Umoja and COM Programs

August 17th, 2021 - 9:49am

Our next In-depth Look explores how College of Marin’s (COM) Umoja learning community works with academic programs to imbed relevant curriculum that represents and honors its diverse student body. This story is a part of our year-long series on COM Umoja.

Find our first story here

Join us in 2021 to explore how COM’s Umoja program empowers students, promotes unity, and builds community and equity.

Umoja and COM Programs

“Few artists have had a greater revolutionary visual impact on 20th century Black politics, art, and graphic design than Emory Douglas,” stated COM professor Walter Turner, introducing pioneering artist Dr. Emory Douglas during the presentation: Art for Justice: Emory Douglas and the Black Panther Party.

The art Dr. Douglas created for the Black Panther Party was transformational. The imagery he produced in the Party’s newspaper provided powerful messages that emphasized the platforms and ideas of the Party. His art spoke truth, bringing light to relevant issues, and highlighted the Party’s 10-point Program around education, housing, health, and human rights reforms.

During the presentation, Dr. Douglas discussed his artwork, starting with the Black Panther Party’s early days of supporting Vince Matthews and Wayne Collette in their ‘At Ease’ stance while on the podium at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He showed how he evolved his art to assist other marginalized groups and emerging causes and movements at home and abroad. His art supported movements such as Black Lives Matter and helped commemorate the 1968 student massacre at Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City.

Turner, chair of COM’s social sciences department and Umoja faculty member, was the moderator for this final event held during Black Student Success Week. He talked with Dr. Douglas asking questions, such as how Douglas met the leaders of the Black Panther Party and how Douglas had been able to connect his work with social justice issues, like defunding the police.

“Defunding of the police department is an extension of community control of police,” Dr. Douglas stated. “It goes in that direction.” He discussed meeting Black Lives Matter members who asked about some of his art. “I told them I was inspired by art that came out of Cuba, out of Vietnam, and the art resistance of that time in Palestine. They were able to Google it while we talked, and they were able to see the stuff. Some were not aware of it. That was how we connected.”

Dr. Douglas’s visit to COM was through a collaboration with the Fine Arts and Architecture Department, Communication Department, and COM’s Umoja Equity Institute, a suborganization within COM Umoja working to build and increase equity and inclusion with COM faculty, staff, and administrators.

COM Umoja works with faculty to increase the incorporation of Black experience, history, art, and literature into the curriculum campus wide. And both the Fine Arts and Communication departments have seen the need to integrate a broader culturally relevant curriculum into their programs.

Since introductory art courses are one of the transfer-level courses students can take to meet many universities’ transfer requirements, Fine Arts instructor Barbara Gloistein and others in her department were curious as to why there were very few Black students and students of color enrolled in art classes. They discovered that many students dropped these courses soon after receiving the expensive supply list. To mitigate this, the Fine Arts Department created a lending library starting this fall so students have low- to no-cost access to the required tools and equipment.

“How do we let students know that we have a place for them, and that they shouldn't be concerned about the cost of tools and supplies?” Gloistein asked. “We want to make sure that people who want to try art have an opportunity.”

Gloistein, who teaches life painting, addressed finding ways to incorporate a meaningful curriculum for Umoja students in her classes. In her experience, art was taught through a very narrow lens of Western European male artists during the Renaissance. She asked, “how does teaching about all white European men suit 21st century students, particularly the students of color? It seems like weird time travel to focus on a tiny spot of the globe during a very specific time.”

“There's so much work coming from contemporary Black painters, in particular,” Gloistein stated. “It is exciting to incorporate all of these contemporary African American and Black American painters who've been developing this fantastic work over the last century.”

As Dr. Douglas relayed through his artwork, Dr. Colleen Mihal, a Communication and Umoja faculty member, believes it's important for students to think outside-the-box in terms of what journalism is and who produces it. “Journalism gives students the tools to investigate problems in their community, organize, and advocate for change,” stated Dr. Mihal. “And as with the Panther paper, this may often mean creating alternative, independent media spaces in the pursuit of collective liberation.”

“Learning how to produce media and practice journalism is empowering,” said Dr. Mihal. “Journalism and media production are skills students can utilize no matter what their degree or profession. In fact, our world desperately needs subject matter experts with journalism training that can write about our most pressing social and environmental issues. Just as we need more media produced by marginalized, impacted communities, we also need more media produced by people with critical understandings about the history and intersections of class, race, gender, sexuality, ability, geopolitics, and nature.”

Similarly, having more diversity in journalism allows for better representation and broader cultural perspectives in news articles and community stories. The inclusiveness of Black students in the journalism program supports students in journalism careers.

The collaborations between academic programs and COM Umoja and other learning communities are excellent examples of how COM is moving equity forward by breaking down silos and building partnerships to improve student success and retention.

Discover how COM’s Umoja community can help you succeed at

To support the COM Umoja program, please donate. All donations are tax-deductible and go directly to the program and student scholarships.