Celebrating diversity: Chancellor's Awards honor many for building community

Associate law school dean Kevin Johnson offers minority students from the Central Valley’s high schools and college campuses what is often their first peek at a law school program.

At the law school, he also works to expand pools of faculty candidates to include more women and minority candidates. And, when half way across campus the Chicana/o studies program found itself without a director last year, Johnson stepped up to fill that post, too.

Despite his involvement in trying to promote a more diverse UC Davis, Johnson said he hardly deserves to be one of the inaugural winners of the Chancellor’s Achievement Awards for Diversity and Community. Four campus community members and one entire university department received citations and $1,500 for their efforts at a University Club reception May 23.

"It’s a wonderful honor," Johnson said. "The most embarrassing thing is that just about everyone at the (awards) ceremony deserved it more than I did."

Johnson’s nominator for the award, law school dean Rex Perschbacher could hardly disagree more. He describes Johnson as perfect for the recognition.

"He works every day in every way to build a diverse community," Perschbacher said.

Other community members who received awards are:

– Rodney Cole, Department of Physics and Learning Skills Center

As an adjunct physics lecturer, teacher in the Learning Skills Center and vice chair of a science research project for minority students, Cole keeps quite busy.

But he wouldn’t concentrate his energies any other way, he said.

In all his work, Cole helps prepare minority students and others from disadvantaged academic backgrounds for careers in physical science.

As part of his work for the Minority Undergraduate Research Participation in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences project, he mentors students, informing them about career opportunities and working with them on his own research. Cole finds it a treat to get to know students and watch them grow over four years.

"So often affirmative action is more or less a body count – how many people go in, how many people go out," he said. "If you are going to solve the problems in society … it’s really about building a sense of community. That’s what the mentoring does."

Lecturer Kevin Roddy describes Cole’s generous spirit in his nominating letter.

"The extent and depth of his service to the minority community are both breathtaking, yet his personal modesty would not find anything extraordinary about it," Roddy said.

– Erica Alfaro and Matt Huerta, UC Davis students

Griselda Castro, coordinator of student affairs for the Chicana/o studies program, nominated Alfaro and Huerta for the outreach they did as former leaders of the Associated Students of UC Davis.

"They brought issues of diversity to the forefront," said Castro, who has known both students since they were freshmen.

Alfaro said she was surprised to receive the award; she didn’t even know it existed. But now that she thinks about it, her term as vice president of the student government was infused with a certain sprit.

"I tried to incorporate diversity in everything I did," Alfaro said. "Whether it was Diversity Days, planning the ASUCD Leadership Retreat or working on the ‘Hate- Free’ campaign, my goal to create an inclusive community was always in mind."

Huerta, the former ASUCD president, said he and Alfaro tried to help UC Davis students build connections between campus life and social justice issues in the world. They helped bring free-trade coffee to the Coffeehouse and hosted a forum on racial profiling with the campus police.

Alfaro and Huerta both graduate next month. Alfaro, a political science major and Chicana/o studies minor, is applying for several graduate fellowships and hopes to attend law school at Davis in 2002.

Huerta, a community and regional development major, will work on rural area projects at Applied Development Economics, a Sacramento consulting firm.

– Counseling Center

Associate Director Emil Rodolfa lauded the entire staff of the Counseling Center.

"Through the center workshops and programs, students and staff and faculty members have developed mutual respect and gained a deeper understanding of interracial perceptions and interactions," Rodolfa said in his nomination letter.

One key component is the Multicultural Immersion Program, brought to UC Davis by center psychologist Arnold De La Cruz. It’s designed to help all students deal with coming into the diverse center that UC Davis is. During the two-quarter program, students study intercultural issues in a sociology class and attend small group sessions. They are then eligible to work as campus diversity facilitators.

"MIP offers a big opportunity for us to help students at many different levels," De La Cruz said.

The center’s interest in diversity education began as early as 1970 when it considered merging with the campus Educational Opportunity Program, which serves students from low-income backgrounds, said Director Judy Mack.

While the programs didn’t merge, the center "committed itself to … reach out to ethnic students who were recruited to campus through the program," she said.

The Counseling Center earlier this month also garnered a Staff Diversity and Affirmative Action Achievement award. A large group of center employees were on hand at the Chancellor’s Award celebration last week.

"I think the gathering of the staff reflected our heartfelt commitment to each other and our work," Mack said. "The award is very precious recognition, indeed."

Media Resources

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, abagronis@ucdavis.edu

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