Diversity Work Is Never Done, Panel Says

About 80 faculty, students and staff weighed on on priorities for choosing the new associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion

Diversity forum packed the room Feb. 3 Iqbal Pittalwala

UCR’s reputation as a national leader in advancing diversity and inclusivity in higher education is a point of pride for the campus, but improvements are needed in faculty recruitment and hiring, and in cultural competencies, said students, faculty and staff who attended a forum on Feb. 3.

More than 80 members of the campus community attended the forum, which was convened by the search committee tasked with recruiting an internal candidate for the position of associate vice chancellor, diversity and inclusion. Panelists were CHASS Dean Milagros Peña, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval, Middle Eastern Student Center Director Tina Aoun, Graduate Student Association Vice President Edgar Tellez Foster, student Regent-designate Marcela Ramirez, and Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely from The Group, a grassroots advocacy organization. Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the School of Public Policy, served as moderator.

A number of students and faculty advocated boosting the AVC position from half- to full-time if UCR is to effectively address campus community concerns about faculty and graduate student recruitment and retention, and creating a culture of respect and inclusion.

One fourth-year student said that campus diversity is important, “but we need to make people feel comfortable. We need to focus on inclusion.”

Sandoval said that Student Affairs staff continue to work to make students feel safe, adding that it can be difficult to balance the open exchange of ideas with making people feel safe.  “I feel we have improved in the last five to seven years, but we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Diversity is not just ethnic. It is across every component of our existence,” noting that issues of religious diversity, for example, have come to the forefront in recent years.

Ramirez said discussions among UC Regents are focusing on how to hold campuses accountable for responding to issues relating to diversity and inclusion as they arise, and for developing preventive initiatives.

“What does preventive training look like?” she asked. “This is why the chief diversity officer position is important. It should be a full-time position.”

Many of those attending the forum said the university needs to better in recruiting underrepresented faculty and graduate students, and in retaining them.

Peña said UCR is “taking the right steps” with campus forums aimed at creating processes that will significantly advance diversity and inclusiveness, including challenging discussions and training about what diversity brings to the campus. With regard to faculty recruitment, for example, where positions are advertised significantly affects the applicant pool, she said.

A diverse staff is important, too, said Carla Thornton, associate director of development for CHASS. “Even though we’re behind the scenes, we can be role models of success,” she said.

A number of participants cited the need for initiatives and training to improve cultural sensitivities and microagression. “The need for cultural sensitivity training is not just for faculty, but also for graduate and undergraduate students,” Tellez Foster said. “Sometimes these issues generate friction between graduate students and their advisors.

UCR is “a really complex place” in matters of identity, Ramirez said. “This is a learning lab for us to increase multicultural competence. We are special. We could do better. We’ve got to create a model of success.”

 

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