Community : SCC’s President on Civil Rights and the Importance of Listening

By Coral Nafziger

“Do words equal actions?”

This is a question SCC’s president, Cheryl Roberts, says she thinks some at SCC are wondering as America transitions from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.

Roberts says that there are a lot of people with strong opinions about our current political environment, and she would like SCC to be a place where differing points of view can be voiced, heard and discussed.

Roberts believes that it is valuable for people to be exposed to beliefs and ideas that are different than their own, even though the process might be uncomfortable, so long as it is not uncomfortable in a threatening way.

When she came to SCC in August of 2014, Roberts wanted to create a community standard. Everyone on campus has the freedoms of speech and expression, she says, and the school needs to have a defined framework so these freedoms allow communication without impeding learning.

The community standard, Roberts says, lays out what a person agrees to when they join the SCC learning community.

Roberts says that equity and social justice are important to SCC, which has been multicultural since it opened 53 years ago.

She says she thinks about the Civil Rights Movement, and how much America has changed in her lifetime.

“I grew up in the segregated South — until I was seven. I know about colored bathrooms and entrances and sitting in the back of the bus,” says Roberts.

Her father was a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first African-Americans fighter pilots, who served in World War II. Roberts was quoted in the Seattle Times in 2008 as saying that her father “was very patriotic and he believed in the democratic process and equality, even though he couldn’t enjoy that himself.”

Roberts says that neither of her parents voted until they moved to Washington state in 1964. In her parents’ young adulthood, voting was technically legal for them as African-Americans, but it was also fraught with barriers. However, Roberts says that it was fear that prevented them from voting, not poll taxes or literacy tests.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Roberts says, talking about issues such as desegregation and equal access was called hate speech because many people saw it as opposed to the American culture they believed in and loved.

It is because of this, says Roberts, that it is important to allow opposite points of view to be presented. She believes that a person cannot know what they stand for unless they hear differing opinions.

Ideally, Roberts says she would like SCC to be a place where people can disagree with each other but still approach conversations with curiosity instead of judgement. She says she wants us to be able to hear where people with different beliefs are coming from — even if it does not change our minds, it still makes the ideas more concrete and human.

To this end, Roberts says that SCC will work this quarter to develop a communication campaign around the community standard to draw attention to it.

She says she also wants to work with faculty to help them address what is happening in students’ lives, even if they are not relevant to the subject of the class. By acknowledging what is happening outside of the classroom, Roberts says, the faculty can help students be present and focus on their work — whether it’s physics, calculus or any other subject area.

Roberts wants to hold events where people in the SCC community can have moderated discussions around sensitive subjects. She says she also wants to equip students to intervene if they see someone being disrespectful — to be able to change the dynamic of the interaction without putting themselves in jeopardy.

Students organizing and voicing their beliefs is another way Roberts says she would like to see conversations happen. In November, some SCC students held a two-hour Anti-Trump and Anti-Hate walkout. Roberts was there for the entire time and says that standing up for strongly-held beliefs is what America is about, and what SCC is about.

Roberts says she would be there for a demonstration held by any other group of students on campus around their beliefs — from a Pro-Trump demonstration, to one organized by students with strong opinions about “Ring Around the Rosy”.

Roberts says she wants SCC to be a place where anyone can come to learn regardless of their beliefs. She urges anyone who experiences a violation of civil rights or the SCC community standard to email [email protected].


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Shoreline Community College is a place for students, employees, and the community to pursue excellence in education in an environment dedicated to equity, inclusiveness, and self-reflection. We value respectful, dynamic interactions and lively discussion. We strive to create an environment where everyone is supported and valued. Shoreline Community College does not tolerate hateful, violent, or discriminatory actions that target any person or group based on their beliefs, customs, identity, or affiliations. When one of us is diminished, all of us are diminished.