UPCEA logo UPCEA has recognized UCR University Extension with its highest honor for exceptional work on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives by the organization’s Social Justice Taskforce. The 2024 UPCEA Leadership in Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Award recognizes a program that represents best practices, demonstrates a positive impact, and promotes a cultural shift within the organization.

“For our organization to be the recipient of this award is a significant achievement and honor,” said Dean Kevin Vaughn. “I am very proud of the Social Justice Taskforce for this amazing accolade, and for all that each member has done to promote diversity and inclusive excellence at UCR University Extension.”

The Social Justice Taskforce formed organically in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. A small group of staff wanted to do more and felt that “Statements of Solidarity” were not enough. The group wanted to move from words to ongoing and continued actions and create positive change, starting at UCR University Extension.

Cynthia Welle, Director of Strategic Partnerships, explains, “The Social Justice Taskforce is a remarkable group of individuals who have played a pivotal role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization. Receiving this honor is a testament to their dedication over the past few years in establishing staff-led diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging-centered (DEIB) workshops, initiatives, and activities for staff, including their outstanding bi-monthly Inclusive Conversation series.”

In the first two years, the taskforce implemented the following initiatives:

  • Elevated the prominence of our statements of solidarity and DEI values on our website.
  • Completed a diversity audit of our instructor and staff hires.
  • Regularly shared resources and information with staff regarding DEI topics throughout the year.
  • Created an online DEI Training course for instructors on our Canvas LMS.
  • Dean Kevin Vaughn kicked off “Conversations with the Dean” where he led a series of reading discussions on books such as “White Fragility” and “So You Want to Talk about Race.”
  • Shared its work at the 2021 UPCEA West Regional conference in a presentation titled “Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Implementing Initiatives for a More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Organization.”

In year three, the taskforce wanted to give staff practical experience in combating social injustice. One of the most notable achievements has been the establishment of the bi-monthly Inclusive Conversation series. The Inclusive Conversation sessions provide a platform for staff members to engage in candid and constructive discussions on a wide range of diversity and inclusion topics. Conversation topics have included Natural Hair Discrimination, Universal Design in the Workplace, Why Pronouns Matter, Language Diversity, and Hispanic Heritage Month.

Jeni Carrizosa, a Program Coordinator in Academic Affairs, said, “As a member of the Social Justice Taskforce, I feel our discussions have brought our staff closer together. The Inclusive Conversations have provided a safe place for our staff to discuss difficult topics. When hosting a DEI discussion on Hispanic Heritage month, my coworkers were able to relate to my experiences and I was able to relate to theirs. I hope that the taskforce continues to grow and provide support for our staff members.”

Associate Dean Marie Martin, one of the architects of the taskforce, shared, “Because these conversations are staff-led and not mandatory, attendance is high, and the impact cannot be overstated. They have deepened understanding, fostered empathy, and encouraged a culture of open-mindedness and inclusivity within our organization. Staff members have an additional platform to voice their concerns and ideas, leading to a more collaborative, empathetic, and supportive work environment.”

Last spring, the taskforce worked with the UCR Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to offer a full day training session about Individual and Collective Accountability where staff learned about topics such as implicit bias, microaggressions, and being an active bystander. This event provided direct, in-person scenarios where staff could practice how to intervene when they see an injustice occurring. It was such a success that 100% of those who attended felt that the session provided them with the skills and tools they needed to respond correctly when someone was treated unjustly.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have led discussions, with my colleagues, about the importance of being seen and being heard in one’s place of employment. The taskforce has provided opportunities for any member of the UCR University Extension team to lead discussions about real-world issues and challenges that are affecting them or their communities. I am grateful for UCR University Extension’s continued commitment to supporting DEI and proud of the work we have done,” said Ivan Melchor, Director of Corporate and Custom Programs.

In the coming months, the taskforce will further improve programming, identify new staff who may be interested in joining the taskforce, and set new goals for the coming year, including the development of a cross-departmental authored action plan for DEIB. This effort will expand the work of the Social Justice Taskforce and include each member of the UCR University Extension staff.

“As part of our strategic plan, we identified goals to increase diversity in instructor and staff hires, and to position our organization as a leader in DEI. The effective work of the taskforce shines a light on our commitment to DEI. We are now a more inclusive workplace thanks to the taskforce and its advocacy and leadership. It will be an honor to receive the award at the 2024 UPCEA Annual Conference in Boston,” said Dean Vaughn.

Associate Dean Martin concludes with a few thoughts, “The taskforce has, through its grassroots efforts, fostered an atmosphere where staff members feel respected, valued, and empowered to contribute to our collective success and able to discuss critical issues around their experiences that impact them, our students, and our communities. We're proud of the efforts to weave DEI into the fabric of what we do at UCR University Extension, and I'm excited that we have a growing team of staff members committed to continuing this work.”

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