EDI office lacks inclusivity necessary to promote diversity throughout UCLA

An illustration of a tall ivory tower, with students and faculty looping up at it.
(Rachel Bai/Daily Bruin)

In the wake of rich, white kids being able to buy their way into college and faculty growing increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in their leadership, it’s easy to turn to UCLA’s designated solution-maker: the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

But cut through the sleek website, carefully crafted copy- and buzzword- filled seminars, and it’s clear the office is mainly just that – and a couple of smart administrators.

It comes down to inclusion, something the EDI office ironically needs to work on.

The office is run by Jerry Kang, the vice chancellor for EDI, and a handful of other administrators. While these individuals have various advisory councils, an office tasked with matters of diversity and inclusion should certainly have a more reflectively diverse leadership team.

The EDI office’s actions seem almost comically narrow with regard to its student initiatives, campus outreach and much touted seven-part video training series on implicit bias.

As the EDI office is currently structured, it passes some policy and expects staff and faculty to follow it. It’s the opacity of this process that is especially frustrating to those affected. The most recent example of this is the office’s requirement of faculty candidates for hire or promotion to submit EDI statements. This has led to pushback from faculty members confused about how exactly this is going to affect their departments, internal mobility and academic freedom.

UCLA needs to restructure the EDI office from the ground up, drastically expanding its influence and opening up its governance to a council comprising administrators, staff and professors. A broader structure would bring in more faculty voices to the decision process and create a campus body more invested in the office’s operations – something necessary to truly bring about equity, diversity and inclusion.

The difficulty is in pinning down what exactly the EDI office is doing and seeing how a wide variety of faculty and staff feel included in the policy-making of their university.

Take, for example, the office’s work on revamping the faculty hiring process. It has put concrete policies in place, including approval from Kang at certain steps in the selection process. However, it’s not clear how effective these measures have been. At the end of the day, UCLA’s faculty is still primarily white and predominately male.

“People running faculty searches are conscious of the oversight and are trying to be more conscientious,” said Ted Porter, a distinguished professor and vice dean of personnel for the history department. “It’s affecting hiring implicitly, rather than anything I’ve actually directly seen.”

While the EDI office only came into being in 2015, a radical problem deserves a radical solution. If such an entrenched issue like biased hiring is ever going to be surmounted, we’re going to have to do better than making faculty a little more conscious.

Moreover, the EDI office’s top-down administrative structure makes it difficult to design catch-all policies while ensuring departments’ specific needs are respected.

“Hiring happens locally, which is why it’s hard to change – it’s done at the department level since they have the expertise,” Kang said. “To have administrators second-guessing, that would be inconsistent with the knowledge being decentralized and shared governance between academic programs and administrators.”

Ultimately, it comes down to an administrative office trying to craft broad policy for a process which really requires special, department-based knowledge.

“I didn’t have any role in crafting the policies,” Porter said. “Certainly some people (in the history department) had a role in crafting these policies.”

If individual departments are involved in the EDI office’s leadership structure, it would have the instructional knowledge necessary to draft stronger policies tailored to each department’s specific needs, while also having the power to implement real changes.

The David Geffen School of Medicine’s recent bungling of the search for a new chair of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior aptly demonstrates the need for a broader EDI office. The school had to pause the search, which otherwise seemed to adhere to the EDI office’s policies, after outrage from faculty about the lack of diversity in the selection committee despite the institute’s diverse patient body. Including more faculty voices in the EDI office’s decision-making could have anticipated this criticism with real, actionable solutions that make sense for the specialized institute.

Certainly, as Kang put it, much of his office’s work is not forward facing and won’t be truly seen for at least a couple of years. But while groundwork is important, doing it behind the scenes just doesn’t cut it when dealing with problems like lack of diversity and inclusion. These changes need to be upfront and scrutinized. If not, there’s no way to know what we are seeing isn’t just more of the status quo.

Including an array of campus members in policy deliberation is a good way to start doing that. In fact, it might just make the EDI office a little more diverse and a lot more effective.

Groups for inclusion of marginalized communities instead enforce exclusivity

A photo of UCLA’s Student Activities Center,
(Joe Akira/Daily Bruin staff)

“It’s not my responsibility to teach you, it’s your responsibility to learn.”

