The Aug. 28 Black Lives Matters March on Washington D.C. marks three months of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd. The movement has raised awareness to myriad issues related to racism and inequality, but where does it go now? In this edition of the UCI Podcast, Doug Haynes, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and a professor of history at UCI, offers his perspectives on this pivotal time in U.S. history and discusses what’s happening on campus, such as with the UCI Black Thriving Initiative he’s leading.
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The killing of George Floyd has dramatically altered this conversation since his death in May. There’s been ongoing protests in most American cities, and the Black Lives Matter movement has gained unprecedented support from a majority of people and institutions. It’s all coming to a focus on Aug. 28 with the Black Lives Matter March on Washington, D.C. That day was chosen because it’s 57 years to the day of the famous March on Washington and the historic speeches by John Lewis and the Rev. Martin Luther King. “Wake up” and “I have a dream” still resonate louder than ever.
Hi, I’m Tom Vasich, and this is the UCI Podcast. As part of our “what’s next” series of stories and podcasts, Doug Haynes joins us to talk about what’s next for social justice. As the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion at UCI and a professor of history. It’s a topic he’s deeply familiar with. And he’s putting action behind his words. Doug is also leading the new UCI Black Thriving Initiative. It’s a whole university approach to creating a campus culture where black people thrive UCI. Like the rest of the country will be forever changed through a stronger commitment to advance social justice. Here’s Doug, to tell you more about that.
So, Doug, it’s been three months since George Floyd died. And in that time there’s been massive protests around the country and for the cause of Black Lives Matter. It just feels that this is a pivotal moment in history in the United States. You’re a historian – What do you think about what’s going on?
Well, the, the historian may the thinks in terms of changing continuity. You’re definitely seeing continuity in far that the Black Lives Matter movement really emerge in the wake of the death of Michael Brown in 2014. It really generated broad appeal to people through the medium of social media and the fact that not only Michael Brown, but even after Michael, there were so many recorded deaths – unarmed black men mainly, and also women – in police custody. And so it became increasingly difficult for people to deny, ignore or dispute that this was happening and what made it. So that’s the continuity.
What’s different, though, is the scale. And the scale in some part is an effect of being sheltered in place and the protests in the streets. The demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter are just so vast, both in this country and around the world. But what’s striking is that even though there’s scale, the intensity is different. What we still don’t know is whether or not this movement will translate into change. And I think that’s one of the fundamental questions. There has been a change in more people of their consciousness. There’s no doubt about that, but that in and of itself does not necessarily mean that you will have lasting change in public policy. And so I think we’re in this very ambiguous moment coming up on the eve of a national presidential election.
Well, you brought up something – that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And the one thing I’ve been hearing about this pandemic is that it’s revealing the flaws in institutions. We’re seeing it, in some cases, in higher education. You’re seeing in athletics, and obviously you can see it in government. How much of this pandemic is fueling the Black Lves Matter movement, because it’s revealing so much that that’s most people have been overlooking in the past.
That’s a very powerful question because in the U.S., economic growth has enabled people to defer and put off difficult decisions, right? And as you suggested right now, the impact of COVID has cratered the economy and exposed decades of hollowing out of our institutions. And it’s for that reason more people feel vulnerable. There’s no question about it. And meanwhile, they look to our national leaders, who can’t get the job done. And so for that reason, I think that you have a lot of people who are sympathetic, if not empathetic, with the protesters in the streets. Because if – quote, unquote – ordinary people who are working hard, paying their taxes, going to school, if they can’t secure a measure of security, and the government is unable to provide a solution, going out into the street becomes a more attractive proposition to express your frustration.
And especially when you look at the disparities of how COVID attacks certain American populations. Black Americans and Hispanics are dying at a much higher rate. And that’s, I mean, that’s the status quo of how inequality affects the United States.
Just to sort of put it another way, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. We now know that prisons are super [coronavirus] spreaders, and the state of California incarcerates a disproportionate share of Black and Brown men and women. And those are sites for the failure of the American project. And it just highlights the point that you’ve made that people of color are disproportionately affected. And the reason why they’re disproportionately affected is because they experience inequality that makes them more vulnerable and weakens their capacity to prevent exposure. And so on one side of the scale, you have people that are incarcerated, and on the other end, you have people who are essential workers who have to work.
What I find interesting about the last few months is how corporate America has jumped on board. You’re seeing visual reputation changing – Aunt Jemima has been retired. You see in sports, the Washington football team got rid of its name. Country music acts like the Dixie Chicks are now just the Chicks. Lady Antebellum is now Lady A. You’re seeing support from companies like Nike, and an important body of leadership in this movement are NBA basketball players. And in turn, when we watch NBA games in the bubble, scripted across the court is Black Lives Matter. How do you interpret, this corporate support of societal change?
