The Hypocrisy of UCI’s “Commitment to Diversity”

In his recent statement following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Chancellor Howard Gillman concluded by saying, “In the face of this terrifying close-mindedness, [UC Irvine] will continue to celebrate and value the diverse talents, backgrounds and cultures that create the colorful fabric of our country and university.”

This is a statement often espoused by our administration, and mirrored in University of California policy. In 2007, the UC Regents adopted the Policy on University of California Diversity Statement, which states that the schools within the UC system “must seek to achieve diversity among its student bodies and among its employees,” defining diversity as “the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance… includ[ing] race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and geographic region, and more.”

However, no one knows better than the students of UCI that our administrators’ words so rarely match up with their actions.

Two weeks ago, the UCI LGBT Resource Center conducted a series of interviews to fill the position of program coordinator. Throughout the last academic year this position has been held by an autistic, chronically ill, SWANA (Southwest Asian North Afrikan) woman named Marina Eskander, who was hired temporarily while the university completed a nationwide search for candidates. During that year, she worked tirelessly to help transform the space into a hub for intersectional justice, organizing counter-events to destructive and offensive events hosted by radical Republican groups on campus, and collaborating with other identity-based centers to create a more united campus community.

She also quickly became an integral part of the Center itself, providing support to students of color, women and femmes who did not see themselves represented by the Center’s other professional staff. Despite her year of work at UCI and her close relationships with the students of the Center, she was still forced to interview for the position she currently held.

On Aug. 9, it was announced that Marina would be not be returning. This decision has been met with outrage by the students of not only UC Irvine, but multiple schools across the UC system, as well as surrounding communities. The outcry around this decision was prompted because the person chosen to replace Marina, and to serve the diverse population of the LGBT Resource Center, is both white and masculine-aligned. This will not only leave the Center with no women or feminine-aligned folx on staff, it will leave the professional staff composed of a white majority.

Additionally, while UCI’s administration claims to have taken students’ opinions into account in their hiring process, this is far from the truth. Though it was originally scheduled for the spring quarter, the public portion of these interviews was moved, in either an act of intentional malfeasance or wanton neglect, to the finals week of summer session 1, preventing most students from attending and showing their support for Marina.

This hiring decision is not best for the students or the Center as a whole, and runs contrary to the University of California’s supposed commitment to diversity. It is far too common for institutions “committed to diversity” to be dismissive of women of color, who must be far better qualified and more socially submissive to compete for the same positions as white men. So it comes as absolutely no surprise that UCI passed over a strong, outspoken woman of color for the permanent position, though it perfectly reveals the hypocrisy of the school’s stated stance on diversity.

The student response to this has been overwhelming, with the formation of a petition calling for the reinstatement of Marina Eskander to the position of program coordinator, which has already garnered more than 360 signatures, and an open letter to the administrators containing statements from 41 students about why the position should be returned to Marina.

If you support this cause, and wish to stand with Marina and the students of the LGBT Resource Center, please lend your voices to this campaign. Help us speak out against the administration’s blatant disregard for their students’ needs, as well as their problematic disposal of women of color. The administrators of UC Irvine must be held accountable for their supposed commitment to diversity, and students have the power to do exactly that.

 

torrin greathouse is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at tgreatho@uci.edu.