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Mitchell Chang Appointed Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

By Joanie Harmon
UCLA Professor of Education Mitchell Chang

Scholar of diversity in higher education third to serve UCLA in the post.

UCLA Professor of Education Mitchell Chang has been appointed Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, effective July 1, 2022. A scholar of the educational efficacy of diversity-related initiatives on college campuses, Chang is the third to serve in the position at UCLA, succeeding current AVC Margaret Shih and inaugural AVC Devon Carbado.  

A UCLA alumnus (’96, Ph.D.), Chang has nearly 30 years experience on campus, as a graduate student and a SEIS faculty member, as well as his professorial appointment in UCLA’s Department of Asian American Studies. Chang has been involved with UCLA’s Rising to the Challenge project, an initiative that was created by Chancellor Gene Block and former Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily Carter in response to the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter movement. Chang, who is a faculty member in the division of Higher Education and Organizational Change, has been helping to strategize how the University can further diversify its faculty.

Professor Chang, who began his doctoral studies at UCLA in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest, says that this pivotal time in Los Angeles, “… really shaped my work here and certainly gives me a long historical view of how UCLA has approached diversity over the last three decades. I would say that I’ve seen a lot of changes, but there’s certainly more work to do.”

“This was only a few months after the civil unrest in Los Angeles, so that was really still very raw in everyone’s mind, and that experience was still very relevant to classroom discussions. We  spent the first couple of years, in many of my classes, trying to untangle what happened in 1992 following the Rodney King incident and understanding the unrest that took place after that - what that meant, and what contributed to that kind of reaction.”

Chang notes that the 1990s - which were also marked by other events with complex racial implications, such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the effort to ban race-conscious college admissions – provided him with the basis for his dissertation on whether a Supreme Court justice claim that justified the use of race-conscious admissions had empirical standing.

“I tested that claim, whether or not being a member of a student body that is more racially diverse versus less diverse, adds value to students’ learning and experiences while they’re in college, and it turned out that it did,” says Professor Chang. “That got me to many, many more years of work around the educational benefits of diversity.” 

As a faculty member, Chang has seen evidence of this added value in his students’ experiences. He says that diversity has increased at UCLA, not only in the student body, but in the faculty and administration.

“One of the reasons I feel quite encouraged to join Murphy Hall is because the leadership there has become more diverse,” he says “In terms of representation, UCLA has become much more diverse, generally speaking, and…  [with] the synergy across not only students but faculty, administration, as well as staff, I’ve seen those benefits play out in a lot of different ways, and in the ways that I measured empirically in my studies over the last two decades.”

However, Chang acknowledges that representation is not the only solution, and says he seeks to address the concepts of equity, diversity and inclusion beyond buzzwords.

“We know that empirically speaking, diversity not only contributes to representation that we see visually but also contributes to shifts in culture,” he says. “This is one of the reasons I want to get back into this work at the local and practical level. The approaches that universities have taken have generally not been very clear, and it's been criticized for window dressing.”

Chang also notes that respect for dissenting opinions is something that he wants to see develop.

“That’s always been one of the benefits of diversity: the claim that greater racial diversity contributes to being exposed to a wider range of viewpoints and perspectives,” Chang says. “It enhances our own worldview and enriches our lives in so many different ways not only intellectually but also culturally. But the inclination these days, given the political climate, is to dig deeper into our own perspectives and opinions and continue to, in this digital age, live in our own echo chambers, rather than take a risk and try to convince people who don’t share our opinions, or to try to understand better what animates those opinions and perspectives.

“I don’t think that demonizing others who don’t agree with us is healthy for a democratic society. I still haven’t given up on the idea that we can learn from people who don’t share our perspectives and opinions. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can learn more from them, and it’s important to nurture a kind of educational environment that helps us facilitate this.”

Chang, who served on the Moreno Report implementation committee at UCLA says that one of the key recommendations of the historic report was to create an office devoted to addressing issues of discrimination and harassment on campus. He says that while areas such as the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies have made great gains toward diversity and inclusion, he would, as associate vice chancellor of EDI, like to focus on other quarters on campus where not much progress has been made.

“My first intellectual project will be to identify where those pockets are in UCLA that haven't seen expected gains in terms of something as basic as a shift in representation, then try to understand better what's going on,” he says. “I think at UCLA, we've been able to pull up some of those departments and units that have been sort of sitting in the middle, but by doing this, we’ve created a greater gap with those that are really struggling near the bottom. In fact, I think we’ve created kind of a skewed bi-modal distribution, to put it into statistical terms.

“I’m curious to see if we can actually lift the bottom,” Chang says. “And I’m wondering, if we continue to neglect those pockets of the University that have not made measureable gains, they’re going to become even more disaffected and disconnected from [the Rising to the Challenge] project that I know will yield educational benefits for them. My sense is that [areas on campus] that have not experienced much change are missing out in so many different ways, and we want to lift them so that they too can realize similar educational gains.”

Chang says that he looks forward to meeting these challenges, and that serving the University beyond his professorial duties, and other organizational involvements - such as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Higher Education - is very important to him.

“Right now, I'm at a point in my career [where] I’m starting to move away from a national level focus to a more local one,” he says. “Before I retire, I want to see if I can contribute to improving the environment to maximize educational opportunities and experiences at UCLA. This is obviously a community that I care a lot about and I feel some responsibility for taking care of it, so I want to leave it in much better shape than I came into it 30 years ago. 

“Service is sometimes overlooked as part of what faculty members do, but for me, that’s always been a very, very high priority,” says Chang. “I don’t see myself as a temporary member of this community, but as a permanent one, and as a permanent member, you ought to care about your community and try to make it better.”

For a recent interview by CNBC with Professor Chang on "How Asian Americans became the center of the affirmative action debate," visit this link.