Institutional transformation strives to promote Black well-being and success

Changing the culture, leveraging the mission and engaging communities are the key components of a far-reaching new initiative at the University of California, Irvine to create a campus culture in which Black people thrive. The initiative recognizes and responds to systemic anti-Blackness as an existential threat to the mission of the university and calls on all members of the campus community to confront anti-Blackness. Students, faculty and staff are all empowered to accelerate their understanding of the Black experience through action platforms designed to produce an institutional shift at UCI for Black success.

“The Black Thriving Initiative is UCI’s response to a national imperative. The unrest that we are witnessing across the country is about the persistence of systemic oppression and exclusion from educational opportunity, participation in the economy, access to healthcare and other areas essential to social justice and human well-being,” said Douglas Haynes, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. “As a great public research university, UCI is uniquely positioned to set an example for institutional transformation. Our Black Thriving Initiative not only builds on the enduring campus commitment to inclusive excellence but also specifically addresses anti-Blackness as a precondition to building and sustaining a thriving culture for Black people.”

Motivated by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, UCI’s Black Thriving Initiative aims to mobilize 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. Key priorities for the initiative are: promoting accountability for anti-Blackness through understanding; leveraging the research mission to advance understanding of the Black experience and drivers of well-being; and engage Black communities by linking UCI’s future as a public research university to the success of Black people.

“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we mobilized a whole-university response; every corner of the campus did its part and made a contribution. We knew we were all in it together,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Confronting anti-Blackness, systemic racism and long-standing systems of exclusion and oppression also demands a whole-university response, where we all take responsibility for creating a more free and just society.”

The UCI Black Thriving Initiative harnesses campus momentum. Dr. Michael Drake, the president of the University of California and the first Black president in the system’s nearly 150-year history, paved the way as the first Black chancellor at UCI, where he served from 2005 to 2014. Between 2009 and 2019, Black faculty at the campus doubled to 3.9 percent. This fall, UCI will welcome the largest number of Black faculty hired in a single year, 13. In January of 2021, The Paul Merage School of Business welcomed Dr. Ian Williamson as dean – the first Black dean of the school and the only one among the UC’s six business schools. 

For the past three years, UCI has been among the top three UC destination campuses for applications from Black high school seniors and community college transfer students. Transforming the professorate and creating an environment for Black faculty, students and staff to thrive animates this historic initiative.

The Black Thriving Initiative’s outward-facing platform is to engage with Black communities by linking the future of UCI to the success of Black people. This longer-term strategy involves fortifying relationships with Black organizations, working with Black alumni, elevating awareness of UCI’s commitment to a thriving culture throughout the state and across the country, and investing in student success and honoring faculty.