For the first time in Clark College’s history, people of color make up the majority of its board of trustees.
Denise Gideon — system vice president of operations and program integration at PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver — joined the five-person board in November, more than two years after former Clark President Bob Knight retired amid accusations of gender and racial discrimination against employees.
But for Gideon, the second African American woman to join the board at the 89-year-old community college, the milestone is secondary to her goal of leading effectively.
“I’m honored to be on the board,” Gideon said. “When I look at the board, I’m very proud of our diversity, but I’m very sad that in 2022 this is a headline when it really shouldn’t be.”
Rekah Strong, CEO of Educational Opportunities for Children and Families in Vancouver and a Clark trustee since 2012, called the moment historic but also highlighted Gideon’s career accomplishments. Those also include serving in executive positions in California health care organizations and as a nurse in the U.S. Army.
“We got an amazing new board member who has a wealth of new knowledge and experience,” Strong said. “And she just happens to be a person of color.”
Recently, Clark’s board has been working with Rashida Willard — vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the college — to create an equity policy that incorporates inclusive language and practices into the board’s decision-making process.
About 40 percent of Clark’s students identify as non-white.
“That board configuration probably was the first time that as an entire board we took a pretty strong position around equity, and the value of equity,” Strong said. “(We) wanted to mirror who our student population is.”
Jeanne Bennett, the board chair, joined in 2019. Paul Speer, the vice chair, joined in 2018. Both are white. Trustee Cristhian Canseco Juarez, appointed to the board in 2021, is Latino.
Gideon fills the spot on the board previously occupied by Jane Jacobsen, who died in May.
Clark’s Board of Trustees oversees the college’s $40 million state allocation and its operating budget, in addition to monitoring the quality and relevance of the college’s programs for approximately 7,000 students. The governor appoints trustees to the board, with each full term lasting five years.
Gideon said each member of the board is multi-dimensional, just like Clark’s students, and that’s what makes the group effective.
“It’s not the diversity because of our ethnicity,” she said. “It’s the diversity because of our life experiences and our career choices.”
Zoë Buhrmaster is a reporter for The Independent, Clark College’s student newspaper. This story was written as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College. It was also published in The Independent.