Highline College

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Vice President of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion candidate envisions national recognition for Highline

John Eklof
Photo by Cascadia College

Marta Barlow Staff Reporter April 23

One of the candidates for the new vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion wants to get Highline, and its students, recognized nationally for its equity, diversity, and inclusion work and help students succeed.

“From the very beginning of my career, I heard about Highline. Highline was always the leader, always doing the work, always setting the bar for equity, diversity, and inclusion work. What I want to do is I want to make sure that Highline is known nationally for the great effort that are done here,” said John Eklof, executive director of equity and inclusion at Cascadia College and one of the three finalists for Highline’s new vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

For Highline to get recognized nationally, the graduation rate needs to increase, he said.

Eklof said for that to happen, Highline has to see what is going on in and outside the classroom and find out what support and resources students need to be successful and graduate.

The diversity Highline has also plays a role in how and why Highline would become nationally recognized after an increase in graduation rates.

“I know that by raising that graduation rate we're going -- because Highline is the fifth most diverse higher education institution in the country -- to bring a lot of national attention to the college,” Eklof said.

Increasing graduation rates and becoming nationally recognized is not easy, but Eklof said that he is ready to do everything he can and work with, and for, Highline to get there.

Along with wanting to get Highline nationally recognized, he also wants to bring things to Highline. Eklof would like to bring “affinity groups” to the Highline campus.

“Students of color, LGBT students, undocumented students, students with different abilities, veterans, everything you name it,” he said.

Eklof said that he wants to start programs for these students so they can have a “strong sense of belonging” at the campus and so they also feel like they have support.

Having support networks, and students feeling like they belong on campus will increase their likelihood to be successful and graduate, Eklof said.

“That is the ultimate goal. Everything that I do is about student success,” he said.

For students who deal with food and housing insecurity, Eklof wants to set up a program that supports these students.

“There's a food bank at Highline but I want to really find out how we can include a comprehensive measure that supports students all the way through,” Eklof said.

He said that doing this could be anything from working with king country metro and getting students more bus passes, to connecting students with emergency resources.

Another program Eklof said he would like to start at Highline is “a program for formerly incarcerated students that are looking to come back to school.”

The program would help them transition back to school and provide resources that would help them succeed.

“Kind of like a support program. Or a program that provides resources for formerly incarcerated students would be really helpful,” Eklof said.

Eklof wants to bring conversations to Highline. These conversations would be different campus dialogs that discuss different equity, diversity, and inclusion issues.

The issues he wants to include in these dialogues could be anything from domestic violence to anti-blackness to fragility, and everything in between.

These campus dialogues may mean having difficult conversations, but these will help students to learn more about their community at Highline and feel more connected, Eklof said.

During the forum, Penny Toles, a student at Highline, asked how Eklof plans “to support ABE/ESL students who represent one-third of the student population at Highline but, they are treated as second class citizens.”

At Cascadia College, where he currently works, he said there was a similar situation in which ESL students were in a separate building from the rest of the students. Those students felt “isolated or put off to the other side,” Eklof said.

When he learned about what was going on, he went out and interviewed staff, faculty, and students so he could gain a better understanding of the situation.

During these interviews, he asked about what these people thought were the strengths and weaknesses when it came to ABE and ESL students.

One of the things he did after learning more, was having more of a physical presence at that department. Eklof did that so he would better understand what was going on and so he could be a “middle person who just shares that information,” he said.

From doing those interviews, Eklof learned that one of the issues was that those students didn’t know about events or programs that were going on on campus.

To get these students aware of what is going on on campus, “well, that's just as easy as sending an e-mail,” he said. The more challenging part of that was finding a way to include the students.

“I reached out to the director of student life and said this is how the department and this is how the students are feeling. Is there any way that we can close this gap?” Eklof asked. “Together we collaborated, and she said, yeah, of course, we can send more marketing over there, flyers over there. I'll make sure that I CC the employees [who work with ABE and ESL students].”

This may not have been able to solve every issue, but Eklof was able to solve one problem and get ABE and ESL students more included in the campus events and programs.

“I want to be able to advocate because at the end of the day as vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion, my job is to make sure that you all get a world-class education, that you all are critical thinkers, that you're ready to go off into the world and change the world,” Eklof said.