Hudson County Community College’s Teaching and Learning Symposium on Social Justice in Higher Education Shines a National Light on Important Issues

April 19, 2023

April 19, 2023, Jersey City, NJ – Recently, Hudson County Community College continued to serve as a thought leader at the forefront of social and racial justice by hosting another successful nationwide “Teaching and Learning Symposium on Social Justice in Higher Education.”

HCCC’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation hosted the second annual edition of this week-long Symposium from February 27, 2023 through March 3, 2023. The national convening was led by Dr. Paula Roberson, Director of HCCC’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation. The Symposium enjoyed a strong turnout as well as an array of high-profile speakers. But it was about a lot more than that. Dr. Roberson explains that “People need strategies to manage the social injustices in their lives. The Symposium is a way for people to learn how to help themselves and others, whether it is through the legal system, community agencies, or a career in public service. These teaching and learning sessions are wanted, needed, and imperative for improved relationships and understanding between people.”

The Symposium provided a forum for leaders in social and racial justice from a variety of fields to share their experiences and expertise. It also helped the college and its students forge new relationships with community and environmental agencies. The sessions covered topics such as how social and racial issues impact employment, health and the healthcare system, the environment, mental health, spirituality, the justice system, corporate responsibility, youth advocacy, and more.  

The well-attended Symposium involved 725 participants representing 77 different four-year institutions and 55 community colleges. Participants from 34 states attended, representing more than two-thirds of the United States. This built on last year’s inaugural Symposium, which involved over 500 attendees from seven states and 47 colleges and universities. This year’s Symposium even attracted the participation of two international institutions from the Caribbean: The University of the West Indies and the County Colleges of Jamaica. Adding to the Symposium’s growing international footprint, 129 participants live-streamed the proceedings from Belize.

The event included 50 presenters from 32 social, civic, and educational agencies. Several of the notable speakers and participants included keynote speaker Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, President of Howard University; Vice President of Hampton University Dr. Walter T. Tillman, Jr.; John K. Pierre, Esq., Chancellor of the Southern University Law Center; Johnnetta B. Cole, Ph.D, the first female President of Spelman College (Retired); Attorney General of New Jersey, Matthew Platkin; Secretary of Higher Education for the State of New Jersey, Dr. Brian Bridges; and New Jersey State Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, who delivered the Symposium’s closing address.


Group Photo of PACDEI Members

HCCC’s President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (PACDEI) members, including President Dr. Chris Reber and Dr. Paula Roberson, meet at the Gabert Library.

Pulling together an event of this size and scale is a massive undertaking. What inspired Dr. Roberson to take it on? She explained that after her own “very harsh past experience with white patriarchal power and institutional racism, I was hurt economically, emotionally, and professionally and did not want other people to feel what I felt.  I wanted to use my energy in a positive way whereby others could benefit from where my eyes could not see, which has already happened.” The event required a great deal of work, but Dr. Roberson knows that it was worth the effort because “it takes time, effort, and modeling for people to imitate good behavior and to create pathways of understanding.”

While the Symposium focused on a more just world, recent news right outside HCCC’s doorstep hit close to home and showed that there is still much work to be done. On the final day of the Symposium, anti-violence activist Najee Seabrooks was killed by the police in nearby Paterson, New Jersey, Dr. Roberson’s hometown. “This was a man who was having an emotional crisis.  We addressed this issue during the first hour of the Friday morning session with two attorneys from the State Office of the Public Defender, in the ‘Your Rights Under Mental Health Detainment’ session. Two-thirds of the states across the country tuned in to participate.  We have something very important and relevant here and colleges have taken notice.”  

While these recent events illustrate that there is a long way to go, Dr. Roberson knows that the Symposium’s success is making a positive impact: “As the Symposium planning moved along, it came together because of the positive subject matter.  There are many good people willing to make this world a better place through their skills and talents.  It was a simple ask and an easy yes.” 

Located in the heart of New Jersey’s Hudson County, with campuses in Jersey City, Union City and other sites throughout the county, HCCC is a natural home for this nationwide Symposium. Jersey City is the most ethnically diverse city in the United States, and one of the most diverse cities in the world, while Hudson County is New Jersey’s most densely populated county and the fifth most densely populated county in the United States. Nearly 20% of Jersey City residents live below the poverty line, and HCCC is home to students from low family incomes, students who speak English as a second language, and students navigating through significant life challenges while pursuing their education. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of HCCC students grapple with food insecurity, housing insecurity, and/or homelessness. Furthermore, 80% of first-time, full-time incoming HCCC students place into ESL, developmental English, or developmental math courses. Many of the college’s students are undocumented, and many are DACA students. But when HCCC students complete their degrees and achieve their goals, they are enormously successful; the outcomes are transformational and life-changing. 

HCCC is proud to serve this vibrant and diverse community by offering an educational pathway to anyone who walks through the institution’s doors. HCCC’s mission is to meet students where they are, helping them attain their educational goals and achieve their dreams. 

The entire HCCC college community looks forward to building on the Symposium’s momentum and hosting a third annual installment of the Teaching and Learning Symposium on Social Justice in Higher Education again next year. Next year’s Symposium will take place February 26, 2024 through March 1, 2024. Next year’s edition of the Symposium is already gaining momentum with commitments from powerful guest speakers such as Dr. Liza Chowdhury of the Paterson Healing Collective and Mark Talley of Agents for Advocacy.

Dr. Chowdhury is the Project Director for the Paterson Healing Collective, a hospital-based violence intervention program focused on providing support and intervention to survivors of violence – the first of its kind in Passaic County, New Jersey. Dr. Chowdhury was a colleague of Najee Seabrooks, who worked as a high-risk interventionist at the Collective before he was killed by police on March 3, the final day of this year’s Symposium. She is also a professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she teaches in the Social Science, Human Services and Criminal Justice Department.

Mark Talley is the son of Geraldine Talley, who was a victim of the Tops supermarket shooting in Buffalo last year. Rather than becoming consumed by bitterness, Mark decided to become a beacon of hope for his grieving community, volunteering with a variety of organizations to make a positive impact on some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Mark went on to found his own organization, Agents for Advocacy, which is working to bring the community together with events such as barbecues and by distributing bookbags and Thanksgiving meals. Mark is seeking to put a spotlight on racism and socioeconomic disparities while working to bring change to the Buffalo neighborhoods that need it the most. 

Interested participants for the 2024 Symposium can send their suggestions, questions, and session proposals to Dr. Roberson at probersonFREEHUDSONCOUNTYCOMMUNITYCOLLEGE.