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Meet the RELA 2.0 cohort (part 3)

News & Updates
November 27, 2023

This summer, leadership teams from eight colleges convened in Los Angeles for an intensive retreat focused on advancing racial equity at their institutions. The colleges are part of the Racial Equity Leadership Academy, a joint initiative from Achieving the Dream and the USC Race and Equity Center that supports teams of leaders as they develop transformative racial equity change efforts on campus.

We talked to the RELA teams about their motivation behind joining the program, their goals for their institutions, and how they hope this work will affect their broader communities. Keep reading to learn more about Davidson-Davie Community College and Lorain County Community College.

This is the final installment in a three-part series — read part one here and part two here.


Davidson-Davie Community College

Davidson-Davie Community College (DDCC), serving about 5,000 curriculum students, is a rural institution in North Carolina. The college has been part of the ATD Network since 2010 and earned the designation of Leader College of Distinction for the first time in 2021.

While leadership has been engaged in multiple initiatives and programs related to equity in general, Emily Dietrich, director for student success initiatives and analytics, said the college joined RELA out of a desire to take action explicitly focused on racial equity. “It is important as educators that we create the optimal environment for our students, as well as establishing and maintaining an environment for our faculty and staff to feel able to be their true selves,” she said.

Like many other institutions in the RELA cohort, DDCC is focused on addressing equity gaps that affect male students of color. In particular, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Keisha Jones said that leaders are paying attention to this demographic’s enrollment and persistence in programs with strong labor market value, such as industrial systems technology and pharmacy technology.

DDCC has an important presence in the community, said Dr. Christy Forrest, associate vice president for academic affairs. “As we commit to tackling difficult conversations around racial equity, my hope is that members of our community will be inspired to engage in those same conversations and we can take steps toward building greater understanding and a corresponding reduction in [racial] equity gaps.”

“Our campus should be a place where BIPOC students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and supported … As leaders, we must strive to be positive examples of people who believe in and embody racial equity in our thoughts and actions. We serve as equity champions at our institution, engaging our peers in the important work to be done.”

– Dr. Debra Ford, Associate Professor 

LCCC nursing student Bianca Young

LCCC surgical technology student Sariana Rivera

Lorain County Community College

Located about 25 miles west of Cleveland, Lorain County Community College (LCCC) serves about 12,000 students. The college has been designated as an ATD Leader College of Distinction since 2018 and earned the prestigious Leah Meyer Austin Award in 2020.

The college’s current strategic plan, Vision 2025, includes a goal of increasing economic mobility and financial security in the region. Lorain County includes the urban cores of Lorain and Elyria and the suburban communities of Avon and Avon Lake. “The bifurcation of [these areas] tells a story of two realities within our county,” said Dr. Jonathan Dryden, provost/vice president for academic affairs and university partnership. Bachelor’s degree attainment in the suburban areas is 50% and above while Elyria has 16% attainment and Lorain has 13%.

LCCC recognizes that these disparities in educational attainment disproportionately affect people of color. With a focus on Black and Latinx students, LCCC leadership aims to improve social mobility of this population by increasing their success in academic pathways that lead to family-sustaining careers. In doing so, LCCC is taking a “future-focused” stance to address the talent gap in key growing industries like health care, IT, and manufacturing, Dr. Dryden said.

“Higher education and community colleges particularly, have an important role to play in advancing Dr. King’s vision of the ‘Beloved Community,’ a just world founded on equality, opportunity, justice, and unity. As a campus leader, I must ensure that the doors of opportunity and social mobility are open to all and that no person or policy will unjustly disadvantage those who would pass through them.”

– Dr. Jonathan Dryden

LCCC manufacturing student Nelson Rodriguez


The Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA) is an intensive institute designed to support teams of leaders as they develop bold, strategic racial equity plans and implement actionable change efforts at their institutions. RELA is made possible in part by the generous gift given to ATD from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and additional foundations. Learn more

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