Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recognizing one of its own during African American & Women History mMonths at KCKCC

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- As the community collectively celebrates diverse histories during each month, one of Kansas City Kansas Community College’s prominent professors and the first director of the Intercultural Center leaves her footprints on KCKCC’s history.

Professor Melanie Jackson Scott was instrumental as the first African American in several professional roles at the community college. One significant role that contributed to the campus climate, culture and education was being the first African American female director to initiate, enhance and expand a new departmental area within the college - the Intercultural Center.

“To be the first person of color in any professional role creates new in-roads that require a tenacity of spirit that is not always welcomed initially when it is a new approach to the status quo of an organization,” she said.      

Looking back, Scott said she is still amazed at where diversity education has come since she started at the college more than 30 years ago and her role in that evolution. A big part of the focus on diversity at KCKCC was the creation of Intercultural Center (ICC).

“Diversity education is crucial to the mission and purpose of our institution in preparing our students to navigate successfully in our global society,” she said. “A multi-ethnic, global consciousness needs to be cultivated both for its general educational value and for its practical utility in a world of increasingly interdependent economies and cultures.”

The Intercultural Center, which was a unique concept for a community college campus at the time, came out of an Intercultural Task Force established in the mid-1990s. The task force conducted an internal assessment of diversity on the KCKCC campus as well as the academic curriculum needs and human resources concerns. There were no blue prints to follow among community colleges in the state of Kansas. However, based on the assessment, the need for diversity and inclusion was identified and KCKCC was able to develop a Mission Statement, goals and objectives that challenged the institution to be a transformational community college; serving multicultural and international education. Scott, a professor in the Social and Behavioral Science Division, said the results of the assessment determined that the college was ready to move forward toward a more inclusive environment.

“Looking at KCKCC’s history of a primarily Eurocentric/monoculture environment, with the lack of diversity among our college employees and recognizing that diversity education needed to be imbedded across the curriculum, the diversity task force helped to revitalize campus diversity initiatives,” Scott said. “As co-facilitators of the task force, CeCe Prieto Morehouse (retired KCKCC ESL director) and I advocated for a visible, tangible and inclusive place for campus and community to come together for diversity orientation, programs and training. Obtaining and construction of the physical space required for the Intercultural Center proved to be a challenge. In addition, financial resources, the need for full-time personnel and/or appropriate release time for planning and implementation were also problematic.  However, though perseverance and support of the administration, the Intercultural Center was opened in 1997.”

The Intercultural Center was designed to provide students, faculty and staff as well as those in the community with an environment that celebrates the cultural contributions of the diverse populations at KCKCC. Scott was one of two co-founders of the ICC, served as co-director and was the first full-time director until passing the torch in 2010.

“In addition to getting the Intercultural Center open, it was also important to have a cross catalyst group of employees join the conversations and make contributions to the strategy needed to fully embrace a multicultural environment and education” she said. Thus was born the Intercultural Council; open to any and all employees who wanted to commit their time. The council became the engine for multicultural organizational development and implementation was a collective effort minimizing fear of change within the college. Continuous encouragement of the campus community was needed in order to have ownership through involvement and participation. On-going diversity leadership training was needed, encouraged and acquired for employees at all levels including members of the Board of Trustees.”

It should also be noted that a Community Advisory Board was established in order to get input from the local community. This added another level to intercultural relations. Through it all, Scott said she had “continuous support and encouragement” from students, employees of the college and the community.

“The Intercultural Center’s Mission Statement embodied fostering greater cultural interaction and education, provided a diversity of programs, cultural events and activities that enhance and promote cross cultural relations and builds campus spirit,” she said. “I would be remiss not to say that I did not have challenges and obstacles from individuals who had skepticism regarding the initiatives and programs from ICC.  However, I grew up with an open heart and open mind during a tumultuous time in history (the 1960s) and have learned to live a life enriched by the beauty of diversity and inclusion. When you are able to walk the talk, you tend to have a passion for your purpose and a desire to overcome the challenges required for success.

“As the first director of the Intercultural Center, I was able to devote full-time to the facilitation of diversity education and inclusion at all levels of the college and partnering with our local community. I was able to add a chapter to the college’s history in intercultural relations and provide leadership in transforming Kansas City Kansas Community College,” Scott said. “I am honored to see the impact that the ICC has had in promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of campus life. I would like to think my leadership efforts helped to make an impact on hiring a more diverse campus community. In addition, substantial changes in the campus environment occurred by displaying the procurement of diverse art and artifacts from public and private entities.”

Scott said her roles as co-founder and director of the Intercultural Center has provided personal and professional growth opportunities. She said her role as an educator/professor is significantly gratifying and has provided the greatest impact with students and colleagues.

“KCKCC is still making history and this is an important time to acknowledge the progress made and understand that there is still much to learn and do as we move forward in recognizing our cross cultural histories,” she said. “I am also optimistic that the current leadership has and will continue with the mission, goals and objectives of Intercultural Center as they are connected to the ‘Mission and Purpose’ of the college.”