To the UC Davis Community:
Nearly two weeks ago, LeShelle and I awoke to the distressing news of horrific attacks on Israel. The actions of Hamas are morally reprehensible and indefensible. Since then, we've remained deeply troubled by the continuing violence in the region, including the devastating loss of civilian Palestinian lives in Gaza and the escalation of the ongoing humanitarian crisis there. We affirm the human rights of all people and the ability for everyone to live a peaceful and dignified life.
The loss of life is heartbreaking and these events are having a profound and personal impact on our campus communities and will for the foreseeable future. We have heard from students, staff and faculty, from a variety of backgrounds, who are living in fear, anger and distress. Some are directly impacted, having loved ones in Palestine and Israel, or having lost family and friends to the violence. Many fear for their own personal safety here at home as they hear irresponsible narratives in our national conversation espousing divisiveness and hate.
Let me be unequivocal: Hate has no place at UC Davis. We must collectively stand against all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as anti-Israeli and anti-Arab sentiment. I issue a challenge to every member of our community to reach out and dig deep into your reserves of empathy and compassion for one another. We take any acts of hate or bias seriously.
I confirmed yesterday that the provost will refer to the appropriate campus departments a recent incident of revolting social media comments that were attributed to a UC Davis faculty member. If you experience or witness a hate incident, report it immediately.
I often say I am not a world leader. I am not an elected official. I do not make public policy. I cannot shape events that are half a world away. What I am is the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, and holding this job is the honor of my life.
My responsibility as UC Davis chancellor is to provide for the well-being of the entire campus community and make it possible for tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff to learn, teach, live and thrive together. While there are no easy answers to the issues abroad, I remain committed to working closely with leaders in the Jewish, Muslim and other impacted communities in the coming days, weeks and months to make Davis a place where all can belong. I have already had many conversations with some members of these communities about what actions would be meaningful, and I will continue to welcome respectful dialogue.
UC Davis must be a space where individuals can freely express themselves, even though we don’t always agree with one another. It has never been more important to understand that we can learn from those with whom we disagree and that people with backgrounds, histories and points of view different than our own also may be in pain.
Our formal university policies govern our interactions with one another, both inside and outside the classroom. While policies are important, there are times when we must hold ourselves to higher standards. In these moments we turn to our aspirational values, our Principles of Community, that call on us to treat one another with dignity, to foster mutual understanding and respect, to act with sensitivity and courtesy, and to reject discrimination and hate in all forms.
Please know that LeShelle and I stand with and pray for all of you.
Campus safety updates
Everyone deserves to work, study and research in an environment that is as safe as it can be. Last spring, our leadership team committed to work with our community to explore ways to improve lighting and overall campus safety practices. I am pleased to share some results of that commitment. We were approved to allocate $20 million in campus funds over the next five years to improve lighting on campus, install more security cameras and improve Aggie Access, our system for building access and security. We will continue to update you as we implement these improvements.
Student success and belonging
As the academic year unfolds, I am reminded of how our role in preparing students for success on campus and beyond gets to the heart of our mission at UC Davis. As I often say, my goal is for each of our students to have a job offer, a graduate school acceptance in hand, or even an entrepreneurial venture in process before I hand them a diploma.
Of course, in order for students to do well, it’s crucial for them to have a sense of community. A recent study shows that students without a sense of belonging are less likely to complete school. Further, the study found that fewer than two-thirds of students who enroll in college finish their degree.
Current data shows that UC Davis is a place where students feel at home. According to the 2022 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey, 86% of respondents at UC Davis agreed at some level that they felt a sense of belonging.
For the state to thrive well into the future, we must build the skilled and diverse workforce needed for the decades ahead — a workforce that matches the population of California. A key way to do this is to increase our retention and graduation rates. This is especially true for our students from underrepresented communities. In the UC system, the four-year graduation rate for freshman underrepresented students is 61.6%, compared to 72.8% overall.
At UC Davis, social mobility is who we are. Upward mobility can transform students and their families for generations. We offer a path to a successful future.
Our student community centers are doing critical work to bridge retention gaps, helping students navigate college life, overcome academic challenges and celebrating their success along the way. These centers go beyond just providing a place to do homework or find tutoring. They offer unique communities for individualized academic support, along with access to basic needs resources such as housing, food stability and health care. They are pivotal cultural and identity-based spaces for students to form friendships and unwind.
The Center for African Diaspora Student Success, or CADSS, became the first UC Davis student retention and academic center when it was established in 2015. It grew from the Academic Retention Initiative to improve academic outcomes, when UC Davis recognized it needed to support students with a more holistic system addressing cultural experiences.
Our university continues to lead the way in creating places of belonging. Along with CADSS, the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success, or CCLASS, the Native American Academic Student Success Center — also known as The Native Nest — the LGBTQIA Resource Center, and Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian Student Resources, or MENASA, are just a few of the centers and units that support our diverse student population and create lasting community.
I’d also like to note the good work from the Strategic Asian and Pacific Islander Retention Initiative, or SAandPIRI, supporting all Asian and Pacific Islander students with a special focus on Filipinx, Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations. Their new Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Academic Student Success is located at the University House Annex, with services that include academic advising, professional development, and cultural activities.
Visit the Student Affairs website for a full list of centers and services at UC Davis.
This is the UC Davis difference. In a May article from Inside Higher Ed, our university was spotlighted as a model for its support and success with identity-based academic retention centers.
Many of the centers also support staff and faculty. One example is our Veterans Success Center, which provides a space for student veterans, employees, service members and their dependents. This center includes a study lounge and break room, along with monthly events to support our students at UC Davis and for life after graduation.
Community doesn’t just start and stop on campus grounds. Many student organizations, groups and clubs provide spaces of belonging. Groups such as Hillel at Davis and Sacramento, which remains a cornerstone of Jewish student life for more than 50 years and connects students with alumni and community members. The International House Davis is another well-established social community where people from all over the world come together to celebrate common humanity.
These critical programs and services help our larger community thrive together. I encourage students to take advantage of our centers and their tremendous resources.
I would like to offer my gratitude to the students, staff and faculty who make these centers and our campus — and the values of community, dignity and respect — come alive. In these trying times, our staff has reached out with compassion and immediacy to members of affected communities. People bearing different perspectives have offered education, empathy and a path forward, expressing themselves peacefully. These individuals embody the spirit of our university.
Gary S. May