Shattering equity gaps became Santa Fe College’s call to action at its 20th annual East Gainesville Initiative Community Forum Thursday night.
The forum highlighted future plans of the community college to make a more equitable campus through new administration positions and programs dedicated to providing opportunities to Black students. Speakers also reflected on SFC programs meant to prepare East Gainesville residents for career and higher education options.
The EGI, which former SFC President Jackson Sasser created in 2002, works to expand community connections and provide more resources to East Gainesville community and residents, a less developed area of the city that houses a majority of Gainesville’s historically Black neighborhoods.
East Gainesville historically suffers from food insecurities, increased development that leads to gentrification, education and health care inequities, as well as other racial disparities.
More than 80 attendees gathered at the new SFC Charles L. Blount Center, located at 401 NW Sixth St. in downtown Gainesville, marking it as the forum’s first in-person meeting after two years online.
Students, residents and public officials filled the center. The keynote speakers were SFC College President Paul Broadie and SFC Vice President of Student Affairs Naima Brown; however, more than a dozen people spoke to the crowd Thursday.
Broadie addressed the college’s efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusivity.
“We will never stop focusing on East Gainesville — focusing on the needs of the community, innovating and finding ways to propel people forward,” he said.
Broadie shared the college’s plans to hire an executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion who will serve on the EGI Committee and bridge the divide between East Gainesville.
Speakers addressed other plans including the upcoming opening of the Black Enrichment Center, scholarship opportunities, the college’s efforts to build an automotive technology training facility and its investment in vocational and technical training.
Palenthia Boswell presented SF Achieve, the college’s career readiness and mentorship program for local middle and high school students.
As the program’s middle school and family specialist, Boswell said she is committed to shattering barriers to education, like offering career and college readiness resources to students as early as middle school.
Black student enrollment in community colleges has declined over time, falling 18% between Fall 2019 to 2021, according to a Sept. 21 report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
But after nine months of SF Achieve, SFC saw an overall 15% increase in student enrollment from public high school graduates from Alachua and Bradford Counties and a 27% enrollment increase from graduates from East Gainesville.
“It's important that all students have an opportunity to succeed,” Boswell said. “Particularly here on the east side of Gainesville, we need that.”
Riya Chakraborty, a UF Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education, said she was excited to learn more about East Gainesville and SFC’s community partnerships.
Following the meeting, the 35-year-old hopes to explore family support programs and SF Achieve, as she said it pairs nicely with her research area of family empowerment, English language learners and immigrant families.
“I really love the college culture,” she said. “I have been to Santa Fe twice or thrice, but I didn’t know that they have so many initiatives going on with regard to the community partnerships.”
Adrain Brown remembered attending SFC at Buchholz Junior/Senior High School and the former Thomas Hotel in 1969 before its west Gainesville campus was built.
The 71-year-old Gainesville resident said he attended the meeting to gain a better understanding of the resources the college provides, and he left wanting to spread awareness to his community.
Karen Cole-Smith, who has worked at SFC for 37 years and serves as the executive director of special projects, announced Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe’s proclamation that designates Sept. 22 as Santa Fe College Day. The day honors the college’s commencement in September 1966 and its commitments to inclusivity.
“We are going to continue to educate, empower, engage and ensure that the East Gainesville residents never feel as if they are being left behind,” she said.
Contact Mickenzie Hannon at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.
Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.