You put your finger on something that’s important. I think it’s an example of corporate America not anticipating the future or envisioning a future that Americans participate in as consumers. In this case, you have corporate America catching up to a movement. But as much as you see the widespread adoption of the Black Lives Matter name and statements, I think – that while those are necessary – they ultimately are insufficient. And they’re insufficient precisely because of how institutionalize racism is in the United States. And so one can certainly buy a t-shirt that says Black Lives Matter, but that in and of itself will not affect the high rates of poverty, food insecurity or housing security that African-Americans endure day in and day out.
You had mentioned to me earlier that the difference between Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives matter is very much based on protest. Whereas the Civil Right movement was striving for legislation and legislative changes that have a lasting impact. Do you think that what’s happening now with Black Lives Matter can transition into a new civil rights movement, where where legislation will become part of the objective?
That’s another very powerful question. And I think that context matters for the Civil Rights movement. It was really about getting protections for Constitutional rights that were embedded in the Constitution but weren’t honored at the state level. Nor was the federal government particularly interested in protecting the rights of African Americans. And so the focus was on legislative change to secure that. It inspired of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The irony is that it’s quite evident that one reason for the Black Lives Matter movement to exist is the inadequacy of legislative solutions to address anti-blackness. And so the Black Lives Matter movement is less interested in participating in a political process that hasn’t delivered results. Then the question becomes, well, can this movement affect change and other ways? And that is another question, because there’s many people who show up at the Black Lives Matter protests who express their solidarity. But remember, there’s this fear, there’s about 450 members of the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate – you needed a majority, right? And at this point, it’s not clear to me if there is a majority for Black Lives Matter in Congress.
How do you see the next few months turning out?
I think that the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington will become an occasion for the Black Lives Matter movement demonstration to actually provide us with a greater sense of the future direction. Because the Civil Rights movement, and that event in 1963, mobilized sufficient pressure nationally to get the Kennedy administration to push the Civil Rights bill with protections in that it probably would not have happened [otherwise]. And so, in some sense, I’m kind of curious to see whether or not the March on Washington later this month is even possible in the context of a pandemic. And to what extent it can affect change in in Congress, with right now Congress is divided, and there actually is no legislation for an updated Civil Rights Act. But I think it’s going to be the focal point for the country. Many people are going to be watching on various devices, and many people may be there, but it’s still unclear to me how the movement will mobilize people to act. And that’s the reason why we should watch what happens on Aug. 28.
Well, going back to 1963, the “I have a dream” speech has inspired millions of people around the world. Will the people going to be tuning in on Aug. 28 to the Black Lives Matter March on Washington try to find the same kind of inspiration?
You know, I think, yes. You can’t ignore the impact, the significance and the enduring importance of the “I have a dream speech.” There will be constant comparison, but I would submit to you that there were several speakers at the 1963 March on Washington, with one message in particular that will resonate with the audience in the 21st century. And that’s the speech by John Lewis, the recently departed member of the House of Representatives and a real lion of the Civil Rights movement. I think most people don’t remember his speech, but I think it’s as relevant today as it was then, in part, because he insisted to all Americans to “wake up” and take note of a social revolution that was sweeping the South and across the country. Uh, and he pointed out that people were prepared to be beaten, jailed, and even lose their life in order to change America. And I think that’s a very powerful message. And I think that’s a message that resonates with many people today who are in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The spirit of John Lewis will be in attendance that day. Absolutely. And most of the speakers will bring up his memory.
But coming out of the march, who’s going to be the new John Lewis? Who’s going to be the new civil rights leaders?
That’s an interesting question, per se. And it goes back to the organizational model of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not organized as much in the same way that the civil rights organizations were in the 1950s and ‘60s. Those organizations were organized to affect political change legislatively and to use legislation to affect social change as well. And so for that reason, those organizations were able to cultivate leaders from people like John Lewis. The Black Lives Matter movement is focused on direct local actions
Sure. Against police violence, in particular.
Exactly. But I think Black Lives Matter is extending to issues around social justice. So that when you look at its model, it’s really not preparing individuals to lead a national organization. They’re preparing people to help participate in local direct action, police departments, but also to reorganize investments in more social justice-oriented programs.
