UCI News

Black Thriving Initiative one year later

The program continues to pave new paths for research and creative expression, teaching and learning, and community engagement

September 20, 2021
Black Thriving Initiative one year later
“The [Black Thriving Initiative] is very specific because we want to create a culture where Black people thrive by mobilizing a whole university response,” says Doug Haynes, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and a professor of history at UCI. Steve Zylius /UCI photo: Steve Zylius/UCI

Launched last year in response to the killing of George Floyd, UCI’s Black Thriving Initiative is a whole university response aimed at mobilizing the whole university to promote Black student success, degree completion and advancement in academic programs, with a goal of making UCI a first choice for Black students.

As part of the UCI Black Thriving Initiative, the program has continued to prioritize hiring faculty and staff who are paving new paths for research and creative expression, teaching and learning, and community engagement; generating interdisciplinary collaboration; and manifesting UCI’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. UCI has announced hiring initiatives such as the Inclusive Excellence Term Chair Program and the inaugural UCI Black Thriving Initiative Faculty Hiring Program, which has recently announced funding for a proposal focused on environmental health disparities. In this episode of the UCI Podcast Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Doug Haynes reflects on the accomplishments made over the last year and shares plans for year two and beyond.

Transcript

Sheri Ledbetter, host

From the University of California, Irvine, I’m Sheri Ledbetter and you’re listening to the UCI podcast. Today I’m speaking with Doug Haynes, the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UCI about the one-year anniversary of the UCI Black Thriving Initiative. Vice-Chancellor Haynes, thank you for joining me today on the UCI podcast.

VC Haynes

Thank you so much, Sheri, for having me. I appreciate it.

Host

Let’s go ahead and get started. UCI has been taking steps to address anti-Blackness, especially through the Black Thriving Initiative. What are the origins of this initiative?

VC Haynes

Well, thank you for that question. The origins are both recent, but also long standing. The more recent origin was just the national and global response to the killing of George Floyd. That really illuminated the persistence of what’s known as systemic racism, the ways in which structures in our society, differentially impact black people and their lives. It’s also a response by this campus to this national imperative, to, you know, vigorously advance racial equity, right? And there’s a connection, a longer connection. President Johnson in 1965 came to UCI to break ground on this new campus. And of course, the year before he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And while he was at Irvine overseeing the breaking ground on the new campus, Congress was deliberating the Voting Rights Act. And so we sort of see this notion of committing the institution to black thriving, a continuation of our distinctive role as a still very young institution that has a lot to offer to the country and world.

Host

That’s great. Thank you for that. I’d like to ask, what do you mean by the word thriving?

VC Haynes

You know, I, I, the, the word thriving percolated as a result of listening to many campus constituencies partners, stakeholders, and then follow Chancellor Gillman’s direction to me to develop a real  transformational and ambitious initiative in support of the African-American community at UCI. And we felt that thriving captured not only the aspiration, but more importantly, the attention, the intention and the attitude, right? That we saw this as a way of mobilizing the entire enterprise. Both our undergraduate, grad students, faculty, employees, staff, our alumni and communities that we serve locally, nationally, and across the world that we want to be very purposeful in creating conditions for Black people to thrive. And so that means that we not only are attentive to the more exceptional forms of racism, but we also want to use our knowledge and understanding about the Black experience to create conditions that really support and fortify growth and success.

And it’s really about an enduring commitment and that we not only want to, for example, enroll students, we want them to graduate. We not only want them to graduate, we want them to really maximize their potential here. We not only want to hire Black faculty, we want them to do their best work here. We want them to thrive. And, and of course we’re a major employer in Orange County, the second in the county. And of course we want to draw on the incredible talent of highly qualified Black applicants and employees. So they really do their best work here and help the campus advance his aspirational goals.

Host

That’s great. So here we are, we’re one year into this initiative and it’s been a unique year, too, in that we were fully remote. How has the Black Thriving Initiative done in its inaugural year?

VC Haynes

You know, I think that it is quite striking that we’re already in year one. In fact, we launched on August 25th. And today it’s September one and what what’s so striking is the, the campus and the community, I think have demonstrated what I regard as mindfulness in support of black thriving in a lot of ways. And I have to give credit here to Chancellor Gillman because were it not for his leadership and expectation that we do something ambitious and transformational. We wouldn’t have gotten this far. We asked a lot of the campus and we still do and continue to, and the response has been incredibly gratifying and important. And so what are some highlights? Well, first and foremost, there’s three platforms that we use to realize Black Thriving. The first has changed the culture, right? And change the culture is about being accountable for promoting a black thriving university. And so we were stunned by the fact that over 1500 people signed the Black Thriving pledge. And almost a little bit more than half provided a testimonial explaining why they signed the pledge. I think the (dog barking)

Host

I hear one of our pledge signers now.

VC Haynes

And so that, that pledge really was quite impressive by the number of people who responded. But in addition to that, and in the spirit of accountability, began understanding, we also launched a suite of modules entitled anti-Blackness in the United States. And there are, we were extremely I think gratified by the response, several hundred people completed at least one of these modules for nearly 4,000 active learning hours. And so I think those two examples sort of illustrate how the Black Thriving Initiative is connecting with our current employees. These are undergrads, graduate students, faculty, and staff, and I think that’s very valuable and still another, I think positive development is that we’re really moving on the recommendations of the campus safety committee to realign our campus police department with the campus commitment to inclusive excellence.

