversations at the center for students and employees, allowing an important emotional outlet in a secure place.
Students will walk away with the knowledge they need to overcome whatever their questions or concerns.
“Anytime there is a student or employee that is feeling a little odd about something, a meeting that they attended or classroom event, something on campus that is going to impact them from building a legacy or meeting their goal, they can call a Folk Talk,” she said.
Jordan, who has 31 years of administrative experience, has also created several student programs, starting with Los Angeles Southwest college.
Food insecurity is always a big concern, she said, but if students do not feel like they are being heard or belong on campus, that negatively impacts academic and personal success. With the “Folk Talk” circle, she wants students to feel safe opening up, and establish a sense of belonging.
“How can we make a better mentally healthy human? We can feed them, but if you don’t feel that you have mental balance then your cognitive dissonance is going to knock you out of the box with a full stomach,” said Jordan.
The upcoming Legacy Leadership Institute is another project at the center where students can learn from Black professionals, both on and off campus. So far, she has gained some interest from nonprofit leaders eager to share their knowledge and expertise.
There, students will learn what it takes to be good leaders, resilient, and develop fiscal management skills. Upon completion, they will receive a certificate signed by the college president and chancellor, to include on their resumes, or possibly receive extra college credit.
Jordan was also responsible for financial aid at the campus during COVID and she plans to host FAFSA workshops at the center with financial literacy for students and parents. For most students of color, that means that classes are free.
The program is prepared to work with nonprofits around tours to Historically Black Universities and Colleges. Rancho Santiago Community College District already has an HBCU agreement, and she expects to start staff-chaperoned tours next year to out of state campuses, as well as in-state tours.
“Our goal is to connect with HBCU’s, other colleges and universities here in California and beyond for students to know they have the opportunity that will avail itself despite their belief that higher education goals may not have been achievable,” she said.
On the back wall of the new center, the deep blue mural pays tribute to the late civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis and abolitionist and journalist Ida B. Wells, two of history’s greatest leaders on the frontlines of surviving oppression.
“If you think of ancestors we all have, they had to imagine what life would be like beyond their current circumstances for us to be here at the table with a chair. In many cases we didn’t have a chair. We were just able to see the people from afar of others who were left behind,” she said.