Christopher M. Reber, President, Hudson County Community College
As a community college located in Jersey City, New Jersey, the most diverse city in the United States, Hudson County Community College serves and supports all who walk through our doors in pursuit of education and a promising future. Our college’s commitment to this open-access mission, anchored to our shared values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, is ironclad. Unfortunately, recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court, including the Court’s decision to strike down Affirmative Action, stand in stark contrast to this mission and our core values.
Hudson County Community College, and community colleges like us all over the nation, provide a vital onramp to the American Dream for those we serve. Our Journal Square campus is located in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, an inspirational symbol of our student’s dreams and aspirations. Our North Hudson campus serves Union City, one of the nation’s most densely populated cities and a diverse and thriving community with a large concentration of Hispanic and Latino citizens.
Our location in the heart of this diverse and vibrant region provides a unique vantage point for serving traditionally underrepresented and marginalized students and community members – people who are adversely affected by the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.
We are proud to support all students in achieving their goals and dreams for a better life. Like our community college peers, HCCC is an open-access institution, so the recent Affirmative Action ruling will not directly affect our admission of all students who come to us seeking a brighter future. But it will affect many of our graduates and employees who succeed at HCCC and go on to pursue baccalaureate and graduate education, including many who apply to highly selective colleges and universities including Ivy League and Research 1 institutions.
Most HCCC students place into English as a Second Language (ESL), Developmental English, and/or Developmental Math courses when they begin their education with us. Many of these students speak little or no English. Most navigate significant financial challenges. Additionally, we proudly serve many DACA and undocumented students.
In recent years, Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice twice surveyed our student body and found that two-thirds to three-quarters of our students reported challenges of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and even homelessness. I invite you to reflect on the immensity of the challenge of attending college while hungry or homeless, and the monumental commitment and drive these students have in seeking a brighter future. And many students are parents, struggling to navigate these life challenges while caring for children, and other family members, and working, often full-time.
Our students represent populations that are too often overlooked and ignored, but we are proud not to overlook anyone. We embrace all students. Through their hard work and with our guidance, support, and love, our students achieve transformational outcomes.
We have worked assiduously and collaboratively to create pathways that enable our students to transfer seamlessly to four-year institutions so they can continue their educational journeys and pursue their career and life goals. While our students endure significant hardships as they strive to complete their education, they consistently overcome these challenges to achieve remarkable outcomes and inspirational points of pride, year after year.
This past year, six of our students were chosen as semifinalists for the prestigious and highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the most in our college’s history. In recent years, our high-performing graduates have continued their educational journeys at prestigious institutions like NYU, Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, and Stevens Institute of Technology, sometimes with full scholarships. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s recent decisions restrict and discourage selective colleges and universities from continuing to serve many of our graduates in spite of these institutions’ belief in and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We are proud that our students tell us repeatedly they feel cared about and “at home” at Hudson County Community College. Indeed, our students have coined a phrase that is now our college tagline – “Hudson is Home!”
At our most recent Commencement ceremony, a record 1,505 graduates, including recent immigrants, first-generation college students, students with disabilities, and graduates from all races, ethnicities, and walks of life crossed the stage to receive their diplomas, united by their hard work in pursuit of a better life and supported by a loving and caring community. Nine of our graduates were incarcerated or reentry citizens, including two students who received their diplomas while incarcerated at the Hudson County Correctional Center.
Beyond the end of Affirmative Action, additional Supreme Court rulings that strike down previously announced plans for student loan forgiveness, and permit businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ citizens, create even more challenges for those we serve. These decisions are a setback to citizens all over the country who are striving to create a better life for themselves and their families and better communities for all.
The recent Supreme Court rulings throw new obstacles into the pathways our courageous and inspirational students traverse on their academic and life journeys, but it’s not only the Supreme Court that is making the world a more difficult and less welcoming place for many Americans. Book bans are being imposed in a growing number of states to clamp down on independent and critical thinking, the very skills we are trying to foster with a college education and the foundation that all democracies are built on. Members of our society’s marginalized communities have incredible and inspirational stories of perseverance and survival to tell. We can all learn from their courage and determination. But, sadly, book bans are being wielded as a weapon to erase these stories and silence their voices.
We have worked hard to mitigate the barriers to success that many of our students face, placing these students on pathways to the American Dream. Progress in creating a more equitable world has been hard fought, and while recent setbacks are discouraging, they ultimately strengthen our resolve to fight harder for the ideals of equity and inclusion for all. Our students are resilient, and with our full support, they will continue to pursue and achieve monumental outcomes.
We will keep going. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We must redouble our efforts to ensure all have an opportunity for an education and a better life. The poem inscribed on the base of the nearby Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’ “New Colossus,” famously tells the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Lady Liberty is a powerful metaphor for our college’s mission today.
HCCC will continue to serve all who enter our doors by providing them with educational opportunities, empowerment, and love to reach their full potential. Our nation’s community colleges and all of higher education embody the best our country has to offer in the spirit of inclusion, equality, equity, and hope.
Christopher M. Reber, President Hudson County Community College
Jersey City, Union City, and Secaucus, NJ