Black Thriving Initiative one year later

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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.

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…

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