Joseph L. White, professor emeritus of psychology, leads teach-in at Cross-Cultural Center, kicking off Black History Month events. Jocelyn Lee / UC Irvine

Less than two weeks after President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the site of the future UC Irvine campus in an effort to “open the doors of America’s abundance” to all, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The bill was an historic milestone for the U.S. and the civil rights movement.

Three years later, UCI’s founding chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. recruited Joseph L. White, one of the first licensed African American psychologists in the nation. White echoed Johnson’s vision for equity, and sought to challenge existing psychological understandings of ethnic minorities and advance opportunities for African American students.

Nearly 50 years later, White, professor emeritus of social sciences, reiterated his commitment to opening access routes to higher education in California for underrepresented, minority students speaking at the 40th anniversary celebration of UCI’s Cross-Cultural Center, which he helped found. It was the kick-off of a series of Black History Month events that continue through Feb. 28.

Revered as the “godfather of black psychology,” White was influential in establishing the Association of Black Psychologists, California’s Educational Opportunities Program, and the Cross-Cultural Center, which was the first of its kind in the University of California system. Throughout his tenure at UCI, White has served as a mentor to countless students from all walks of life, including Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham ’77.

“He taught us with his heart and soul, he mentored us, he guided us because that is part of the UC Irvine experience,” Parham said of White, professor emeritus of psychology. “There is nobody who has a bigger heart, nobody who has a stronger commitment, nobody who has claimed and mentored more people than this man.”

Every year, UCI honors the trailblazing psychologist with the Joseph White Lecture series during the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

“No single person has had more influence over the Cross-Cultural Center than Dr. Joseph White,” said Kevin Huie, center director. “It’s never lost on me that the Cross has been in its existence for 40 years because of people like him.”

This year, nearly 500 students, faculty and staff attended a campuswide teach-in for the Joseph White Lecture, which focused on the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a social media campaign created to draw attention to Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012 and to issues of anti-blackness. The movement grew on the heels of officer-involved shootings of unarmed African-American males in Ferguson, Mo.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Staten Island, N.Y., last year.

The event’s aim was to open lines of communication among members of the UCI campus community about what White called vital issues of race, culture, multicultural coalitions, and solutions for social change.

“Change does not begin in Ferguson, Missouri. Change does not begin in New York City. Change does not begin in Cleveland, Ohio. Change begins with self,” White said. “We have to start some way. We have to go through a process of involvement and discovery and consciousness-filling. It’s a long struggle.”

“We want to be able to face these issues and deal with them head on,” Huie added. “We want to be able to embrace what our role can potentially be as students, staff and faculty here at UCI.”

Black History Month Activities

Wednesday, Feb. 11, Noon-1 p.m., Cross-Cultural Center

Lecture: Self-Preservation as Resistance: Tips for Practicing Self-Care & Social Justice

Featured speaker: Sumun “Sumi” Pendakur, associate dean for institutional diversity at Harvey Mudd College. Lunch will be provided. RSVP at:

Thursday, Feb. 19, 11:55 a.m.-1:15 p.m., Education Building 1121
Film Screening and Conversation: “The House We Live In”

Discussion session topic is: “White Flight and The Wage of Poverty: Economic Discrimination in the 20th Century.”

Friday, Feb. 20, noon, Law Building 3500

Lecture: Resurrecting Jim Crow: Power, Racism and the American Road

Fon L. Gordon, associate professor of history at University of Central Florida, is a scholar of the 20th century south. She is working on a social history of the automobile in Florida as symbolic of the new south and the nation.

Tuesday, Feb. 24, 5:30-8 p.m., Newkirk Alumni Center

Poetry and Lecture: Distinguished Poet Haki R. Madhubuti on Art, Activism and Institution Building. Pizza and refreshments provided.

Friday, Feb. 27, 4-8 p.m., Humanities Instruction Building 100

Film Screening and Q&A: The Long Road to The Hall of Fame: Film Screening and Q&A with Reda Zine, Chuck D, Malik Farrakhan and Greg Tate

Friday, Feb. 27, 8-10 p.m., Winifred Smith Hall

Concert: Urban Black Music Concert featuring Agindotan Family Band and Ugochi the African Buttafly

Saturday, Feb. 28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Winifred Smith Hall

Conference and Music Workshops: Urban black music concert featuring keynote speaker Greg Tate. Workshops with Ryat, Ras G, Ugochi, Najite Agindotan and Burnt Sugar

Saturday, February 28, 8-10 p.m., Winifred Smith Hall

Concert: Urban black music concert featuring Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber