Transformation of Campus Diversity

Marlon Castillo/New University



The University of California, Irvine was established in the ’60s during a changing ethnic and racial climate in education. Barely over a decade after the infamous Brown v. Board ruling, three UCI professors issued a formal letter to the University President in 1969 calling for more “black and brown” students and faculty to be admitted and hired to UCI. Their letter was a response to a law, which constrained the University to accept for enrollment only the top 12 percent of high school graduates, with only 4 percent of students that could be admitted to the University though lacking traditional academic qualification.


“It is clear that as long as University enrollment policy is based upon academic achievement criteria of this order, there will never be a ‘sufficient’ number of Black and Brown students to be enrolled in the University, for such criteria must inevitably reflect the product of an unequal competition between white and non-white students,” the letter stated.


“The World’s problems are our Problems” read a New University headline in October of 1973. That year 80 percent of the student body was reported to be from Orange County and many students advertised their commitment to get involved in the world community.


“The Model United Nations is starting a campaign on the UCI campus to increase the international awareness of the student body. Why? Because we don’t live in a vacuum any more. The world’s problems are our problems,” the article said.


Founded on Oct. 16, 1974 by concerned UCI faculty, staff and students, the Cross-Cultural Center (CCC) launched a series of programs, activities and services to aid the university in supporting the personal, social, cultural and academic needs of UCI’s diverse students. Among the programs hosted by CCC, Reaffirming Ethnic Awareness and Community Harmony (REACH) was started in the ’80s and is comprised of a year-long class in which students learn about diversity and social justice issues and are trained to become peer facilitators.


Another tradition started in the ’80s was the hosting of the annual Rainbow Festival and Conference, which focused on celebrating the rich diversity and cultures on campus as well as educating people through workshops and a cultural fair about the racial and ethnic communities associated with and represented in the CCC. The theme of the first festival in 1984 was “Many Faces, Many Dreams.”


“It’s a matter of quality over quantity, because while the number of students aren’t what we expected, what’s going on, the involvement and interaction, is a success,” Jeff Johnson, Assistant Director of Campus Recreation, said in 1990.


The festival’s theme that year was titled “UCI’s Changing Colors,” which reflected the many changes the campus was undergoing. During the 1988-89 academic year, the Academic Senate approved a series of classes on ethnic subjects that all students beginning in 1990 were required to take in order to fulfill their multi-cultural and international breadth requirements.


John Whitely, social ecology professor and chair of the Educational Committee of the Academic Senate in 1990 that implemented the new requirement, said that the requirement would add a necessary perspective that students needed to have.


“This requirement really mirrors the increased globalization of the world in so many dimensions of living,” said Whitely. “It gives them [freshman] an opportunity to learn more systematically the meaning of diversity and its implication for life in the 21st century.”


When comparing the different ethnic groups of the freshman classes from 1990 and 2011, the Latino/Chicano population increased from 10 to 24.2 percent, and the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased from 40.5 to 51 percent. International students also made up 4.8 percent of the freshman class in 2011. However, African-American/Black populations decreased from 3 percent in 1990 to 2.8 percent in 2011. The multi-cultural and ethnic studies courses were first set in place to accommodate and instruct one of the most reportedly diverse classes in cultural awareness and mutual respect. However, these are the same courses that were labeled as “needs attention” this year by the Academic Planning Group and Budget Working Group. Although these courses have been in place for over 20 years they are now being questioned about their significance and are in danger of being cut.


Prior to the formation of the Ethnic Students Coalition Against Prejudicial Education (ESCAPE) in 1991, Arab students reported acts of prejudice and discrimination at UCI. In the midst of the Persian Gulf War, UCI students of Middle Eastern descent devoted time to discuss how to react against discrimination with the Arab Student Association at UCI.


“I believe that both the pro-war and the anti-war protests are guaranteed by the First Amendment and I welcome both views, but we should never get personal,” Sherin Sabet, a senior biology major in 1991, said. “We should never get ‘anti’ any certain ethnic group because that changes the whole meaning of the protest.”


“As far as I’m concerned we’re Arabs, we’re students, but above all we’re people,” Khaldoun Bhagdadi, a freshman social science major in 1991, said.


A year prior to their complaints, UCI hosted the 2nd Annual Student of Color Conference in which 300 students from all the UC campuses, prestigious government officials, and academics attended to discuss the accessibility of public education for students of color.


“Students said they were tired of surveys and wanted action in the form of mandatory university courses to educate students on the history of ethnic cultures,” reported Sllva Berberian and Jennifer Yao in a New University article printed in 1990.

Among other issues, ESCAPE is now working to ensure that ethnic and multi-cultural courses remain an important part of the student’s learning experience at UCI. The goal of ESCAPE in the ’90s was to push for the implementation of ethnic studies programs at UCI. In fact, in 1993, Asian-American students held a 35-day rotational hunger strike to secure faculty for Asian-American studies programs.


In 1996, Proposition 209 amended the state constitution to prohibit state government institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public education. Many advocates of affirmative action were opposed to this proposition, fearing for under-represented groups that had suffered discrimination in the past.


“We strive to preserve inclusion at UCI,” Kevin M. Huie, the current Director of the Cross Cultural Center, said. “Providing opportunities for students to interact and learn from one another is a general, but imperative role that the CCC attempts to do through many of its programs, initiatives and services.”


Additionally, any students, faculty and staff members that feel discriminated against can make a formal or informal complaint to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD).


“Our purpose is to educate staff, students and faculty about discrimination issues so that they know their rights. If anyone feels that they are being discriminated against they have a place to come to and seek assistance,” Raid Faraj, the senior investigator and diversity educator for OEOD, said.


“We want to ensure that students, when they come to UCI, come to learn in an environment that is respectful and accommodating to their needs. An environment that is free from discrimination or harassment.”