And that’s a very consequential commitment in part because policing was and is very much a part of the national conversation. And of course it was the focus in terms of the response to the killing of George Floyd. And as President Drake has indicated in his own campus safety plan. We have an opportunity to re-imagine campus safety in ways that the entire community feels that they’re a part of not only a community, but that they’re safe and that they’re treated with respect and dignity. So just in the change the culture pillar, I think we’re, we have some considerable momentum and I’m very optimistic for the coming academic year. The second pillar is leverage the mission and we are a great public research university that’s committed to education. And so we’ve done two major initiatives. The first is the Black Thriving hiring cluster and the campus committed up to 10 or more FTE for the purpose to in our research and teaching activity around understanding and advancing the Black experience and the drivers of wellbeing and support of Black communities and Provost Hal Stern announced the first recipient of a cluster.

And that was for environmental health disparities that involves public health engineering anthropology. And it’s a pretty impressive launch what would be a very exciting search for four new faculty and each cluster receives a $156 augmentation for programming and support of the second major development. And this is also a direct investment. The campus launched the inclusive excellence term chair program, and that recognized incumbent faculty who’ve made distinguished contributions to a designated theme. And so the inaugural theme is Black Thriving, and I was particularly delighted by the announcement that the five inaugural term chair fellows really represent a broad distribution of faculty activity that advances Black Thriving. There are faculty chairs in the Merage business, in the department of history and the school of humanities in the school of law in the school of social ecology, as well as the school of social sciences. And these term chairs are three-year placements, and each chair receives $30,000 a year. And so that’s another example of how the campus is mobilizing its research and teaching capacity to elevate attention, to understanding the Black experience and the drivers of wellbeing.

Host

That is a lot, I really, this is it’s amazing how much has been accomplished so far again in a, a unique year, the remote environment, and just getting back to your initial comment on the pledge and the modules that almost strikes me as there was a yearning out there for, by individuals who wanted to get involved or wanted to learn or wanted to do something. And by providing them some of these tools, they just jumped on. So the appetite seems to be there.

VC Haynes

And I agree, and I think it’s is extremely rewarding because it highlights that we are also a university within a university. And there are many learners. And what was so powerful about these modules is that we created a psychologically safe space for people who were curious, who wanted to do something, but didn’t know what, who didn’t want to make a mistake. And so these modules really provided a way for a very diverse group of campus members to learn together. They learned about, for example, the Black protest tradition, or why are people protesting in the streets, still another module focused on why is it necessary in the 21st century for black people to protest in the streets that Black lives matter. And so that module looked at the structures and mechanisms that de-value Black people that really get at the heart of systemic. And then the third really is about creating competencies around authentic allyship. And I think the group of three modules really prepared folks to really learn more and to sort of relate more to Black people in Black communities.

Host

Yeah. I, you know, just an editorial from myself here, I was fortunate enough to take a couple of those modules and, it’s no small commitment, it’s 10 weeks. And for, for those people listening who are remote, full-time still it’s really a great way to connect. Not only with people just in general, but with it, they truly are diverse; it’s faculty, staff, and students taking these courses. And from all different walks of life, background, skin color, age, you name it. And it’s just, it’s a great way to just hear other perspectives about the same issue. Everybody’s kind of coming at it differently. I really benefited from that. So editorial comment aside you’ve talked a little bit about the faculty cluster hiring program and the term chairs, and I’d like to switch to students. And just you know, one of the key goals of the Black Thriving Initiative was to make UCI a first choice for prospective Black students. And how are you measuring the success of that goal?

VC Haynes

Well, this also was another record year. And so for the past three years, UCI will was, and is among the top three destination campuses for Black California high school seniors. And this past year was no different. What is particularly noteworthy about the fall 2021 is that the campus admitted a record number of highly qualified Black California high school seniors, as well as transfer students. Indeed, there was nearly a 35% increase in year over year admissions, which is quite consequential. We led the entire UC system in the size of the change year over year. And we’re optimistic that out of the 900 admits we believe that a substantial number will say yes and enroll. And I think we hope that they’re all enrolling because of the reputation of the campus is a top 10 public research university.

It’s remarkable programs, but more than that, the Black Thriving Initiative provides a real compelling reason for coming to UCI that we are committed to their success. And so in preparation we also launched the Black Thriving scholars program. And this is really a reflection of the level of support from the campus community. During UCI giving day in April, 2021, we raised a little over $10,000 to fund 10 scholarships for continuing students. And this fundraising effort is just the start. But part of the reason we wanted to reach out to the UCI community to help support the Black scholars program is that it’s not enough to admit, it’s not enough to enroll. It’s particularly important to invest in the success of our students. This is true for those who are first generation and or low income. It also symbolically communicates to people that they’re valuable, that we are connecting the future of UCI to your success, to the success that you bring to your family, to this success that you bring to your community in Orange County and across the state of California and indeed across the country.

