Friday Update from Our Executive Director - April 2, 2021

Happy Friday, Umoja,

This month, I want to reflect on some of our community standards and practices. I want to dive into ways that we can create safe and open places for our students. I believe that over time, the ways we engage or communicate can unconsciously become gendered in ways that aren’t inclusive. In my prior and current work with students, it was important that I reached out to students who were not present in our community space. Those often included athletes, males, or other students who thought they would not be comfortable.  I want to explore ways in which you’ve addressed these realities in your programs and spheres of influence.

This week, I want us to think about how we invite in and engage our students and communities. Let’s consider our community practice, Porch Talks. I asked a few of our Regional Coordinators and coordinators to share thoughts about their experiences and ideas they’ve used in their communities. Here is what I have learned:


  • “The Porch is a space where the learning environment is open to intersecting identities and exploration. Facilitators of the porch should be mindful of students experiencing multiple identities simultaneously. To do so, facilitators should be aware of their own identities and biases that they may have for other genders.” - Dr. Jahvry Bailous, Regional Coordinator
  • “It’s important to create space for men only to discuss issues and challenges related to their experiences. When we are creating these spaces, we need to consider everyone’s needs. This is important since the number of male students we're able to engage throughout the pandemic has decreased significantly.” Dr. Darnell Bing, Umoja Coordinator at Mt. San Jacinto College
  • “As facilitators and community leaders, we have to be extremely conscious of who we are allowing to speak and how questions are worded. Setting ground rules and expectations that feed inclusivity is important.” - Jonathan Henderson. Regional Coordinator

Think about how this practice was first envisioned. “A classroom with such honesty and visibility can produce frustration and acceptance. Needless to say, trust is at the foundation of a Porch Talk learning environment and trust has to be earned, modeled, practiced, openly reflected upon, and revisited.”

This month let’s revisit our definitions and practices. Along with your students, ask who is missing. What are ways we can bring more voices to the group? How can we attract, invite and welcome those who are not present? Reflect on how biases, experiences, and conversations are exclusive or inclusive. As, one of our founders, Dr. Judy Mays recently noted, “Umoja creates a sense of belonging.”  It is that sense of welcomeness and belonging that can lead to academic success. Let’s challenge ourselves to push for even more genuine and inclusive dialogue.

Have a prosperous weekend! As always, take care and be safe.

In service and community,


Nzingha Sonya Dugas

Executive Director/CEO

Publish Date: 
Friday, April 2, 2021

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Umoja actively serves and promotes student success for all students through a curriculum and pedagogy responsive to the legacy of the African and African American Diasporas.