UC Berkeley News
Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

Chancellor Birgeneau on UC Berkeley diversity initiatives

This is an excerpt of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's remarks at an Aug. 23 press conference announcing two new initiatives — a trio of research projects and a new senior administrator — to focus expertise on issues of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism.

"One of the things that I'd like to emphasize is that equity and inclusion are about more than just numbers. All too often we get asked, 'So, you had 109 African-American students three years ago and how many do you have now?' And obviously that's important, but it's much more than that. It's about the experience of people from diverse backgrounds here at Berkeley, whether they're students, staff or faculty.

"This autumn, we are launching two new initiatives to address these more global aspects of equity and inclusion. The first is a new academic initiative, which is currently entitled 'Berkeley Diversity Research Initiative.' We feel, here at Berkeley, that in the same way in my field of physics we expect to play a leadership role in scholarship in physics, revealing the fundamental constituents of the universe, we also feel that we should reveal the fundamental aspects of multicultural societies. We should want to understand multiethnic and multicultural societies in the same way that as a physicist I want to understand the fundamental physical laws that govern our universe.

"In many ways, it's appropriate that a California university should play a leadership role in scholarship in multiculturalism because certainly my view is that in the same way California has led in technology it also leads as a living laboratory for multicultural societies in which we have people from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds and cultures and religions interacting with each other. So we've assigned, initially, six faculty positions to this new interdisciplinary area of research, and we expect that number to grow. We are initially assigning those faculty positions to research clusters which will look at, first of all, issues of diversities in health disparities, that is disparities in health between different kinds of communities; at diversity and democracy, and finally, at diversity and education, so we'll be looking at health, education and democratic structure.

"The second major initiative we have, and this is actually the first public announcement of this, is that at Berkeley we are creating a new leadership position which will be at the highest level other than chancellor and it will be a vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. Right after Labor Day, we'll be putting together a committee, which I will chair, to begin a national search to fill this position.

"Let me tell you a little bit about this position and how it came about. About a year ago, I put together a task force with representation from across the campus to advise us how to focus and organize our diversity efforts. After a year of broad consultation, consulting with all of the elements of the community — faculty, student and staff — we decided that we needed to create a new organizational structure which will look at issues of equity and inclusion holistically — that is, not just students, not just staff and not just faculty, but all, all together. And these equity and inclusion efforts will extend not just to underrepresented minorities but also to persons with disabilities, and people from the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community. The vice chancellor's portfolio will include responsibilities for accessibility, climate and inclusion issues for faculty, students and staff.

"I'm a very strong believer, personally, that first of all, it's important in any community but especially in a university community that every single person, whether they're a staff member, undergraduate, graduate, or faculty member feels that this is a place where they belong and where they're fully respected for their individuality and for what they represent, for their background and for their values. And to be part of this community, they're not required to homogenize and assimilate into basically one set of identical people with a single set of views. Rather, we need to prize our diversity and learn from it and to appreciate people for being part of the whole but also for what they as individuals bring to Berkeley. And so this new vice chancellor position will have responsibilities for ensuring that we create this kind of a supporting climate here at Berkeley, and again that this will be done holistically, so that it will involve staff, whatever their backgrounds, recognizing the importance of their role here at Berkeley and, again, feeling that they have all of the same opportunities that anybody has, no matter what their ethnicity, religion, etc.

"This position is relatively new in the United States. I want to emphasize that this is very different from what is at most universities… [where] there's a single person who's special assistant, say, to the president or the chancellor, and that this person will have a large organization under them and will act with authority on these matters. And so we're extremely pleased that Berkeley is going to play a leadership role in all of these aspects of equity and inclusion within higher education."