2020-8-17

Flexible with an Emphasis on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

 

 

 

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Southside Virginia Community College will reopen its doors on August 24 with a full schedule of offerings and a range of attendance options that incorporate in-person, online, and hybrid classes. Short-term workforce programs that require hands-on learning will be offered in small groups. We have reconfigured classroom and laboratory spaces to meet social distancing requirements, and in accordance with guidelines, SVCC will require face coverings on campus.

Taking steps to minimize risks while preserving student momentum toward the attainment of education goals is of paramount importance. At this complicated time in our nation’s history, educational offerings at community colleges have never been more important. This is especially true in places like southside Virginia, where historic gaps in opportunity produced enormous impacts on rural and minority communities.

One important means of improving earnings abilities among rural residents and members of racial and ethnic minorities is the attainment of credentials and certifications that are in high demand among local employers. The community college mission incorporates this kind of education, training, and upskilling to help people launch academic journeys, find careers, or get back to work.

Chad Patton, Ph.D., who serves as SVCC’s Dean of Career and Occupational Technology explains, “SVCC has partnered with business and industry to create scholarship opportunities for minorities and low-income residents in specific disciplines. This has worked to remove barriers for students and created more diversity in our classes.” Patton also notes, “Many of SVCC's programs lead to employment with or above family-sustaining wages. I often tell people about the young man who, as a powerline worker, makes more than I do as a college dean.”

At SVCC, we are proud of our efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. We bolster student success through mentoring programs, such as Make It Happen and WISE, and a robust student support system that incorporates tutoring, academic advising, career counseling, and financial assistance.

Diversity in the classroom also demands diversity in staffing. Our goal is to have a college community that is reflective of the communities and students we serve. Keith Harkins, PhD, Vice President of Academic and Workforce Programs is providing oversight for a college-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to develop a plan that will include recommendations, timelines, and measurable outcomes. Bethany Harris, Human Resources Director, is actively involved with the Search Advocate initiative, which will help overcome implicit biases in the hiring process.

Many other local employers are also seeking to increase diversity. As a part of those processes, some who recognize the need to increase the education and training pipeline have partnered with the college to establish scholarship programs that will lead to better equity in their workforce demographics.

In these unprecedented times, however, addressing diversity issues and financial concerns is not enough. SVCC is also working to tackle inequities created by the existing digital divide. To bridge this gap, we and our community partners are making alternatives available for students who do not have adequate high-speed internet at home. At various locations across the college's 4,200-square-mile service area, SVCC’s campuses and off-campus sites will grant students access to computer labs and high-speed internet connections, while still complying with appropriate distancing guidelines.

At SVCC, we care about our students’ health and their success. For more information and for updates about education and workforce training opportunities visit Southside.edu or call 434-949-1000.

Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@southside.edu.

Ladies of the Lake Donate to Cancer Care

Committed, caring and fun. That’s the way Ken Kurz, Director of Marketing and Development for VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, described a group of women who are continually making a difference for cancer patients at the Hendrick Cancer & Rehab Center in South Hill.

“They just bring a smile to everyone’s face when they stop by,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt that they always bring a check to benefit our Cancer Care Fund, but their smiles are infectious and they work so hard to help us care for our patients.”

The group presented a $1,000 check to Kurz and Teresa Collins, Director of the Radiation and Medical Oncology Department at CMH, recently for the fund.

“These ladies have enriched the lives of our cancer patients, through their selfless acts of kindness. Their commitment and dedication to our cancer population is phenomenal! When I think of these ladies, the following quote by Brene Brown comes to mind, "Compassion is not a virtue -- it is a commitment. It's not something we have or don't have-- It is something that we choose to practice," said Collins.

The VCU Health CMH Cancer Care Fund was started by the CMH Foundation and generous donors to help patients in our community who are dealing with cancer.

According to Collins, often during treatment, many patients may lose their insurance or face other financial toxicity issues like being unable to work, which makes nausea and pain medications very difficult to afford.

The Cancer Care Fund is designed to help offset the cost of these medications.

As patients visit the Hendrick Cancer Center/Solari Radiation Therapy Center daily for chemotherapy and/or radiation services the distance a patient travels can become costly; this fund can also assist with these travel expenses.

Each case is thoroughly evaluated by the cancer care team, to determine exactly what assistance is needed, and if the Cancer Patient Care Fund is an appropriate resource.

Support for the Cancer Care Fund can give these patients a hand, and also give them peace of mind, knowing that the inability to cover these costs will not stand in the way of their treatment.

When a need is identified, patients are carefully screened by the oncology social worker and Director of Oncology to determine need and to assure that these funds are used in the way donors intended.  Our oncology social worker does extensive research to identify grants or other resources which may be available for the patient on top of looking at the Cancer Care Fund. 

