Joseph L. White
Professor Emeritus Joseph L. White, the “godfather” of black psychology, was the keynote speaker at the Cross-Cultural Center’s 40th birthday celebration. Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

Nearly a decade after UC Irvine held its first day of classes in 1965, a group of faculty, staff and students recognized the need to establish a sociocultural support system for ethnic minorities. On Oct. 16, 1974, the Cross-Cultural Center was born, the first of its kind in the University of California system.

Now 40 years old, the facility aims to create a socially just campus, foster cultural identities and offer opportunities for community engagement. It provides programs, activities and services to encourage the personal, social and academic success of UCI’s diverse students.

The center – visually notable for its three large, student-made murals – also instituted the campus’s annual Rainbow Festival.

To celebrate the Cross-Cultural Center’s important place in UCI’s history, director Kevin Huie recently hosted a birthday bash highlighting the university’s vibrant ethnic and cultural groups.

“The CCC not only has been a ‘home away from home’ for many students and alumni, but also has been a place where innovative multicultural practices, student activism and transformational leadership development have played a significant role in shaping the identity of the campus and addressing the various social ills that challenge the inclusivity of our community,” Huie said.

The party featured alumni question-and-answer sessions, dance performances by student cultural organizations, a catered dinner, and remarks from Professor Emeritus Joseph L. White.

Known as the “godfather” of black psychology, White was recruited to UCI in 1967 and was instrumental in establishing a campus counseling center, California’s Educational Opportunity Program, and the national Association of Black Psychologists.

A mentor for minority students at UCI for nearly 50 years, he said that UCI’s Cross-Cultural Center was founded as a safe space that aided in advocacy and empowerment.

“What we wanted to do was open up the access routes to opportunity,” White said. “Within this vast University of California, there is plenty of opportunity.”

The next step, he said, is to make the university reflect the state of California in terms of cultural and ethnic diversity.

A separate 40th anniversary celebration available to the public is planned as part of UCI’s homecoming festivities in January.

“Our students are more competent, more savvy and more intellectually engaged around issues of diversity and social justice than previous generations,” Huie said. “It’s the education and experiences that the CCC offers that significantly contribute to this reality.”