Anna Spain Bradley, UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and a professor of law, started her job in the midst of a pandemic that magnified inequalities in the United States and drew attention to social justice protests at a scale not seen since the 1960s.

As UCLA’s chief diversity officer, she serves as the senior campus official responsible for leading and advancing strategies for enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion and protecting civil rights throughout the UCLA community.

With more than two decades work in law, human rights and conflict resolution as an attorney-advisor at the U.S. State Department and a diplomat at the United Nations, Spain Bradley was exceptionally qualified to help the UCLA community meet the moment.

In recognition of the anniversary of her arrival on campus, she talked with Eric Greene of UCLA Strategic Communications to reflect on the lessons she has learned and the future of EDI at UCLA.

Why are you passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion?

One of my central values has always been dignity — that people inherently matter and should be treated this way. As an educator, scholar and advocate, I’ve spent much of my life working to help societies and nations live in dignity, through resolving disputes peacefully, protecting human rights and by combating racism. Equity, diversity and inclusion are essential tools for achieving dignity, and dignity is essential to the future of humanity.

My passion for this work is also personal. I grew up in Ohio and quickly learned about racism and that society was not always fair. As a child, I had a hard time understanding why others wanted to harm or oppress me because I was Black and female. My story is commonplace and I empathize with anyone who has been harmed by discrimination because I know that harm very well. At UCLA, I am fortunate to be able to help prevent and address such harms. Being of service to help mobilize change, for my children and all children, is a great honor and responsibility. When people join together in pursuit of a common cause, there is nothing we cannot achieve. This is what inspires me.

What did you learn this past year about the needs of the UCLA community?

The number one lesson I learned this past year is this: at UCLA, our people are our strength. Bruins are incredible! Our diversity is the reason we are the top public university in the country. Diversity allows for the creation of ideas and contributions that push innovation. I am grateful to the hundreds of people from the UCLA community I met last year who shared their stories and ideas with me.

From these meetings emerged a second lesson. Whether people identify as students, staff, faculty, administrators or alumni, and across our unique genders, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, races and other identities, last year was tough on all of us. People are in pain.

What do we need in times like these? Community and the comfort that one is not alone and clarity around how UCLA can proactively help people through this. Being together, especially remotely and during times of hardship, requires creating a community in which everyone feels seen, valued and included. To build that community requires a foundation — what are our common values and priorities, right now? In the future? What can we give to one another? What can we expect to receive? What is UCLA’s role in all of this, as a university, a workplace, a health care system and more?

The third thing I learned from the past year: cardboard ages well! I finally unpacked my office one year after moving here.

The murder of George Floyd Jr. in May 2020 led to a heightened urgency around EDI issues. How does that national conversation inform EDI work on campus?

Last year, some people in America woke up to the persistent cruelty of racism in all of its forms, a cruelty others of us know all too well. Advocacy for the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion became one answer to the question Dr. King phrased in the title of his 1967 book: Where do we go from here?

The past reveals wisdom for the future. In 1970, the late, great author Ralph Ellison observed, “whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow Black.” What did he mean? Well, I am married to an Ellison expert and UCLA English professor, so I take a risk in attempting an answer. To me, Ellison was articulating that to understand a people, a society, a nation, is to view it from the perspective of those most oppressed. This is what critical race theory and Third World Approaches to International Law, which inform my scholarship, help us understand. Ellison is also telling us that in the darkness of oppression, there is promise. People who have survived the worst help societies innovate and ultimately thrive. They help move culture forward.

Equity, diversity and inclusion are tools to help culture move forward. They are important tools but not the only tools. We also need civil rights and human rights, social justice, restorative justice and other frameworks in our toolkit. Chief diversity officers around the nation understand this and we understand that toolkits alone are not enough. Cultural shifts require buy-in from communities and deep commitment from leadership, all the way to the top. They also require resources and accountability.

For UCLA, I ask us to consider the “we” alongside the “me.” How can we solve collective problems of community concern? Who is responsible, who is accountable and why? Are we committed to dialogue in addition to debate and disagreement? What does problem-solving require of us? Most of the time, it at least asks us to sit down together committed to respectful engagement to figure things out. Advancing the culture of community is the mission for UCLA and for the country as we walk into the future.

What do you think UCLA can add to the national conversation around these issues?

America cannot stay as we are. We have to figure out what we’re becoming and create spaces for people to have conversations and to disagree peacefully about what we’re becoming. You don’t like someone? You disagree with them? OK. But you don’t pick up a stone or hurtful language and throw it at them. You sit down across the table and figure it out. And to do that, we need ground rules, norms and values that we hold consistent across our nation, an agreement about the things we’re not going to do to hurt each other.

At its best, what UCLA offers the country and the world is the promise of what a diverse community in community with one another — i.e. an inclusive community — can do. That is a dream that everyone in the world needs to believe in. We’ve got almost 8 billion folks in the world. We’re facing unprecedented challenges not just to humanity, but to the planet. I believe in humanity. We're not at doomsday yet; we can still do this. But the only way humanity is going to get from here to there successfully is through robust collaboration and cooperation. With our diverse community, UCLA has an opportunity to be a model and a beacon of hope. So many here believe we can do this and I’m honored to be a part of a community that is willing to try.

What are the biggest priorities for achieving EDI goals at UCLA?

After listening to community concerns and needs, the EDI office has focused on five key priorities, in addition to our ongoing work, for this academic year. The first is strengthening civil rights protections. Discrimination, harassment and retaliation have no place at UCLA. Incidents should be reported to EDI via our website. We are moving forward with the recommendations of the Moreno Report Implementation Committee and the UC Gender Recognition Policy. We are working with the University of California Office of the President’s Anti-Discrimination Policy Working Group and working with UCLA partners to better understand how and where our civil rights protections can be strengthened. This includes a new effort rooted in shared governance — the Academic Senate and Administration Joint Task Force on Investigatory and Judiciary Processes, which will help UCLA promote non-discrimination and collegial conduct.

Advancing diversity and inclusion is our second priority. UCLA is diverse but there are places and spaces where representation is lacking and where the culture is exclusionary. EDI is collaborating with many across the university on new ways to change this, including through EDI events, EDI toolkits and EDI’s education and training hub, as well as the creation of an EDI certificate program.

The third priority is to support problem-solving for EDI-related community concerns, including those experienced by the members of our community who are disabled, our LGBTQIA+ community, UCLA staff, and the many groups harmed by racism. Fourth, we need accountability to bring EDI’s mission to life and our affirmative action plans (PDF), public accountability report and data hub help keep UCLA on track. Finally, our fifth priority is to do more to communicate our glow and our grow — UCLA’s many EDI achievements and areas where we must improve. Here, we’re updating our website, doing more on social media and keeping connected. We’re excited to shine the light on so many at UCLA who are helping move the mission of EDI forward through EDI voices and other features. 

Looking ahead what are you most enthusiastic about?

Meeting my colleagues in person for the first time (and getting off Zoom).

Developing synergies between the fields of EDI and human rights. As somebody with one foot in each community, I see great opportunities for appreciating the global dimensions of EDI and I will be hosting an event around that later this year.

But, most of all, I look forward to getting to know this university — and all of the phenomenal people who make UCLA special — even better in the months and years ahead.