With programs spanning across 70 community colleges and four-year universities, Umoja is dedicated to supporting Black excellence in the transfer community.
A Kiswahili word for “unity,” Umoja at UCI exists in two parts; the pilot program and the Umoja club. The program, hosted in the Transfer Student Center, offers Black transfer students an array of resources from academic advising and mentorship to scholarships and dedicated housing. It is the first Umoja program in the UC system that is retention-based, dedicated to seeing their members who have entered UCI succeed to and past graduation.
“Our goal is to ensure the ‘survival and thrival’ of Black transfer students at UCI,” says pilot program coordinator and academic achievement counselor Wiley Wilson ‘22.
Wilson has been involved with Umoja since his time at El Camino College in Torrance. Along with academic counseling, Umoja programs at community colleges often offer transferable academic courses to prepare students while also enhancing their experience with Black cultural studies. These courses can fulfill major or school requirements or be completely elective.
African American psychology was one of Wilson’s favorite courses offered by the El Camino program. Not only did the subject matter interest him, but the course also met his general education and major requirements to complete a degree in sociology at UCI.
Though the pilot program at UCI launched in 2021, Wilson has been eager to continue his participation in the program since he transferred in 2019. His love for the program and its people ran so deep that he stayed to take up the mantle of pilot program coordinator after he graduated last June.
Aside from the academic resources, Wilson most enjoys the familiar and community aspects of Umoja.
“Every Umojan knows, you don’t refer to the counselors as counselors. You refer to them as mama, daddy, uncle, auntie, grandmother, grandfather, godmother, godfather, cousin, brother, sister. We refer to them as family; we see them completely as family,” Wilson says. “Even my counselors, the counselors that helped me when I was in community college, I would say that’s family right there. Those are the ones who were there for me at the beginning and still look out for me to this day.”
Aside from the program counselors, Umojans at UCI can also look to the student-run club for that family of support.
Fourth-year psychological sciences major Summer Moss is the vice president of the club. Moss is also the resident advisor in charge of both the general transfer and the Umoja houses. Located in the on-campus housing community Arroyo Vista, the Umoja house exists for the first time this year, and it is the only Black-transfer dedicated residence in the UC system.
Moss sees her roles as the Umoja club VP and house RA as similar; it’s her job to help create a sense of belonging and engage her peers to come together.
“I really enjoy being able to have a community of Black transfer students come together and share our experiences,” Moss says. “It’s really helpful to have fellow students to talk to that can relate.”
Social events, like movie nights and karaoke, are important but underestimated ways to bring together a community, and Moss plans many of these events and programs. For Black History Month, she is holding a trivia night for her residents.
“I want them to work together, and it’s okay if they don’t know all the answers coming into it, because they’ll be able to learn more about Black history, and that’s what’s important,” she says.
Since this is the pilot year for the Umoja house, not all of Moss’ residents are in the program, nor do all of them identify as Black.
“In the succeeding years, I really would love to see the house live up to its purpose; to cater to Black and African American transfer students,” Moss says.
Last year, as a first-year transfer from Long Beach Community College, Moss lived in the Academic Excellence Black Scholars House. When she applied as an RA for this school year, she listed AEBS, George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks as some of her house preferences – all are dedicated housing for Black students. However, as a Black transfer student and Umojan herself, she prioritized the Umoja house.
“It just feels,” she says, “like this is where I belong.”