What’s in a name? Power.

“Whose school is this?”

    That is the question every student, faculty, and staffer at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) should ask themselves when considering the Board of Trustee’s (BoT) proposal to remove “Community” from our name. As the Editor in Chief of the Circuit, I don’t only report the news; I also try to frame public discussion in a way that is conducive to democratic self-governance. In my view, it is a mistake for us to frame discussion of the proposed name-change solely in terms of the sentimental value of “Community” or the dollar-cost of changing school signage. There is a bigger game in play here.

    Our college is a collaborative enterprise, and collaboration needs some basis of agreement about who we are and what we do. SCCC’s mission statement says that our school exists to promote

…educational excellence in a multicultural urban environment. We provide opportunities for academic achievement, workplace preparation, and service to the community.

    This mission statement is not merely symbolic. When administrators want to create or destroy academic programs, when teachers want to amend the curriculum, when the BoT wants to expand operations into a new campus–each group has to justify their plan as somehow agreeing with that mission statement. In effect, the SCCC mission statement functions as a contract between all of us, the document we refer to when debating whether a particular course of action is legitimate and acceptable.

    The name of our school is just a miniature version of that mission statement. A “community college” has local ownership built into its title, while “Seattle Central College” does not. What is at stake in the proposed name-change, then, is not just sentiment and money, but power. That power–the power of legitimacy–should be at the center of debate over any changes to SCCC’s title.

    “Whose school is this?” The answer is partly determined by our name.

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