Santa Clara University's Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion

A message from Melissa Johns, Breakthrough Silicon Valley’s Executive Director

As Executive Director of a college access organization serving many students of color, this has been an unsettling year. I’ve witnessed a rising tide of unrest on campuses across the nation. Students of color are demanding attention to racial and social issues that shape their college experiences. I’ve sensed their anger and frustration – their feelings of isolation and unequal treatment. The range of issues has been as unique as the students and universities involved - what’s shared is a sense that despite some headway, significant work remains to be done in the name of diversity, inclusion, and equity for all.

As the Breakthrough Class of 2016 gets ready to head off for college, I find myself thinking a lot about how our students will be received in their new homes away from home. That’s why I’m heartened to see our partner, Santa Clara University, through the leadership of President Michael E. Engh, S.J., take decisive action. Fr. Engh has established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion that the university promises will “recommend strategies for transformational change that will make Santa Clara a more diverse, compassionate, and just university.” The commission includes an impressive group of Silicon Valley and community leaders with considerable experience. I’m confident they will bring thoughtful and informed conversation to this important area. I look forward to formal recommendations, expected this fall.

Breakthrough Silicon Valley has long worked on behalf of underrepresented students. We offer guidance and support through the crucial middle and high school years, setting students solidly on the path to college. For minority and low-income students, this is a journey filled with barriers – systemic barriers that perpetuate poverty and limit opportunities.

Breakthrough students are much like the ones I’ve seen on social media and in news headlines this year. They are intelligent, highly motivated kids. Without support though, barriers will continue to impact their success. These students struggle against stereotypes and low expectations. Their families often lack resources and first-hand college experience. Nonetheless, these kids deserve the chance to have their voices heard – to feel valued and supported, just as all young people do.

We applaud Santa Clara for its commitment to real, long-term dialog that will lead to a more diverse, inclusive, and opportunity-rich environment for all of its students. And we look forward to seeing similar action on other university campuses as well.

Melissa Johns is Executive Director of Breakthrough Silicon Valley. She has dedicated her professional career to creating educational opportunities for underserved youth. After earning a bachelor's degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Melissa joined the development team at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, California. Her time at Eastside cemented Melissa's belief that all kids deserve access to a quality education, regardless of their family's socioeconomic level. Melissa later served as Director of Development at The Girls' Middle School in Palo Alto where she led the school's ambitious commitment to offer full scholarships to low-income students.