October 29, 2021
Dear Members of Our Campus Community,
I am writing to share with you that, after 32 years of extraordinary teaching, research, service, and leadership at three UC campuses, including her tenure as our campus’s inaugural Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Professor of Sociology, Dr. Belinda Robnett has decided to retire on December 17, 2021, in order to spend more time with her family.
We are grateful for her visionary leadership in helping to establish the foundation for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on our campus, and for her dedicated contributions to help our campus through this challenging pandemic period. We look forward to continuing to build on this strong foundation as we work together to advance diversity and excellence on our campus.
Following campus consultation, I will write again soon to our campus community to announce the appointment of an Interim Vice Chancellor and the formation of a search advisory committee for our next Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Upon her retirement, Dr. Robnett reflected on her life and career, which she is allowing me to share with our campus community.
Vice Chancellor Robnett’s life’s journey took her from South Central L.A., where she attended Compton schools, to her current role as our Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Her personal experiences as an African-American woman, scholar, and advocate, as well as her decades of research on race-ethnicity and gender, provided her with both an experience-based and social science-informed understanding of the challenges faced by underrepresented groups, structural disadvantage, and effective ways to enact change. Dr. Robnett often stated, “I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t concerned about educational equity—or lack thereof—and the consequences it has for our lives, communities, and future. Indeed, I’m often inspired and re-inspired by Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’”
She has spent her entire 32-year professional career as a member of the UC system and during that time, to now, she has worked tirelessly to use the weapon promoted by Mr. Mandela. While a graduate student at the University of Michigan, she was recruited to UC Davis as a pre-doctoral Target of Opportunity Fellow. From there, she was tenured at UC Davis, and subsequently moved to UC Irvine where she was promoted to a Full Professor in the Department of Sociology. She also served as the UCI Director of African American Studies; the School of Social Sciences inaugural Equity Advisor; the UCI Department of Sociology Undergraduate Director; UCI Chair of the Senate Faculty Welfare, Affirmative Action, and Diversity Subcommittee; and the inaugural UCI Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity for the School of Social Sciences, the largest academic unit on that campus.
Vice Chancellor Robnett’s thirty plus years of administrative experiences evince that she is an effective institution-builder, an advocate for diversity and equity, and a bridge builder who serves diverse groups of faculty, students, and staff. With this experience and attendant knowledge, and as our inaugural Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she has, since joining the campus in September 2020, built the DEI Office, and launched the UCSB Thriving in the Academy Initiative that includes several diversity education and support programs, including the Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Student Diversity Education Certificate Programs; the Thriving in the Academy Faculty and Graduate Student Programs; the DEI Best Practices Program; The Diversity Officers Program; The Social Justice Grant Program; and the Difficult Dialogues Speaker Series. Vice Chancellor Robnett also launched the UCSB 2021 Campus Climate Survey, and created five standing advisory boards. Additionally (with Co-PI Barbara Walker, Holly Hapke, UCI, and two CSU professors), Vice Chancellor Robnett secured a $796,858 NSF California Alliance for Hispanic Serving Social Sciences Advancement grant. Vice Chancellor Robnett’s efforts will leave an enduring institutional infrastructure from which our university may continue to advance our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In addition to her outstanding leadership, Professor Robnett’s path breaking research complements and informs her administrative work on the experiences of African Americans, particularly African-American women. Seeking to understand the positions of African Americans within U.S. gendered-racial-ethnic hierarchies that are formed by and maintained within formal and informal societal institutions, she focuses her empirical and theoretical work on how these hierarchical relations impact social movement outcomes and marriage market pools. She is the author and co-author of several books and numerous articles, including How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights; Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State (with David Meyer and Nancy Whittier); and a book under review, Gendered Pluralism (with Katherine Tate) that was supported by a $260,000 National Science Foundation grant for the authors’ “Outlook on Life and Political Engagement” survey.
Similarly, her teaching inside the classroom and beyond has been organized around an overarching concern regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion within higher education. She, along with Katherine Tate, received the University of California-Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative Grant, and Professor Robnett was awarded $349,000 from the UCOP-HSI Doctoral Diversity Initiative to support a five-year “Enhancing Diversity and Equitable Inclusion: Thriving in the Academy Graduate Program” that was structured to foster a sense of belonging, increase professional networks, decrease attrition, and reduce the time to degree.
Taken together, it is clear that Vice Chancellor Belinda Robnett has demonstrated her strong commitment to fulfilling the UC system’s mission that “Diversity should be integral to the University’s achievement of excellence.” She has embraced this historic promise “to recognize and nurture merit, talent, and achievement by supporting diversity and equal opportunity in [our] education, services, and administration, as well as research and creative activity.” She committed herself to making this a taken-for-granted reality.
Please join me in extending our appreciation, congratulations, and best wishes to Vice Chancellor Robnett.
Henry T. Yang