That’s the motto boasted by many in the LGBTQ groups on campus.

The problem is: Who are students expected to learn from?

This is an important question many students are asking at UCLA. The Gender, Sexuality, and Society Living Learning Community on the Hill provides a space for LGBTQ students to dorm together based on a shared interest and community. And outside of the dorms, student-led LGBTQ initiatives on campus focus on creating safe spaces for marginalized communities.

These spaces are meant to help LGBTQ members advocate for their needs and engage in community building. They don’t, however, leave much room for students still learning the ins and outs of LGBTQ activism.

Within the LLC, for example, there is pushback against students who misuse pronouns or terminology in an offensive manner, despite the possibility these students do not understand the context behind their wording. That disconnect creates a hostile environment between those who finally want to be a part of a space where their identities are validated and those looking to be better assets for positive social change within their community.

“You kind of have quite a bit of catching up to do in terms of educating yourself on certain things, like knowledge about LGBTQIA+ culture, among other things,” said Elizabeth Friedman, a first-year art history student who lives in the LLC. “When you make mistakes, you kind of have this ‘problematic’ label that kind of follows you around.”

In other words, there’s a call-out culture that’s prevalent in many of these groups.

This culture may be created from members of the LGBTQ community becoming increasingly frustrated at being expected to educate others on how to respect their identities or why microaggressions are offensive, especially in safe spaces designed for them to not have to. But while students with more extensive backgrounds on social justice feel exhausted from a constant demand to educate, those with less social justice background can feel barred from these communities and feel attacked for what they don’t know.

As a result, these spaces built on inclusivity become inherently exclusive.

Nieves Winslow, a second-year art student and the founder of Queer and Trans People of Color, a group created to provide a safe space for students from these marginalized communities, said there are a lot of difficulties in cultivating a space when working with marginalized intersections of identity.

“It can be frustrating to feel as though you have to educate people as a person with marginalized identities,” Winslow said. “It’s often those with the most marginalized identities that become responsible for this.”

Moreover, reconciling these spaces is not an easy task. Promoting community and inclusion as a student on a campus as large as UCLA is a big job with many barriers.

Alejandro Pulido, a co-founder of Queer Peer Counseling at UCLA, an LGBTQ student mentorship program, said it is hard to find mentors who are knowledgeable enough about LGBTQ issues and intersections of race and background within the LGBTQ community to best help these students.

Yet it is important to create these spaces for students who have been constantly forced to defend their own identities, said Maria Hammett, a fourth-year environmental science student and executive director of Queer Alliance, the student-run mother organization in charge of overseeing certain LGBTQ student groups on campus.

“Having an organization dedicated to serving queer students is important – especially for the identities not commonly served and recognized by the campus, such as queer and trans people of color,” Hammett said.

But people from these marginalized groups can struggle in these spaces due to differing levels of background knowledge on social justice. Frustration at constantly being expected to educate is understandable, but it feeds into a culture of making these spaces inaccessible and can create a hostile environment in which members of the LGBTQ community feel excluded from their own spaces. The policing of these spaces means they lose much of the inclusion they preach.

Ian Segler, a third-year sociology student and a resident of the LLC, said while he enjoys living in the community, the call-out culture hurts the sense of community the floor is meant to create.

“I like living in the LLC because, as a queer person, I feel physically safe being on this floor. But the call-out culture is really toxic,” Selger said. “It’s a form of public shaming, and it brands people as a sort of social pariah.”

The LLC was created to be a space for living and learning built upon inclusion and community for LGBTQ students. Yet it – and others like it – have frequently become more divisive than inclusive.

“There’s no room for growth, and open conversations are quickly shut down,” Selger said.

Many might argue there are a plethora of resources on the internet or outside of these groups through which people can educate themselves before attempting to be a part of these communities.

But the problem with this self-education mindset is these groups and resources are an attempt to bolster inclusivity on campus. Creating an inclusive environment means allowing those interested in the social movements the ability to learn and to be a part of a cause they care about.

The irony is the groups created to promote that inclusion at UCLA might have just become exclusionary in the process.

