Annual Report

Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI)


Though universities embrace the concept of diversity, practicing and mandating it is an entirely different commitment.  Institutions have made strides to improve access and increase diversity in numbers.  But, representative diversity is insufficient.  At this prime moment in the identity development of young men and women, universities must also productively utilize interactional diversity, with an emphasis on issues of power, privilege, and social justice, to realize its intended benefits (Gurin, Lehman, & Lewis, 2004; Hurtado, 1999; Tatum, 2003).  We cannot continue to pretend that we are a post-racial society or that racism no longer exists. 

As neighborhoods continue to be segregated in our society, college is often the first opportunity for students to interact with diverse peers.  Therefore, colleges play an increasingly prominent role in preparing students for engaging in a pluralistic society (Jayakumar, 2008; Sáenz, 2010). Yet, homogenous pre-college experiences predispose students to seek out same-race peers and activities in college. Institutions must deliberately seek to provide opportunities for cross-racial interaction for undergraduates. Thus, higher education institutions have a critical role to play in promoting diversity (Jayakumar, 2008).

University of California campuses are some of the most diverse places in the U.S. and highlight the challenges of today’s race relations—but also hold the key to finding sustainable solutions.

The University of California system has some of the most diverse campuses in the United States, which on the one side allows for more inter-racial/ethnical learning and experiences but also creates a higher potential for inter-racial/ethnical tensions. UC Irvine in particular has a very diverse campus and can point to many successes of its diversity programming but also shows some of the challenges of inter-racial/ethnical relations on campus. The Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI), founded in 2015 with seed money from the UC Irvine Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture & Inclusion, arose to address these concerns about the campus racial climate. 

DDI addresses both institutional and individual sources of prejudice and discrimination in the contexts and situations in which participants in the program learn, work, and live.

DDI takes into consideration institutional and contextual forces in developing and implementing strategies for improving race relations. These include structures and practices, mores, traditions, beliefs, stereotypes, and narratives that have become part of racial/ethnic lore. However, power differences, real or imagined, are often at the heart of racial/ethnic tensions and must be considered if paradigm shifts and/or behavior modification(s) are to take effect. 

DDI seeks to influence racial and ethnic perceptions, attitudes, values, and ultimately, behaviors ofindividuals, including their motivation and capability to influence others, and not limit its programmatic objectives to increasing knowledge and awareness alone.

The mission of DDI is to promote improved race relations by reducing racial and ethnic prejudice, and improving cross-cultural and intergroup relations through rigorous academic preparation, experiential education and leadership development. DDI provides students, faculty and community participants with the education, training and experiences needed to better understand, negotiate and resolve racial and ethnical tension. This university-based program is designed to raise student awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion through in-class and experiential education around race issues in the U.S.  The program not only endeavors to prepare students to engage in a diverse environment, but also equips them to be agents of change within their campus community. Graduates of the program are encouraged to become leaders of one of the feeder programs, such as the Student Empowerment Program, and other campus and community organizations, in order to pass on their knowledge and experiences to others. 

DDI strives to cultivate a deeper understanding of the dispositions, motivations and behaviors of various racial and ethnic groups.

Many race relations programs focus—almost exclusively—on awareness, knowledge, and behavior towards persons of color. Although some may include the treatment of and attitudes toward a racial, ethnic or religious group, there is limited emphasis on addressing diversity. By raising awareness of certain racial—and particularly, ethnic—realities, DDI hopes to increase the depth and breadth of learning, understanding, and ultimately, acceptance of racial and ethnic differences both within and beyond college campuses.

DDI participants reflect racial and ethnic diversity. DDI is structured to ensure cooperative, equal-status roles for all participants regardless of race and ethnicity.

The DDI program is based on the positive intergroup contact model, the objective of which is to create a safe space for students to learn across differences, with a particular focus on examining structures of power and privilege, equity, and social justice (Schoem, et all., 2001; Zúñiga, et al., 2007).  The underlying theory is the Theory of Intergroup Dialogue, which asserts the educational and social benefits of cross-racial interactions that create opportunities for social contact in a shared environment where the groups have equal status and work toward a common goal (Allport, 1954; Hurtado, 2003; Sáenz, 2010). 

To improve racial and ethnic relations, DDI creates ample opportunity for positive, non-discriminatory interaction among participants so that participation is active rather than passive or voyeuristic. Strategies include cooperative activities and interaction to ensure participants from varying backgrounds contribute equally to the activity or discussion, and do not feel “othered.” Active participation and integration are critical to the success of immersive, experiential learning. 

