It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when Pamela Haynes didn’t believe in herself. As the first Black female president of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, Haynes’ long list of accomplishments include a MPA in public administration from the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, four terms as president of the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees, eight years as a deputy director and senior consultant for the California State Assembly, Speaker’s Office of Member Services, and many more high-level positions and achievements. Surprisingly, self-confidence wasn’t always her strong suit.
“It took me a while to get through community college, and then I had a hiatus because I had children and a family but through it all, there have been people in my life who’ve seen something in me that I did not see in myself,” says Haynes, whose first alma mater is Santa Monica College (SMC). “I think that’s why community colleges have always had a special place for me given my own personal experiences. It’s something that I could relate to, it’s something that I understood as a student, as a returning student, and also as a student who had children and had a job.”
One of the people that believed in her was a SMC professor who invited Haynes to attend an exclusive seminar reserved for specially selected students.
“Attending Santa Monica College was one of the best experiences I had,” reflects Haynes, who was a double major in history and political science with a specific interest in American and African institutions. “I learned so much from every professor but that experience stands out to me. At the time, it made me think, ‘Pam, somebody thinks you are at this level to be invited to this group,’ and that was eye-opening to me. I don’t know if I’d ever felt that before, at least not in an educational setting.”
Even by the time she attended Harvard, Haynes was still unsure of herself even after several years of success working for an airline union in Los Angeles.
“My kids had more confidence in me than I had in myself,” says Haynes who laughed when she was invited to apply to Harvard. “There were times when my daughter Kimberly had to give me pep talks and remind me, ‘You belong here, mom, you belong here.’ It took me a while to believe that.”
Eventually, Haynes’ uncertainty gave way to what would become a lifelong desire to “make change.” Her desire to make an impact at the policy-level took her to Sacramento where she got a job as a performance auditor in the California State Auditor General’s office (now known as the California State Auditor's Office).
“The policy pieces that I really wanted to work on were in Sacramento and as it happens, they were in the process of diversifying the auditor general’s office,” says Haynes. “That’s why being intentional is so important. That got me into state government and really gave me a deep understanding of the way government works.”
Where others might have been content, Haynes started looking for ways she could apply her experience and expertise to “making change” in her local community. Eventually her work earned her an appointment to the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees where she would remain a trustee for more than 20 years and serve four terms as board president.
Today, as president of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, Haynes is more committed than ever to making change and being “intentional” about addressing issues of equity and racism.
“I think we have to continually ask ourselves, who our students are and what is it they need to be successful,” says Haynes. “As Chancellor Oakley says, ‘We take the top 100% of students’ but taking the top 100% means understanding who those students are and meeting them where they are. We have the right values but our institutions haven’t always been good at doing that, especially when it comes to students of color.”
“It is important that we remain intentional about speaking uncomfortably but courageously about how our institutions still discriminate,” continues Haynes. “I think Chancellor Oakley’s Vision for Success and the recent Call to Action webinar letter have us going in the right direction but there is still a lot of work to do.” Some of the work Haynes is particularly excited about includes AB 705, which took effect in 2018 and was written to ensure that students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress unless evidence suggests they are highly unlikely to succeed in college-level English or math courses. Since students placed into remediation are much less likely to reach their educational goals and as students of color are far more likely to be placed into remedial courses, previous policies had serious implications for equity.
“The most consequential thing that is happening on our campuses that will really help move the dial in terms of success for students of color, and in particular Black and Latino/a students is AB 705,” says Haynes. “Initial indications relative to implementation tell us that it is doing exactly what we thought it was going to do—helping students of color achieve better outcomes. It’s still a work in progress but I am encouraged by the commitment of our faculty and am pleased with where we’re going as a system.”
As a community college graduate and someone who has dedicated her life to making a difference in the world of politics and policy, President Haynes would be the first say that “making change” is hard and at times frustrating work. She would also be the first to say that it is work that is made infinitely more fulfilling and effective when it is done not in a silo but as a community.
Not surprisingly, when asked what advice she would give to a community college student who is just starting his or her educational journey, Haynes points to the importance of community.
“If you find community, you find friendships, you find help, you find accountability, and you find support,” reflects Haynes. “It is in isolation that we think we are alone and when we think we’re alone, we are not nearly as successful as when we think we’re all in this together. And the truth is, we are. The California Community College system isn’t any one person or idea or initiative—it’s all of us.”