I’d like now to talk a little bit more about how the Black Lives Matter movement since George Floyd’s death has impacted the UCI campus. And you’ve been at the center of a lot of activity related to this. In June you and vice chancellor Ron Cortez, and police chief Liz Griffin issued a campuswide statement stressing this commitment – that the “UCIPD will continue to strive to provide services based on integrity, respect, transparency, fairness and teamwork.” Why did you feel that was an important message to send to the campus?
The importance of that message was that the campus needed to communicate to the entire community that we have very clear expectations for our campus police department. We wanted to reiterate that in light of the death of George Floyd and the deaths of other unarmed black men and women at the hands of the police across the country. We also wanted to underscore what our expectations are and our expectations are that the police department aligns with our principles of inclusive excellence, equity, diversity inclusion and free speech. And I think it bears repeating, because we have to imagine a type of policing that’s appropriate for a university campus. And I think the campus, the Chancellor and the Regents are now pushing the system to reimagine policing that is less about policing the campus, but more about serving the campus to promote safety. So there are a number of reasons why we felt it was necessary to make the statement, such as setting expectations so that the campus community could hold the university accountable.
This month you posted on the Inclusive Excellence website, a “Building a Culture Where Black People Thrive site. And you’re completing a report for the creation of a UCI Black Thriving Initiative, which advocates for a whole university approach to create a campus culture where Black people thrive. What is the inspiration behind this?
The inspiration behind the Black Thriving Initiative is the powerful evidence of the need for change across the country that was triggered by the killing of George Floyd. And that led to massive protests against police violence and demonstrations in support of Black lives. I think that it also challenged our campus. It challenged the campus to respond to this national imperative that Black lives matter. It builds on things that we’re already doing in terms of our Confronting Extremism program, in terms of our inclusive excellence action plan.
The initiative is very specific because we want to create a culture where Black people thrive by mobilizing a whole university response. And that’s the key distinction of this initiative – that it’s not piecemeal, but it implicates all facets of the campus. That includes not only our outreach, but our student experience, our staff experience and our faculty, as well as the alumni community and the Black communities that we serve.
It’s ambitious and far-reaching, because we haven’t done something quite like this before.
Are there any measurable objective with the Black Thriving Initiative, such as to increase the number of Black students on campus?
That’s certainly one of the top ones. The campus has increased the overall percentage of Black undergraduates by close to double over a 10-year period, but that’s clearly insufficient. So we want to increase the participation of African Americans in our undergraduate program. Second, we want to grow the enrollments of our Black graduate students, who really represent the faculty of the future. And equally, we want to continue to grow our Black faculty. We’ve had some recent success this past year. We hired 13 Black faculty. That’s the single largest, number in the history of the campus. But still, for Black undergraduates, it’s still a highly unlikely that they will see a Black faculty member in their primary focus field.
And so when you look at the Black Thriving Initiative, it’s really about a whole university response, precisely because of each dimension, whether it’s a student, staff or faculty impact on each other. If we have too few Black faculty that can mean that Black students have fewer role models. There’s that means that there’s less of a traction to come to UCI. Similarly for staff, there needs to be a sense of a thriving community for them to grow here. And their very presence, again, helps to draw other people to UCI for their careers and for their education. And so the measurable outcomes are very concrete, precisely because without them, we can’t thrive.
And I also wanted to bring up the point that this year’s first-year medical school class has 12 Black students out of 104 overall students. It’s the largest cohort of Black students in one single medical school class in the campus history.
That is definitely achievement. And it’s a credit to the LEAD-ABC program that is modeled on the PRIME LC [program] to really encourage, medical school applicants who are interested in serving the Black and Caribbean communities.
I’m going to personalize this next question. This is a real pivotal point in American history. You are a black American man who was raised in a working-class family, and now you’re in a position where you can influence diversity and inclusive excellence at one of America’s great public universities. I mean, can you describe how you’re feeling in your heart and mind right now? You must have an incredible range of emotion.
I feel both that this is an incredible opportunity precisely at this point in time at this institution, and we’ve done so much. And under the leadership of Chancellor Gillman, the campus will achieve even more. And that is a remarkable testament to this organization, to the people who work and learn here.
At the same time, there was a moment shortly after the death of George Floyd, that I personally felt incredible grief, that it took the recorded image of a Black man being murdered to trigger and mobilize people to find value in Black people and to publicly chant “Black lives matter.” And so there’s a real tension, but I’ve always believed that university is the single most important institution in redefining the contours of our society. And if we can do it here, I’m very confident we can do it elsewhere.
I’d like to thank Doug for joining the UCI Podcast, which is a production of UCI Strategic Communications & Public Affairs. Thank you for listening.