Host

Right. So it really, it elevates everything it touches.

VC Haynes

Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Host

Let’s switch gears to one more population group. And I’d like to ask you, how has the Black Thriving Initiative developed new connections or even strengthened old ones with Black communities off campus?

VC Haynes

Yeah, I think it’s had a twofold effect. The first is I think, Black serving organizations of one form or another really mobilized in response to the racial reckoning that was sweeping across the country. Both to bear witness, to forms of systemic racism everywhere in society, and Orange County is no exception. But in doing that, they also provided solutions, solutions that create a far better society. And because of that, we are able to partner with a group of organizations in Orange County and the greater Orange County area through what’s called the OSI community fund African-American Alliance. We were very fortunate to apply for funding through the African-American Alliance to promote entrepreneurship  that’s open to everyone, but with a focus of creating entrepreneurship and innovation that really affects Black communities in very concrete ways. There were a number of organizations, including UCI that were funded through the African-American Alliance, and they cover a wide range of not-for-profits, mentoring for K through 12 students, college preparation and also ways of engaging with communities to promote wellness to address food insecurity. And I think these and other organizations really speak to the breadth of the non-for-profit community and their interests in creating a society in which Black people thrive.

Host

Great. Then it sounds like this can just only continue to grow

VC Haynes

Really.

Host

So here’s, here’s the money question? What are the plans for year two?

VC Haynes

You know, year two is important in and of itself because it’s important to remember that the Black Thriving Initiative is not a reaction. It’s a very deliberate response. And so we’ll be continuing some of the programs that we launched last year, the Black Thriving pledge. We want to grow engagement of the Black Thriving modules and anti-Blackness in the United States. We want to increase participation across the campus, particularly at a time when our students and our career staff and faculty are returning to campus. We also want to continue to implement the recommendations for campus safety. So that’s more continuity. We want to recruit and fill those faculty slots for environmental health disparities. We’re going to make another call for proposals from the faculty to support Black Thriving in faculty hiring. We also want to grow on the experience of the school of humanities that really pioneered a pilot recruitment strategy.

And so for departments in the school of humanities decided to focus their recruitment efforts on a broad theme around Black studies, and it had a remarkable impact. It yielded a record number of graduate students, highly qualified, and it really showed that creating a cohort model, even across different academic school departments can actually create a community, a critical mass that can really play a very constructive way in their success. And so we hope to see other examples of that across the campus. We’re hopeful and optimistic that the lead ABC that’s leadership education in advancing diversity for African, Black and Caribbean communities will continue its great work in the school of medicine. For two years in a row lead ABC has had a very important role in increasing the number of applications and enrollments to the school of medicine.

There’s also the Black Management Association that we are very encouraged in terms of their growth and vitality. We also want to sort of focus our attention on creating transparent career opportunities for Black staff. And so we’re now developing a pilot program that’s entitled staff equity fellows that really will serve as an agent of culture change, particularly promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring and in staff careers. And then of course finally we want to continue to raise funds. We want to continue to partner and we want to do that because we’re very serious about becoming the nation’s foremost destination for Black people to thrive. We feel that we’re in a very strong position to realize that we have a record number of admits and applications. We’re seeing growth in our graduate student population. We’ve had two successive years of double digit hiring of Black faculty. We sort of feel that the momentum is moving in the right direction. And of course the key word for year two is accelerating momentum.

Host

Now it certainly sounds like there’s plenty of momentum. We will look forward to watching and participating in year two. Do you think other universities and colleges will follow UCS model?

VC Haynes

I think the short answer is yes. And I believe the, I believe this model is not only distinctive in the higher education landscape. It’s an imperative at the core of the Black Thriving Initiative is moving racial equity to the center of the mission of our nation’s universities. It’s about being purposeful, being mindful, bringing the attention, intention and attitude to creating a culture for Black people to thrive. It’s legal for Black people to thrive. And I think the Black Thriving Initiative provides a model for enabling people of goodwill to enact that

Host

Last question for you today. How can members of the UCI community demonstrate their own commitment to Black thriving?

VC Haynes

Thank you for that. And I think it’s an appropriate final question. First and foremost, learn, visit our website the Black Thriving Initiative at the Office of Inclusive Excellence and just engage with our programming, right? And so accountability begins with understanding. We have educational programs that are free, that are open to faculty, staff and alumni to engage with and leverage, the mission, our suite of programs, events, lectures, workshops, seminars – they’re open to everyone. We have a significant amount of content on our website for those who are just exploring and those that are particularly dedicated. And finally, you can sign up for the pledge. You can enroll in the modules, you can participate where you are. You don’t have to do everything, but please do something. And if you do something, align it with the purpose of the Black Thriving Initiative, involve yourself in the programming, sign the pledge, take the courses. And if your heart is so moved, contribute to the Black Thriving Initiative.

Host

Vice Chancellor Haynes, I want to thank you for speaking with me today.

VC Haynes

Thank you so much.

Host

For more information, you can visit UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence and click on the link for the Black Thriving Initiative.