As part of its sensitivity training, DDI’s program design involves cooperative interdependence among, and exposure to a diverse array of races and ethnic groups to encourage balanced representation and viewpoints, equality, tolerance and respect. Despite difference of opinion and/or views, all contributions are highly valued, and warrant the utmost respect.

DDI participants learn through experiential learning and develop future campus and community leaders.

The program includes regular dialogues across race both in the classroom setting and through travel to sites of current and/or historical racial/ethnic conflict.  Participants travel to various locations throughout the U.S. (San Francisco/Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, Alabama, New Orleans) to hear first-hand the perceptions and experiences (political, organizational, and community) concerning the causes, current situations, and possible solutions to the respective race issues.  These dialogues, along with subsequent group discussions and personal reflections, allow participants to arrive at deeper understandings of these complex racial/ethnic interrelations. (See Addenda B and C for details on the travel sites and itineraries.)

DDI positively impacts participants. DDI creates a space for students to hear and process multiple narratives around race and race issues.  

DDI participants learn by observing how other participants relate to those with similar and different narratives. We measure the impact of the program through multiple surveys and students’ open-ended journals, collected at multiple points in time: at the beginning of the program, before, and after trips, and at the end of the program. 

2016-17 year-end report


Summary of Activities

This year, we implemented an online application process to determine the students participating in the DDI program.  The application was structured with questions so as to enable course facilitators to better assess students’ preexisting levels of knowledge on issues of race in America, as well as their willingness and capacity to engage in rigorous and often emotionally challenging classroom discussions.  Although outreach with the application should be improved on in subsequent years, the application process was largely a success.  50 students applied for the course, with 10 freshmen, 10 sophomores, 13 juniors, and 17 seniors who applied. Priority was given to non-seniors, as an important component of the course is having students apply the knowledge and skills that they have developed through the DDI program during interactions within their own communities on campus.  Attention was also given to the representation of a diversity of ethnic backgrounds and personal experiences with race within the class. Ultimately, 13 students were selected for this year’s DDI class: 2 sophomores, 9 juniors, and 2 non-graduating seniors.


Travel Schedule




Winter Quarter

February 17, 18, 19

San Francisco and Oakland, California

Spring Break

March 25 to April 1

Atlanta, Georgia

Selma and Montgomery, Alabama

New Orleans, Louisiana

Chicago, Illinois

Groups and Organizations Scheduled for Spring Break

Professor Miriam Zuk at the Urban Displacement Project, UC Berkeley

Causa Justa/Just Cause, West Oakland Office

AYPAL, Workshop on Resilience Based Organizing

Chinatown Alleyway Tours

Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, Inclusion/Exclusion Exhibit

Oakland Museum, All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 Exhibit

Emory Douglas, former member of Black Panther Party


Groups and Organizations Scheduled for Spring Break

The Center for Civil and Human Rights (Atlanta, GA)

The King Center (Atlanta, GA)

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (Atlanta, GA)

The Southern Poverty Law Center (regional offices in Atlanta, Montgomery, and New Orleans, each with their own issue areas)

The Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, Alabama)

ACLU (Montgomery, Alabama, Chicago, Illinois)

Common Ground NGO (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Black Youth Project (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Black Lives Matter (Chicago, Illinois)

Renters Organizing Ourselves to Stay (Chicago, Illinois) 


Program Evaluation

The following report is derived from a study of data collected during the pilot year (2016-17) of the program.  The mixed-methods study investigated how participation impacted, if at all, student awareness and perception of race issues in the U.S., and whether students, as a result of their experiences and knowledge, felt empowered and motivated to act as leaders to affect change on their campus.

Research included observation of the program, including meetings, trips, and events.  In addition, the research included multiple surveys and open-ended journals, collected at multiple points in time: at the beginning of the program, before, and after trips, and at the end of the program.  It should be noted that Chicago was added to the travel agenda, while Arizona was removed.

Recruitment was focused on an effort to establish equality in representation and an environment that would be conducive for creating comfort for sharing personal experiences and perspectives.  The resulting applications for participation allowed for the selection of a very divers cohort.  The participants identified racially as follows:  18% White; 29% Black; 21% Asian; 18% Latina/o; 14% mixed-race (7% primarily identifying as Black and 7% primarily identifying as Latina/o).   50% identified as male and 50% identified as female.  The participants represented majors from across the academies, from ethnic-studies, to hard sciences, social sciences, and the arts.

