Remarks as prepared for delivery for the Principles of Community Celebration at the Betty Irene Moore Hall
I’m happy to be here today. I always look forward to traveling across the causeway and visiting UC Davis Health, especially at this classy new home for nursing and health sciences. I appreciate the work you all do in advancing UC Davis’ mission of serving the public good while staying at the forefront of health education and research.
This is a wonderful week for all of UC Davis as we celebrate our “Principles of Community.” It’s an important time to engage in dialogue about the continuing need for diversity, to learn more about underrepresented communities and their cultures, as you did this past week hosting the Latino Film Festival.
More than anything, this week provides an opportunity to reinforce one of our university’s foundational values—that, no matter who we are, or where we were born, we are all welcome at UC Davis.
Our Principles of Community, which were first drafted in 1990, set the standard that every one of us deserves respect and civility. Living up to these ideals means we not only tolerate but welcome people whose political beliefs, native countries, gender identity or ethnicity are different than our own. We provide equal access to UC Davis for students of all backgrounds. As I like to say on Facebook, “This is who we are at UC Davis.”
I’ve learned that our Principles of Community emerged during a somewhat turbulent time on campus. Back in 1990, issues of discrimination, social justice and multi-culturalism led to a rise in student activism. There were protests demanding more vigorous recruitment and support of those from underrepresented ethnic groups. A few students even went on a hunger strike. After intensive rounds of debate, the university adopted its Principles of Community. They have been revised a few times since then, but the fundamental values have stood the test of time and become a defining element of campus life.
Our Cross Cultural Center on the Davis campus is an outgrowth of these principles. Now nearly 30 years old, the Center remains a critical space for our students to gather and discuss issues of social justice and community empowerment important to them. In some ways, we need these “Principles of Community” more than ever. We live in politically polarized times, and these principles keep us grounded in mutual respect. They serve as a guiding light as UC Davis becomes more diverse and global by the year.
Our newest class of undergraduates is the most diverse ever. About 27 percent of them are from historically underrepresented groups — African American, Native American and Chicano/Latino. With this year’s newcomers, we now meet the numeric threshold for becoming a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution. This means that Chicanos and Latinos now comprise at least 25 percent of our domestic undergraduate student body. Attaining this status opens the door to millions of dollars in federal grants to help these students to succeed at UC Davis. About 9,300 students enrolled this past fall as first-year and transfer students, and 44 percent of them are the first in their families to attend a four-year college. That’s astounding!
Living up to our Principles of Community means caring for the well-being of all students. It means we don’t turn our backs on DACA students. Instead, we step up with support and resources, like our AB 540 and Undocumented Student Center. It means that in times of heated rhetoric, we uphold free expression but condemn speech meant to taunt or terrorize. It means we find strength in our diversity and recognize the value we all bring to UC Davis, no matter what our background or point of view may be.
These principles resonate deeply with me on both personal and professional levels. Because I know what it’s like to feel marginalized and isolated. As an engineering student, I’d look around the classrooms and laboratories and wonder why there weren’t more people of color. I’d look at my instructors and think the same. I know what it’s like to be called the “n” word to my face. I know the heartbreak of hearing parents tell their kids they couldn’t play with my daughters because they’re brown. This kind of behavior will never be acceptable with me, especially when it comes to our UC Davis community.
As the engineering dean at Georgia Tech, I worked hard to make sure that underrepresented student were heard and had the means to succeed like everyone else. I’m proud that when I left we were the largest producer of women and minority engineers in the country. I was drawn to UC Davis in large part because of its own commitment to diversity. I wanted to be at a university that deliberately recruits, retains, embraces and celebrates people with backgrounds, gender identities and skills that are underrepresented in higher education. I wanted to be at a university that walked the talk about diversity, equality and inclusion. So, in a way, I might not be here at UC Davis if it wasn’t for these Principles of Community that we celebrate today. For that, I am truly grateful. Now, I’m hoping to do even more to strengthen our commitment to diversity. A few weeks ago, I announced a new position of vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. By focusing solely on these objectives, this new position will help us do a better job recruiting and retaining the best and brightest students and faculty in the nation.
UC Davis will continue to be guided by its Principles of Community. They are part of our DNA. As chancellor, I am committed fully to upholding these values. After all, they don’t just make us stronger as a campus, they make us better as human beings. Thank you.