According to a report by The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that advocates for students of color and low-income students, UCR has made significant gains at addressing the gaps in college completion rates of minority and low-income students in comparison to white and high-income students.
At four percent, UCR has the second-highest enrollment rate of black students in the UC system, falling less than one percentage point behind UC Merced. While other UC campuses graduate a higher percentage of black students, the study reports that UCR has achieved the smallest disparity between the graduation rates of white and black students.
The study, “Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?” compared graduation rates of the two groups from 2003 to 2013. UCLA boasted the highest rate of graduating black students at 80.7 percent but saw a near 10 percentage point difference from graduating white students, who graduated at a 90.6 percent rate. In comparison, UCR’s black student graduation rate was 65.7 percent to a white student graduation rate of 65.5 percent.
Mariam Lam, associate vice chancellor and chief diversity officer in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion recognized the efforts of Student Affairs and the Undergraduate Education division of UCR to ensure the completion and success of the black student population. According to Lam, the combined service of the divisions and “multicultural center approach and additional identity specific categories” is what sets UCR apart from other universities who may not have the same cohesive system.
Interim Director of African Student Programs (ASP), Greedley F. Harris III, added that ASP was “a home away from home” for the black student community but emphasized that the work does not stop there. ASP collaborates with the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) and Residential Life’s Pan-African Theme Hall (PATH) to create a “pyramid of support” for students. Harris III said that by connecting students to professional and leadership development programs, mentorship opportunities from black staff and faculty, cultural educational programming and other resources, students would not just succeed in college, but would also have the “tools for success once they left the campus.”
While Dr. Alisa Bierra, an assistant professor in ethnic studies at UCR, is aware that UCR has room for growth in the enrollment of black students, she also acknowledged the positive influence that the centers and other resources have on the diverse student population. “We have wonderful opportunities for black students sustained by a network of generative spaces,” wrote Bierra. She listed ASP, Blackness Unbound, black community spaces in Riverside and several other support spaces as contributors to the “academic achievements” of black students.
The Career Center has also worked to contribute to the retention and career insight of the African American student population. Derrin Ford, career counselor at the Career Center, wrote that “The Career Center is always trying to contribute to increasing representation that matches the diversity of our school. Initiatives such as the ‘CHASS Dean’s Speaker Series’ and ‘Job Discovery Series’ host speakers that represent successful African American UCR Alumni.”
“It’s just not that one office’s (the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) role to make the campus a hospitable, safe environment for all students. It’s everyone’s responsibility — all the faculty, no matter what race or gender or sexuality,” said Lam. “I think our students are also very good at self-advocacy and aggravating when they need to. They’re not afraid to push and do better. They know we can always do better.”
Victoria Mills, a fifth-year anthropology major and student worker at ASP, reiterated Lam’s point. After Mills listed several resources and support that ASP provides, including a peer-mentor program and scholarship opportunities, she said: “I think the student center and other resources are doing a lot of the work, but UCR needs to do their part by providing more funding.”
“Rising Tide II” and “A Look at Black Student Success: Identifying Top- and Bottom-Performing Institutions,” another study by Education Trust, both highlight UCR’s gains in rectifying the disparity in graduation rates between black students and their white counterparts in comparison to California universities and universities across the country.