ACC talks Black History Month: Dr. Shasta Buchanan

Throughout Black History Month, Austin Community College District (ACC) asks influential and accomplished faculty, staff, and students to discuss what Black History Month means to them.

Dr. Shasta BuchananDr. Shasta Buchanan has spent the last five years of her 20-year career in higher education at ACC and currently serves as the college's vice president of Student Affairs.

Why do you work at ACC?

My career in higher education spans over 20 years at six different institutions in Texas and Oregon. After years of moving from institution to institution and learning how different colleges and universities work, I became more interested in being settled and still transformative as a higher education leader. When my family and I moved back to Texas, I first wanted to work for a place that felt like home and family. I equally wanted to find a place that I could believe in regarding its work with students, community, and transforming education. For me, educational work has to have meaning and make an impact on the lives we say we serve. I was able to find this meaning at Austin Community College District.

Why do you believe it's important for the college to commemorate Black History Month?

I have shared with many people that I am a result of Black History in my own family. I am a fourth-generation educator and fourth-generation college student. I cannot even imagine what my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents endured being educated and then educating Black people. But what I do know are the results of their unselfish fight for what was right and what they knew all along, which are the beautiful talents that come from Black people and the enrichment that comes to all from Black minds. Our tough-love style of nurturing, our unapologetic stand for justice, our uncompromised spirit to speak to wrong and demand the respect and opportunity that is promised to all people, and our remarkable ability to create/innovate/inspire; this is why I celebrate.

In addition to all these wonderful celebratory attributes, it is equally important to be honest and transparent about Black History, Black leadership, Black inventors, Black educators, and how this America was built. As the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, stated, "we are a country that is not broken, rather just unfinished." Our Black ancestors paid an incredible price and we all need to cash that righteous check to finish their work in the name of social justice and true equality. I celebrate because Black History is everyone's history and I have a responsibility to my elders to cash that check of equality so the next generation has a positive path forward.

What are some personal or professional accomplishments you are most proud of?

The best two contributions I could ever give this world are my son and my daughter. I am grateful God gave me the ability to raise young people that will do good in this world. Unfortunately, they have already experienced discrimination but were able to call it out quickly and demand their respect. It is because of this, I have to leave a better world for them.

Professionally, I am proud to have been a developer and contributor to programs that support underrepresented communities that have received national, state, and regional recognition. My students are educators, lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses – you name it! Many of them once shared that they never met anyone who served in those careers in their neighborhoods. Now, they are the someone they always wanted to see. This development and transformation of the whole student/person is really what makes my heart smile and the best reward.

What's the best lesson you've learned?

I am constantly growing and should always use my voice to speak up. My voice is valued and I should value the responsibility I have with my voice.

Why do you feel it is important to seek out and value diverse perspectives?

There comes a time when all who sit at the table can not be of homogenous thoughts, characteristics, or ethnic backgrounds. We all bring our authentic selves to that table to be heard, valued, and respected from our unique lens. When the diversity of thought comes together, the magic happens. As a Black person, no one can tell my story, my life-walk, my community, my challenges, and my perseverance better than me. This equally means I cannot tell someone else's story better than the individual who experienced it. However, we can respect, listen, learn, and appreciate with a sense of application. You don't necessarily have to do it my way but one has to wonder if a new way of thought or direction is better than the old/same way that has yet to yield favorable outcomes. Diverse perspectives bring value to the discussion and the decisions that are made. It wasn't my skin color that changed one's perspective, it was the diversity in my experience that I brought to the table that redirected a decision, idea, or strategy for the better.

How do you build bridges between communities?

I learned by watching my elders that people don't care about who you are, they care about who they are to you. It is important to be comfortable in learning about a culture unlike one's own, removing stereotypes, and disengaging from creating false narratives. For instance, I am not preachy; I'm passionate. I am not bossy; I am a leader. I am not defensive; I'm just dedicated. When we change the words, it easily changes the meaning. We can't build a bridge if we come with preconceived notions of a culture. I come to the table in hopes that others know their goals are important to me so we can work better together.

What inspires you?

I was in elementary when my great-grandfather Judge passed away. He was an educator and a community leader. Before he passed, he was determined to write a birthday letter to me (I still have it to this day). An excerpt from his letter to me shares, "I may not be able to see all you can do in your whole life. But I used my whole life to make sure you have more than the world gave me." The results of my great-grandfather's work and his words create this fire in my belly to take the proverbial baton and use my whole life to leave a better world.