Grants Continue UC Davis’ Emphasis on Faculty Diversity

Man teaches class.
Oscar Hinojosa, a Ph.D. candidate in the Plant Biology Graduate Group, speaks to a plant anatomy class — one of the few held in person last year — in October 2020. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“It’s not renewed importance — it’s continued importance,” Academic Affairs Vice Provost Philip Kass says about making UC Davis a welcome place for faculty members who bring diversity to their ranks. To continue on this path, UC Davis has received $746,000 from another round of Advancing Faculty Diversity grants awarded bythe UC Office of the President.

Phil Kass
Philip Kass

“There have always been roadblocks to participating in parts of higher education,” said Philip Kass, who is involved with three of UC Davis’ four newly funded projects. “We’re very much trying to not only recognize what those roadblocks are, but bring them down.”

UCOP has given Advancing Faculty Diversity grants yearly since 2016, and UC Davis has been a recipient in every year but one.

Raquel Aldana, law professor and former associate vice chancellor for Academic Diversity, said the grants not only provide resources for critical work in diversity, equity and inclusion, on issues of academic diversity, “but have also elevated the quality and intellectual might of these projects by creating a collective of faculty who are dedicated to transforming the UCs together.”

Two of UC Davis’ new grants are for Davis alone:

Dialogues Across Difference: Solutions to Disruptive Speech in the Learning Environment

Co-principal investigators: Aldana and Lorena Oropeza, history professor and associate vice chancellor for Academic Diversity. Two-year award, $175,000.

The idea for this proposal came about from a previous Advancing Faculty Diversity grant aimed at tackling areas of dissatisfaction among associate professors. The new project points out that harassing or hate speech in the classroom — regardless of the source — can be disruptive even if it is legally protected. The proposal asks: Is there a middle ground for a faculty member experiencing it between filing an official report and doing nothing?  

“Dialogues Across Difference is all about supporting faculty navigating these difficult spaces by documenting their experiences, creating collective awareness, and then using these insights to develop theatrical performances that, in turn, will form the basis for training on this topic,” Oropeza said.

Fostering Crucial Conversations and Building Opportune Consensus on the Use of Contributions to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statements for Faculty Recruitment

Co-principal investigators: Kass and Margaret Kemp, professor, Department of Theatre and Dance. Two-year award, $135,000.  

A previous Advancing Faculty Diversity grant highlighted the importance of contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion statements, and they are now required for all faculty recruitments. Not all faculty members support that requirement, and this project will listen to their points of view as well.

“One may question whether or not we should be using statements of contributions to DEI — the fact is we are using them and we want to show faculty [how to use them] in a way they are comfortable with and in a way that is equitable,” Kass said.

The project will include studying comments from Academic Senate members in favor of and opposed to requiring the statements, and studying how they are used and valued at other UC campuses and other universities.

Organizers will then create two films: one using actors discussing how the statements are used, and a documentary focused on students’ lived experiences and how they engage with faculty members. Those films will be provided as a resource to future recruitment committees at UC Davis and other UC campuses.

The other two grants are shared with other campuses:

Mining Text for Bias in Written Comments of Student Evaluations of Teaching

Co-principal investigators: Kass and his vice provost counterparts at Riverside (Daniel Jeske) and Santa Cruz (Herbie Lee). Two-year award, $186,100.  

This project will use a computer program to “investigate the degree of bias in written comments with respect to the gender, ethnicity, and rank of the instructor.”

Kass said research has shown that instructors who are female, nonbinary and/or people of color, when they are evaluated by students, regularly receive lower numerical scores, but more work needs to be done to understand if written comments follow a similar pattern.

“The more you understand these, the better position you are in to more capably interpret the student comments you get for instructors,” he said.

Advancing Faculty Diversity Climate and Retention Program: DEIBlueprint

Co-principal investigators: Kass and Binnie Singh, assistant vice provost, Academic Affairs, UC Davis, and others on the Berkeley and San Francisco campuses. Three-year award, $249,986.

Departments designing surveys to measure their own diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging — their climate — shouldn’t have to redesign the wheel each time, this proposal asserts. The roughly $250,000 grant will create a “blueprint” in partnership with UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, which will include a list of validated questions and a toolkit to support appropriate response activities.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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