If you are interested in donating to the VCU Health CMH Cancer Care Fund you can call (434) 447-0857 or visit vcu-cmh.org.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OUTLINES PRIORITIES FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICING REFORM AHEAD OF SPECIAL SESSION

~ Slate of priorities includes measures he has advocated for years and additional steps to reduce brutality and abuses of authority, and increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality ~

RICHMOND —Ahead of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today outlined his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms that will reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.

“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person's skin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Ours must be a Commonwealth where justice, equality and opportunity are guaranteed for each and every person, no matter where they live, what they look like, how they worship, who they love, or how much money they have.

“We know that African-Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level from policing through prosecution and into re-entry. It is documented and undeniable. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s even harder to experience. It means that we are failing in one of our most foundational responsibilities as a country and a Commonwealth: to ensure that all men and women are truly treated equal.

“This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all. Those of us who have been frustrated by the pace of change in previous years now have the benefit of open minds and a broader recognition of the change that is needed in this country to ensure that Black lives matter, and that the criminal justice system is oriented around justice and safety, not simply control or oppression.”

In the upcoming special session, Attorney General Herring will be supporting the following measures:

Police Reform:

  • Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations
  • Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training
  • Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum
  • Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession
  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.
  • Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

Criminal Justice Reform:

  • Cash bail reform
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

“For many months now, I have been waiting for a response from the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to my request for an independent investigation into one of my local police departments. But for the return receipt requested signature card, I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement to my letter. If the federal government isn’t going to provide this oversight when police departments may be violating citizen’s rights, then there needs to be a state backstop that can conduct these necessary investigations. It is for these reasons, I will introduce a bill in the Special Session of the General Assembly to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “patterns and practices investigations of local police departments,” said Senator Louise Lucas.

“Since 2017 the Trump Administration’s DOJ has refused to address systemic failures and investigate possible unconstitutional practices in law enforcement agencies. With that in mind, the Attorney General needs to have the authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, or biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “This legislation finally gives the Attorney General the authority to investigate, subpoena, and bring appropriate actions in court to ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards.” 

In the area of police reform, Attorney General Herring will be actively working to ensure passage of the following bills and policies:

Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills. Because of the immense power placed in the hands of law enforcement officers, the Commonwealth must treat the law enforcement profession as a highly-skilled and specialized field that requires both proper training and high standards.

In order to ensure proper, 21st century training for Virginia law enforcement officers:

  • The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General that includes implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills.
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum. In 2015, Attorney General Herring sponsored a series of five regional “train-the-trainer” conferences to promote the wider adoption of implicit bias training, de-escalation, and other 21st century policing skills. The training officers from more than 50 law enforcement agencies participated, then went back to their departments and taught their colleagues, making this one of Virginia’s largest-ever investments in 21st century policing skills.

Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession. The Commonwealth should hold its law enforcement officers to the highest standards because they are empowered to make life-and-death decisions and other serious decisions that could dramatically affect the life of a Virginian. Virginia must therefore ensure that it removes from the profession any individuals who prove themselves unworthy or incapable of bearing such responsibility.

Virginia should:

  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions. Currently an officer may only lose their law enforcement officer certification for a criminal conviction. Misconduct that may not rise to the level of criminal conduct must be a basis for decertifying officers.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification. If an individual has proven they are not capable of exercising law enforcement authority in a safe, fair, impartial, and constitutional way, they should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force. No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability and continue their career when they have shown they may not be capable of serving in law enforcement.
  • Create a legal obligation for “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers when they see another officer using excessive force, when it’s safe to intervene, and regardless of intervention they must immediately report the incident to their supervisors.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics like chokeholds, strangleholds, and no-knock warrants.
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels with necessary investigative authority and, where possible, provide state-level support.
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers to ensure a complete and accurate account of any citizen-officer interactions.
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions on officer-involved incidents that may constitute criminal conduct, including use of force or killings by law enforcement officers.

Attorney General Herring will also be working for the passage of the following bills and policies to strengthen our communities and reduce racial and economic disparities through reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system:

  • Cash bail reform. Attorney General Herring has long supported significant reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system which, in its current form, can lead to unjust outcomes where dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks, or months because they can’t afford to pay bail. This can cause a person to lose their job, housing, and support systems. Attorney General Herring will be pushing for Virginia to move away from the use of cash bail as its default for low level offenses and instead expand pretrial services that have proven to be effective and cheaper.
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process. Attorney General Herring has also advocated for expanding record expungement opportunities and simplifying the process to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color. Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that does not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement. This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions. During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but believes Virginia needs to continue on to full legal, regulated adult use as quickly as possible, because the social and human costs of prohibition fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. In 2018, there were nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests, and the Virginia Crime Commission found that from 2007 to 2016 46% of all individuals arrested for first offense marijuana possession were African American, despite being just 20% of Virginia’s population.

In addition to these policing and criminal justice reform priorities, Attorney General Herring supports measures that require officers to deescalate situations, and to better utilize specialized resources instead of police officers to respond to non-public safety situations, such as addiction, a person experiencing homelessness, or a mental health crisis.

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