Without wider student input, Title IX advisory board is just another echo chamber

An illustration of UCLA’s Title IX Office, covered in a hazy, purple mist.
(Jessica Lam/Daily Bruin)

Twenty-three percent of female and 5.4% of male college students have experienced violent sexual assault while in college. More than 4% of all college students have experienced stalking while working on their degree.

Each university that receives federal funding has an office to contend with the harrowing reality of those statistics. From investigating allegations to recommending appropriate punishments for violators, Title IX offices serve an integral role in ensuring sexual discrimination does not interfere with any student’s ability to receive an education.

But it would be naive to assume the mere existence of these offices is sufficient to counter sexual assault and harassment on college campuses – especially at the University of California.

There is a shocking lack of regulation of the UC’s Title IX offices with regard to whether they investigate complaints, leading to a system that varies campus by campus. Additionally, these offices do not have the authority to determine the disciplinary measures doled out to those found to have harassed or assaulted someone, thus making the process inequitable for survivors.

To mitigate complaints that the UC’s systemwide Title IX Office and policies were insulated from student input, the University created the Title IX Student Advisory Board in 2018 to interface with students from each campus.

This board could be valuable for altering some crucial shortcomings of sexual violence and sexual harassment guidelines. But it has had little impact on SVSH because it is not inherently required to be engaged with the student bodies it supposedly serves.

The Title IX Student Advisory Board is itself an exclusive board that is often not in touch with student experiences. Because administrative offices and student government officials select members, the board lends itself to being an ideological bubble.

In other words, the advisory board has been another way for the UC’s Title IX Office to give itself a gold star for listening to students – another distant space created by the Title IX Office where policy is crafted far from students.

The board’s current members were selected by a committee composed of the systemwide Title IX coordinator, the student regent, UC Office of the President student affairs administrators, student representatives from the UC Student Association, the UC Graduate and Professional Student Coalition, and the student body presidents from each campus.

These representatives, by nature of their exposure to campus bureaucracy, are often predisposed to aligning with the Title IX Office’s policy. Be it by supporting the use of flimsy alternative resolutions like restraining orders to avoid committing resources to investigate sexual harassment complaints, or immediately accepting the reason the UC settles with those who violate SVSH policy, these individuals can find other minor ways to reform the policy that don’t get at the core of the issues.

It’s not that incorporating student voices is inherently problematic; rather, this particular board’s setup does not lend itself to actually challenging the office’s policy.

Additionally, the fact that the student body presidents of each university are a part of the committee increases the likelihood that fellow student government colleagues are appointed to the board, rather than independent students who have a passion for reforming Title IX policy and procedures.

But the University’s SVSH policy has serious flaws that continue to brew a toxic culture of silence among sexual harassment and sexual assault victims.

An advisory board that does not include members who have felt the struggle and inherent flaws of campus Title IX offices is not an advisory board that can actually reform the policy governing treatment of survivors. It’s easy to rubber-stamp the process and say there’s student representation, but it is quite different to listen to those who are victims of the process and don’t see just outcomes – which is far too often a reality.

Despite the fact that the advisory board and the systemwide Title IX Office are in regular communication, their collaboration does not lead to substantive reform since board members can be ideologically homogeneous with those in the office.

Additionally, these board members are responsible for educating and reaching out to students at their respective campuses to receive input. In theory, the student advisory board and Title IX Office would adequately incorporate student input into their reforms of the SVSH.

But without input from regular students, there is no sufficient check to ensure advisory board members are getting to the core of the issues in the Title IX policy.

Sexual assault and harassment are an unfortunate reality of many students’ college experiences. The way for Title IX administrators to combat that is to look outside their office, not inside it.

UC creates community walls by failing to fully support transfer student inclusivity

An illustration of UCLA scaled by Google Map-styled navigations, showing the barriers transfer students face.
(Thomas Tran/Daily Bruin)

Think back to a moment of self-doubt you’ve experienced in university. Perhaps you’re gripping your notes with sweaty palms in seminar, dreading your turn to give a presentation. Or maybe you’re nervously bouncing your leg against your desk as you raise your hand to answer the professor’s question.

In that moment, you may have felt like a fraud on the verge of being caught, pretending to know something you don’t or be something you’re not.

Some students, especially transfer students, are never able to escape these feelings.

