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The Big West And Its Undivided Push For Change

The Big West Conference announced their efforts to solve the issues of the pandemic, racial injustice and voter suppression with their formation of the Big West Undivided on Sept. 14. The Big West Undivided is a committee of administrators, faculty and athletes from all of the institutions in the Big West. Big West Undivided is built upon four guiding pillars — Education, Empowerment, Accountability and Change — that serve as the foundation for their efforts towards a better cultural environment at their affiliated campuses. Their mission is to combat racism, lead a resistance against racial injustice and support the Black Lives Matter movement along with other nonviolent organizations that share similar human rights goals. 

In the world of sports, these topics have become the center of attention and a prevalent concern for many athletes, most notably those in the WNBA and NBA. The opinions of female and Black athletes about non-sports related aspects of life are often neglected and these groups have become increasingly vocal about their indifferences in recent months. These concerns are being addressed at the collegiate level as institutions are beginning to delineate their plans of action for fixing the problems that they and their athletes are currently facing.

The Big West Undivided Committee consists of a combination of one faculty/administrator and one student athlete representative from each affiliate. UC Irvine’s Big West representatives are UCI Women’s Basketball senior Joy Akaegbu-Cleveland and Faculty Athletic Representative and law professor Shauhin Talesh. 

Dr. Talesh is a UCI alumnus and former student athlete. After his undergraduate years at UCI, Talesh attended the University of Connecticut for law school and later went on to receive his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Talesh’s exposure to several different cultural backgrounds has allowed him to see diversity on multiple fronts. In fact, from his years as a UCI undergraduate to his present role as a law professor, Talesh has seen firsthand the growth of diversity at UCI.

“UCI makes efforts to create a diverse environment, but it’s always a work in progress; we can always get better,” Talesh said when recalling how the campus community has changed since his time as a student.

He is now part of a new, ever-growing committee that seeks to bring change to UCI and other Big West affiliates. Since its formation back in mid-September, Big West Undivided has met about four times and many of the plans they hope to soon implement are still in progress. The Big West Undivided has four sub-committees: Education, Empowerment, Research & Assessment, and Civic Engagement. Talesh is a member of the Research & Assessment Committee where his role is to examine the state of equity among Big West institutions and determine what this equity looks like in regards to athlete recruitment, staff and coach hiring, and the structures that each respective institution has put in place to uphold equitable recruitment and hiring. They will also be making recommendations for improvement of these equity structures.

The examination of equity across Big West campuses is perhaps increasingly pertinent in UCI’s case. UCI’s Black demographic is approximately 2.1%, which is tied with the University of California, Santa Barbara for the third lowest in the Big West. Nonetheless, Talesh and his team are working towards making Black students and other underrepresented groups feel more included on their college campuses.

“At UCI, we’re conducting town hall events with our Vice Chancellor of Equity Douglas Hanes with student athletes and head coaches,” Talesh said when describing the initiatives his committee is taking towards creating change.

He also mentioned the formation of the Eater Ally Program, which is a partnership between athletics and various organizations across campus that are interested in furthering social justice and equity and is part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. They have already created the Black Student Athlete Association, whose goal is to interact with LGBTQ+ students, Dreamers, international students and the Womxn’s Hub to bridge collaborations for these efforts. 

“This is a great moment, a moment to take action and take power back. We say the term resist, but forming structures to effectuate that resistance is a really important part of that. So if we can get student athletes registered to vote, that’s change. If we can get departments to institute good structures for fair and equitable hiring (women and minorities), that’s real change,” Talesh said when asked about what his involvement in the Big West Undivided means to him.

The Big West Conference will continue to provide updates and announcements on the outcomes of their committee’s measures as they progress with their push for change.

Stefan C. Jones is a Staff Writer. He can be reached at stefancj@uci.edu