Students, faculty, and professional staff throughout the Grossmont and Cuyamaca college district will be marching in the July 16 San Diego Pride parade after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The parade is the largest single-day civic event in the San Diego region, one of the largest pride celebrations in the nation, according to organizers, and typically attracts over 300,000 participants to celebrate the LGBTQ community in Hillcrest.
Director of Student Development Heriberto Vasquez said the significance of East County’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca community college district participating in PRIDE for the fifth time is to visually demonstrate the district’s inclusivity and diversity.
“Part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is to show several diverse communities that we are there for them. We are the leading higher education facilitator in East County and we realized it is filled with diverse communities— participating is a form of inclusion,” Vasquez said.
Initially, Vasquez said, he thought the parade might be smaller than in years past but now has the highest number of contingencies participating “from banks to businesses” with close to 300 programs and services represented at the event.
“That’s the highest they’ve ever seen. Post pandemic, people are hungry for community and to enjoy life,” Vasquez said.
Part of the magic, the point where demonstration becomes action, he said, is having people gather and unify in person after two years of sheltering and distancing. Getting people excited, rallying participants with something as simple as color-coordinated shirts translates into building community. That unification and the resulting sense of community manifest as better services and more effective practices at school.
“When we build a community with our staff, our students, our faculty, it’s about building a community that provides services to people. When students have a sense of belonging, they perform better, staff provides better services, faculty teaches better,” Vasquez said.
As a former outreach coordinator for Cuyamaca College, the student development director believes the district focuses on community outreach, regardless of whether someone will ever be a student.
“We go to every high school in East County and we embed our ambassadors to assist with financial aid with applications. People don’t even have to come to Grossmont to complete the free application for federal student aid. They can start with us and then go elsewhere,” Vasquez said.
The outreach team has “gone to YMCA events, religious organizations and service providers, have been expanding to be more present” and “meet the community where it is at” to serve as a supportive institution.
“We provide services outside of academic services and you don’t necessarily have to be enrolled. For example, we’re currently working with Las Colinas detention facility in Santee to supply books and provide classes,” Vasquez said.
“The pandemic was a lull but we’re coming back,” Vasquez said.