The first group of student advisers to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion defined its roles this past year and hopes to expand efforts to improve campus climate next year.
The EDI office created the Student Advisory Board in 2016 to help Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang address campus issues and communicate student concerns to the administration. Several students on the board said they think their work is still in its early stages.
“A primary goal this year was to set up something that (the next) students on the board could pick up and run with,” said Alex Torpey, a board member and a fourth-year economics student.
The board consists of 13 undergraduate and graduate student leaders from different communities on campus, who serve two-year terms.
The EDI office gave board members latitude to shape their role as advisers, and members were able to pursue independent projects like researching the legalities of free speech and creating an informational video on student diversity on campus, said Jacqueline Diaz, a third-year political science student and board member.
“I helped coordinate the EDI mixer that allowed students to meet the vice chancellor directly,” Diaz said. “We ourselves are involved in different campus organizations, which helps us as students understand student issues, (and) we would then meet with the vice chancellor to discuss ways to address these issues.”
The board did not directly respond to every campus issue, such as the controversy over Danny Siegel, the former Undergraduate Students Association Council president, using a gang sign. However, board members said they discussed possible solutions, such as recognizing the importance of the Afrikan Student Union’s list of demands.
“Those incidents inform the work we do in the office, but as a board, I don’t think it’s (in) our job’s capacity to be the first responders to offensive incidents,” Torpey said. “Our job is to look at those incidents as a board and think about their root cause in the context of the greater UCLA experience.”
Board members also attended monthly meetings – in which they provided student input on campus issues – and quarterly meetings led by Kang, Diaz said. Kang held open discussions about recent campus incidents and took suggestions from the board about facilitating events, she added.
“(Our role) is a combination of actively being engaged and understanding who’s being marginalized in order to relay that back to the vice chancellor to come up with solutions such as holding programs like the CrossCheck Live events,” Diaz said.
The CrossCheck Live events, coordinated by the student board and EDI office, feature panels of scholars discussing issues such as the national presidential election, President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and police brutality.
Brad Fingard, a third-year political science student and board member, said he thinks national politics influenced campus climate more than in previous years.
However, Fingard said he thinks the recent USAC election, in which the majority of the council seats were won by independent candidates, showed that the campus climate can improve.
“I have seen students collaborate and come together around common interests, and shared values in a way I haven’t seen students do so in the past,” Fingard said.
Board members said next year they want to better advocate for students who feel marginalized and hope the board adds more graduate student advisers.
Applications for next year’s board are now open and the EDI office plans to add up to five additional students to succeed the positions of those who will be graduating or leaving because of personal reasons.
The EDI office said in a statement that it was pleased with the Student Advisory Board this year, and said the board learned how to respond to campus concerns and promote a productive dialogue on campus.
“We came in with the expectation of not only establishing a presence on campus, but more so defining ourselves, considering it was our inaugural year,” said Josh Tran, a board member and fourth-year Chinese and political science student. “The foremost issue was not forcing ourselves on campus communities so quickly.”
Tran said he hopes next year’s members will try harder to gain more perspectives from student communities that are not represented on the board, such as students from the transgender community.
“The vision of the Student Advisory Board has been defined – we have our founding documents and we know who we are. Now we have to communicate who we are to the students,” Tran said.