Students gathered at the Center for Black Cultures, Resources & Research
Students gathered at the Center for Black Cultures, Resources & Research on January 23, 2020. Steve Zylius / UCI

Recent events have forced our society to reckon with its inequities, leading to a wave of movements seeking to eradicate systemic racism across the board, including in higher education. Among them is UCI’s Black Thriving Initiative – a campuswide commitment to remove every obstacle to Black people’s success. Led by Doug Haynes, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, the endeavor builds on UCI’s long legacy of combating racism through various opportunities, programs and grants. This Black History Month, we want to highlight those efforts and the accomplishments of Black Anteaters, while recognizing that UCI’s future success has always been inextricably linked with the success of Black students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Advancing equality through research

Brandy Gatlin-Nash
Brandy Gatlin-Nash. Photo courtesy of School of Education

Brandy Gatlin-Nash, assistant professor of education, is among a group of faculty awarded a UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence grant to research ways for diverse populations to obtain a University of California bachelor’s degree. The project, LIFTED: Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, will work to identify and understand existing course delivery models in prisons to build successful programs for formerly and currently incarcerated students.

Nia Dowell, assistant professor of education, was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to help foster a new and more inclusive generation of learning engineers. The grant will support a research team from UCI, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University in recruiting postdoctoral fellows who are Black, Latino and/or impacted by poverty. They will work across multiple disciplines to engage in equity-based research projects.

Graduate students

School of Education doctoral student Khamia Powell received an Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Fellowship last summer. Her research aims to help teachers feel supported and empowered in ways that promote the enactment of more culturally responsive teaching practices to meet the growing and shifting needs of students of color.

Ph.D. student Angeline Dukes. Steve Zylius/UCI

Angeline Dukes, a Ph.D. student in neurobiology & behavior, founded Black In Neuro, an organization to connect and support Black scholars from neuroscience-related fields. Last year, Dukes and her team put together Black In Neuro Week and a mini-conference, which were attended by students and researchers from all over the world.

Undergraduate students

Literary journalism majors Sydney Charles and Tatum Larsen are co-hosts of the “Black Fam 2.5” podcast. They spotlight Black academics, artists and activists at UCI and provide them a platform to discuss contemporary events from a perspective that often goes underreported. Charles and Larsen also lead discussions with Black School of Humanities faculty, staff, students and alumni in their video series “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum.”

Arielle Sidney is a French major who has gone viral on TikTok for her eco-friendly fashion designs. She’s made a jumpsuit out of Target bags, a dress out of Walmart bags and even a coat out of Trader Joe’s bags, among others.

Literature and arts

The Perfect Nine. Courtesy of The New Press.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a Distinguished Professor of comparative literature and English. His literary works have received glowing praise from the likes of former President Barack Obama, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book ReviewThe Guardian and NPR. The Perfect Nine is his most recent novel, an epic that tells the story of the founding of Kenya’s Gĩkũyũ people from a strongly feminist perspective.

Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor of African American studies and art history, organized and curated “The Black Index.” The virtual-reality exhibition features the work of six artists, serving as a source of information about Black subjects while also challenging viewers’ desire for classification.

Alumni success

Alumnus Keith Curry, who earned an Ed.D. in 2011 through a joint UCI-UCLA program, is president and CEO of Compton College. He established undergraduate and graduate awards for UCI School of Education students who have demonstrated significant growth in academic achievement and perseverance. More than a dozen students have received Curry scholarships over the years.

Drama alumnus Taylor Fagins ’17 won American Songwriter magazine’s 35th Anniversary Song Contest for his entry “We Need More.” He was awarded a $10,000 prize as well as a new Martin guitar, a meeting with a music publisher and more.

(Subscription required: The UCI Libraries offer a free subscription to the Orange County Register for students, faculty and staff.)


The Academic Excellence Black Scholars House is a first-year living-learning community that supports scholarship and exploration of personal identity. Members learn to navigate the university environment and develop strategies for academic success with the support of peers and mentors.

The Center for Black Cultures, Resources & Research provides a home away from home for Black UCI students. It offers a wide variety of services, resources and programs based on its four pillars: health, wellness, vitality and academic success.

Leadership Education to Advance Diversity – African, Black and Caribbean is a School of Medicine mission-based program aimed at producing future physicians who are committed to addressing the health needs of African, Black and Caribbean communities in California, the United States and beyond. LEAD-ABC is the first medical school program of its kind in the nation.

The Black Management Association at The Paul Merage School of Business supports Black students and alumni in their professional goals through events, professional development, networking, leadership and service opportunities. It seeks to amplify Black voices in business while building a community of inclusivity.

The Black Thriving Initiative fosters a university culture in which Black people thrive. As a channel for institutional transformation at UCI, it will serve as a model for higher education across the United States.