by Christopher M. Reber
Hudson County Community College
Jersey City, NJ
I am a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and am pleased to celebrate LGBTQ+ Month. This national celebration is a reminder of all that has been accomplished and all that remains to be done for our LGBTQ community and allies.
Over 10 years ago, the challenging and emotional experience of coming out to my colleagues and community taught me that authentic and transparent leaders generate trust, the keystone to strong and respectful leadership. Like all others, my personal story has shaped everything I am and all I strive to do as an educator and human being.
My story has led me to be passionate about promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in postsecondary education and in the lives of those we teach, serve and love. It’s about promoting acceptance, seeking understanding and having genuine empathy, respect and love for the specialness and dignity of every person. I strive to be a support and role model for others who may be struggling with sharing their story and their truth.
Consistent with Senior Director of the Human Rights Campaign Ellen Kahn’s wise and insightful comments that will appear in an upcoming Community College Daily article, I am particularly proud of the dynamic, respectful, inspirational and trailblazing people at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) and throughout the communities and region we serve in New Jersey. It is the honor of my life to lead and support HCCC.
Creating the culture
About five years ago, when I interviewed for the position of president of HCCC, I vividly remember seeing a large gay pride flag welcoming me as I entered a building. I instantly knew that I was home. Today, our students have coined the phrase, “Hudson is Home,” which has become the college’s motto and tagline.
At HCCC, we are proud of our organizational culture that recognizes our differences, builds on our commonalities and celebrates both. We work tirelessly to ensure that every student and employee, representing every group or demographic, is respected and celebrated. We provide myriad opportunities to look deeper and engage each other in safe spaces.
One of my heroes, Mr. Rogers, often shared this inspirational quote by peace activist Mary Lou Kownacki: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” At HCCC, we tell our stories – including a monthly virtual series featuring volunteer faculty, staff and students who share their life experiences, called “Our Stories Untold.” In so doing, we learn from each other and identify areas of commonality.
We are very proud of our strong local and statewide partnerships with organizations such as Jersey City Pride, New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, Women Rising, the Jersey City Office of Diversity and Inclusion, New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Latino Advisory Council, African American Outreach Committee, and so many others. In partnership with these and other community allies, we offer periodic “Safe Space” training and other professional development for all members of our community. “Safe Zone” postings pervade our facilities. We also offer implicit bias and DEI training throughout the college, including initial meetings of all search and screening committees.
With leadership and support from HCCC’s 40-member President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion which includes representatives of our LGBTQ community, we are developing and updating college-wide policies and procedures as part of our continuing work to remove barriers and promote inclusion. These include a preferred-name policy and a new comprehensive set of policies and procedures developed to seek the most robust and diverse pools of qualified applicants for all faculty and staff positions, and a consistent and equitable process of screening and interviewing candidates that includes “Diversity Champions” and DEI checkpoints.
We are also focused on promoting HCCC’s workforce as opportunities for internal career growth and advancement arise, coupled with ongoing professional development funding for all employees in support of their professional growth and development plans, and employees seeking advanced credentials. Prominent in these policies, procedures and culture is concrete and palpable support for our LGBTQ+ community members, such as presentations at professional meetings, membership and participation in the national “LGBTQ Leaders in Higher Education” organization, and many others.
Leadership, grassroots support
I was proud to participate recently in a “Pride Parade” throughout our campus and Jersey City’s Journal Square community. Students, faculty, staff and friends wore welcoming attire and participated in a community Gay Pride celebration in our Culinary Plaza Park. Events such as these happen regularly, and organically, throughout the academic year and in the life of our college. They are important markers of support and inspiration for many members of our community.
None of this would be possible without the strong and authentic support and commitment of the board of trustees and college leadership. Support for DEI, including our robust LGBTQ+ community, is ironclad at the top of the organization and in the budgeting and delivery of our mission.
But, even more importantly, our college community is fully engaged in and owns this work, and, nearly to a person, our community champions and supports DEI as a guiding principle and organizational priority. This bottom-up, organic, grassroots engagement of the entire college community is essential to meaningful reform, and the integration of gay friendly and other DEI principles and practices into every part of the institutional fabric and culture. We are proud to have been named a “Top College for Diversity” by INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine, and a “Great College to Work For” by ModernThink and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
I firmly believe that education is the greatest antidote to hatred and bigotry, and the true gateway to the American Dream. It is not lost on me that Hudson County Community College is located in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, which is a wonderful symbol and metaphor for our college mission. You will see the image of Lady Liberty in all of our college’s communications, website and materials.
I am enormously fortunate to have the opportunity to embrace these and other practices of a caring and welcoming HCCC family in which I and all members of our LGBTQ+ community, and our allies, feel loved, supported and respected for who we are.
It takes a village! Happy LGBTQ+ Month!
Dr. Christopher M. Reber is president of Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, New Jersey.