Consistent with the pilot year, the data analysis illustrates the success of the program in increasing empathy among majority students toward underrepresented students and increased awareness of race issues among all participants.  100% of majority students reported an increase in awareness and empathy.  According to one participant:

The program made me question my pre-conceived notions about others.  It helped me see how important
it is to listen to other people and their experiences, rather than thinking I know everything because I'm
well versed on the concepts from an intellectual standpoint.  What I heard form my fellow-students really
touched me and I've learned to listen a lot more and assume a lot less.

The surveys reveal that DDI has been successful in increasing confidence in discussing difficult topics around race.  94% of participants reported that the program had given them knowledge, confidence, and incentive to engage in dialogue about race issues with fellow students. According to one participant:

                 I am A lot more open with people and I engage in conversation instead of shying away from it. I feel as
though my horizons have been broadened. I have a new perspective on the world and how it works. I
engage in conversation that has anything remotely to do with the topics we've discussed in class. I feel
more confident in sharing my opinions and I'm not afraid of criticism or being "wrong". Whenever I get
the chance I try to talk about what I have learned with anyone. 

Further, participants expressed a feeling of empowerment to affect change on campus and in their friendship groups. 84% of the students began to see themselves as leaders who possess the knowledge and capacity to affect change on their campus.  One of the participants explained:

I'm more racially conscious, and I'm more willing to engage in critical race conversations. I'm constantly
talking about race with other white people now, even more than I was before, and now I am so much
more informed with a better understanding and both a deeper and broader understanding from which to do so.

And, another student reported:

The class definitely made me rethink what I want to do in life. I want to focus on doing something that
addresses issues that hinder justice for members of my community. Ultimately, it made me contemplate
the ways that I thought I was going to contribute to this world and the approaches I will be taking when
working with people. I still don’t know what my future is like career-wise, but I do know that the
information I picked up in this class will be put to helping people directly and indirectly from the way
I am - a strong believer in connecting people and using that as a political thrust towards pluralism. 

Surveys also reveal that DDI increased a sense of forgiveness and comfort among minority students, particularly Black students.  100% of minority students and 75% of Black students said that their experience in the program gave them faith in the desire of majority students to gain empathy.  As one participant said:

I really enjoyed the conversations in class and I will have more patience with other people who do
not identify like me. I think that before, I used to be so quick to judge and call out someone, but
because this class made me realize how much even I didn't know, it has allowed me to become for
patient to other people and explain the implications of their words/actions.

Further, participation in DDI increased the level of comfort in engaging across race for all participants.  100% reported that as a result of participation in DDI, they had become more comfortable with and had noted an increase in their engagement across race.  As one participant said:

This program gave me the ability to deal/interact with different type of people from different backgrounds,
which would be useful in a workplace. It did this by putting me in a space to connect and build relationships
with folks from different backgrounds.  I got a chance to have serious, personal discussions on sensitive
issues, such as race and to get more comfortable talking with others from different backgrounds. 

Additionally, participation increased a sense of self-efficacy and improved sense of self-identity for all students of color.  As one participant explained: 

I think it helped me see a bigger picture in regards to my own understanding about myself and what I
would like to do with my life. I have repressed much of my culture and pushed away from it. Since I have
been in the class, it has made me question why I have done that, and have been much more appreciative
of my family and my people.

Finally, participants found the program to be of great value, as explained by one of the students:

It absolutely blew my mind - wide open, it made me realize that while I was coming into the class with
"a lot" of information, it was minuscule in comparison to what there was to learn, and to what I did learn,
not just by concept, but by experience and observing experience's that really drilled in the severity of the
issues we were introduced to.

And another: 

This class is definitely one of the most formative experiences of college so far-- I'm so glad I was granted
the opportunity to partake.

Having wrapped up its second year, it is important to note the consistent successes of DDI, as mentioned above.  As the program moves forward, it will be critical to its success to increase institutional, notable faculty, involvement and support.  We look forward to the integration of new faculty members, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and potentially additional travel locations for DDI’s third year. Additionally, DDI is extending its program to the community through its Diversity & Inclusion High School Ambassador Pilot Program in 2018, supported in collaboration by the UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence, the UCI Office of Student Affairs, the UCI School of Social Sciences, and also funded through the generous support of community organizations such as the Samueli Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation, the Orange County Community Foundation, and the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County.