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Message from the President: Recent events in our country

By Suzanne M. Johnson, August 16, 2017

Dear Green River College Community,

I write to you today as I reflect on the recent events in our country. I am reminded that Green River College’s mission is to “ensure student success through comprehensive educational programs and support services responsive to our diverse communities.” Our core values support student success, student access, equity, stewardship, high quality teaching and support services, community engagement, global awareness, innovation, and the preservation of the safety, ecology and sustainability of our campus environment. As a college, equity, human dignity and equality have been at the heart of everything we do. This is who we are as a community, and we take great pride in ensuring equal access to high quality education for everyone.

Questions surrounding equity, human dignity and equality have received increased attention in the media recently. Over the weekend, between reading articles about the threats that were received at Evergreen State College, and seeing the repugnant display that occurred at the University of Virginia, I found myself focused on our college.  Ensuring that Green River provides a safe and inclusive environment where everyone can work and learn, and where respectful dialogue can occur, has never been more important.

To our faculty and staff, I know that we are invested in supporting our mission and creating an inclusive environment for all. Our core values reflect who we are as a campus community, and they are evident in the work that we do each day. Many of our students come to us prepared, highly motivated, with an encouraging support system and economic resources. These students are here because they recognize the great financial value provided by a Green River College education. We are the best value for everyone’s education dollar, and we provide high quality education that compares to fellow institutions across the nation. We can also be the family and educational support needed for students who aren’t as fortunate and prepared. As faculty and staff, it is important that our students know “you belong here, you can do it, we believe in you!”  Together, we must work even harder to support our mission and values of being an inclusive college, where every person feels safe to work and learn.

Today, we hear some critics who question the value of higher education and the service we provide, with some even questioning whether colleges have contributed to the betterment of society.  Historically, higher education was an option for very few in our country. Only some had the financial ability or the opportunity to attend college, and to benefit from the education they received.  For too long, higher education was an element of society that maintained the status quo of hierarchy and privilege.  Community colleges break this pattern.

Community colleges are disruptive by our mere existence. Community colleges are catalysts for change. Our existence and purpose threatens those who do not support individual opportunities for those who are poor, less educated, or pushed out to the margins of mainstream culture. Any educational institution whose mission it is to provide affordable and open access to a college degree is disruptive.

For Green River College to succeed in its mission, we must provide opportunity and access to more diverse groups of people. This isn’t an ideological or political battle. This is about human decency, humanitarianism, and human rights. I believe quality education is a basic human right.

In a recent article in Inside Higher Education, Matt Reed writes, “At its core, the defining trait of a community college is openness. It’s about serving anyone in the area who wants to learn. That mission rests on a moral position that holds that anyone is as good, or as bad, as anyone else.  It rests on basic humanism.” At Green River, our mission is about supporting equity, inclusion, equality of opportunity for all people, and ensuring opportunity and inclusion is available for all, not just a select few.

We are the culture that the students come in and out of. We are a place that can empower and educate  so all students can better themselves in their knowledge, employment opportunities and career development. Education can break the inter-generational plight of poverty. Education can break the perpetual feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and frustrations of not having options or opportunities that poverty brings. Education can break the cycle of inequity and inequality that so many of our students have experienced.

To our students, please know that you are the reason that faculty and staff come to campus each day. You are the most important people on our campus, and without you there would be no need for the college. You are the purpose of the work that we do every day, and we depend upon you to allow us the opportunity to serve your educational needs.

As an open-access public community college, Green River is committed to making certain that everyone who comes to our campus will be greeted by a safe and welcoming environment, full of opportunities for learning and growth. It is our mission to serve your educational needs, and we do so proudly. Education can be the great equalizer of all people and it is most certainly “the strongest weapon that can be used to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela)

Let us remember the words of Kofi Annan, ““Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

Let us remember the words of Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”

Most importantly, let us remember that what we are confronting is a human rights issue, and it is our mission as a college to ensure that we protect the basic human rights and dignity of all who work and learn here.

As the summer winds down fall quarter is right around the corner! I am eager to see everyone and looking forward to engaging in our good work together!

Suzanne M. Johnson, Ph.D.
President, Green River College

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