Community College Professor Finds Success by Digging a Little Deeper - Higher Education
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Community College Professor Finds Success by Digging a Little Deeper

by Jamal Eric Watson

Dr. David Lucander is an assistant professor of pluralism and diversity at Rockland Community College. (Photo courtesy of David Lucander)

Dr. David Lucander is an assistant professor of pluralism and diversity at Rockland Community College. (Photo courtesy of David Lucander)

With a five-course teaching load every semester, one can’t help but wonder how Dr. David Lucander manages to find the time to research and write.

But for Lucander, 34, a rising star at Rockland Community College (RCC), which is part of the State University of New York system, the process of putting pen to paper simply requires discipline.

“It’s a real challenge,” says Lucander, who is a tenured assistant professor of pluralism and diversity at the community college located in upstate New York. “You sit down and you got to make time for it. It’s part of doing this work.”

His latest book, Winning the War For Democracy: The March on Washington Movement, 1941-1946 (University of Illinois Press), has been praised by scholars for its ability to focus on the lives of ordinary, everyday individuals who helped to propel the historic March on Washington Movement.

“This is a work of historical recovery that aimed at unearthing the lives of long-forgotten historical actors,” says Lucander, who earned a Ph.D. in 2010 from the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“A. Philip Randolph is something of a household name, while folks like Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Pauli Murray are well-known among historical specialists. People like T.D. McNeal and David Grant, however, are long forgotten, and I’m aiming to bring them into the discussion,” continues Lucander.

“I think it would be fantastic if, with a bit more research, a corpus of knowledge about the 1930s and 1940s could be developed that is on par with what we know about the civil rights movement of later decades.”

Dr. Eric Arnesen, a professor of history at The George Washington University, praises Lucander for writing a “deeply researched and nuanced account of the movement, its members, their aspirations and (their) accomplishments.”

He adds that the book, which grew out of Lucander’s doctoral dissertation, “is a sophisticated contribution to the history of Black protest and politics in the 20th century.”

Lucander’s productivity could have easily landed him at a research-centered four-year institution a long time ago. But as a product of TRIO Programs during his undergraduate years at Westfield State University, he’s come to appreciate how support programs and community colleges can help to refocus a student’s educational trajectory.

“I want to challenge the taboo that community colleges are not rewarding places to work,” says Lucander, who will appear on a panel in April at the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians. “If you put in the time, you can continue to do important research.”

The former high school teacher, who has also worked as a park ranger, is one of two full-time instructors charged with teaching courses in multiculturalism at RCC. Several years ago, he developed a popular course on the civil rights movement.

“I am the guy who does Black studies,” he says about his role at RCC, which boasts a remarkably diverse student population, including a burgeoning Haitian population.

And though he’s White, he’s never received pushback from students—many of whom are much older than him—about his ability to teach the subject matter.

“People recognize good work when they see it,” he says matter-of-factly. “If they can see a Black family in the White House, they can see a White person in Black studies.”

Still, it’s a challenge to help his students understand the long struggle for equal rights.

“There is often very little consciousness of the civil rights movement,” Lucander says of his students. “When they enter my class, they know Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but, by the end of the class, they know a whole different cast of characters.”

In January, Lucander will publish a co-edited book of about 80 of Randolph’s speeches with historian Dr. Andrew Kersten. He has a plate full of ideas about other scholarly endeavors.

“David was one of my brightest lights, and it’s almost inevitable that he’s doing what he’s doing,” says Dr. Kamal Ali, an associate professor of ethnic and gender studies at Westfield State University who has mentored Lucander through the years. “He is an exceptionally gifted writer whose goal was to inspire and teach students and he’s doing exactly that.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at jwatson1@diverseeducation.com.

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