Many transfers are first-generation college students who come from historically underrepresented minority communities. The transition from community college to a fast-paced, demanding university like UCLA can be jarring, leaving many students prone to impostor syndrome – the idea they don’t belong on the campuses they’ve earned a place at.

It doesn’t help that the UC doesn’t put in the work to mitigate this concern.

For starters, not all transfer students have access to a dedicated transfer center. UCLA’s transfer program only gained access to rooms on campus in 2017. Transfer centers at UC Irvine and UC Berkeley still share space with other organizations. The resources these centers offer also differ: UCLA’s transfer center hosts a part-time academic adviser 10 hours per week, while UC Santa Barbara’s has two full-time academic advisers.

You can blame these differences on administrative laziness. The UC has shown it prefers to sit back and leave staff and student advocates to design and implement support programs themselves. This reliance on bottom-up advocacy instead of top-down institutionalized support means the burden of providing resources to transfer students falls on individual campus leaders – even on students themselves.

But transfer students have the same fundamental needs regardless of which school they’re attending – needs that aren’t being met. Inclusivity includes a financial commitment, and the UC’s failure to ensure each of its campuses provides the same basic support for transfer students shows a reluctance to fully integrate transfers into the community.

Sam del Castillo, a doctoral student in the department of counseling, clinical, and school psychology at UCSB who also attended the university as a first-generation undergraduate transfer student, began organizing workshops on campus, while completing their doctoral work, to help students with impostor syndrome. These workshops, based on clinical research, help transfer students build a community and develop a healthier, growth-focused mindset.

But it’s not students’ job to ensure the University provides basic support. Students pay tuition to UC campuses assuming the money will fund student resources.

“It is not efficient or sustainable to have students manage these support programs,” del Castillo said. “Universities need to structurally and systemically incorporate these programs so that this support continues.”

While del Castillo has received support for these workshops from the UCSB Transfer Center and the Opening New Doors to Accelerating Success Student Center, they have had to pay for workshop-related expenses from their own savings.

This is a simple, effective program UCSB and other UC campuses should have already had in place.

The failure by system-level administrators to address widespread transfer student issues like impostor syndrome puts additional strain on other campus resources, with students paying the price.

“Psychological support on campus, like (Counseling and Psychological Services), is overwhelmed. That is a consequence of not addressing issues like impostor syndrome,” del Castillo said. “If you don’t start with preventative work, you will deal with the more severe consequences like anxiety, depression and suicidality.”

Transfer students are experiencing these issues at each UC.

“When I first arrived at UCLA, feelings of impostor syndrome made me less likely to participate in class and in office hours because I was afraid of sounding stupid,” said Yaffa Yermian, a history student who graduated from UCLA in 2018.

When transfer students feel like impostors on campus, they are less likely to engage in campus discussions, explore opportunities on campus and make use of support programs. This makes our dialogue less diverse, less welcoming and less inclusive, brewing a toxic sense of separation between communities on campus. So long as system-level administrators ignore that reality, they’ll continue to fall short of their commitment to inclusion.

Campus-level administrators realize this is a big issue. Malaphone Phommasa, the director of Academic Success Initiatives at UCSB, said academic performance is connected to the way students feel outside the classroom.

“You blink and you’re graduating,” Yermian said. “I know there are resources for transfer students at UCLA, but it is hard to track down these programs while you’re adjusting to a new environment.”

Existing programs need to be made more visible. The transfer center at UCLA, for example, offers peer mentoring programs that help students build long-lasting support networks.

“We would like to strengthen this model by clarifying what our messaging is to transfers, what our goals are for transfers and by streamlining navigation tools to help transfers connect with existing resources,” said Heather Adams, director of the UCLA Transfer Student Program.

Adams and her team have done incredible work creating support programs for transfers alongside their colleagues at other UCs. But the prevalence of issues like impostor syndrome among transfer students at large proves the UC must expand its commitment by providing permanent funding and ensuring available space for transfer centers with full-time academic advisors and support staff if it hopes to truly include transfer students in its community.

Transfer students deserve to be here. And they deserve an institutionalized support structure that guarantees them the same opportunities across the UC system.

It’s high time administrators delivered on that promise.