A nationally recognized scholar focusing on the educational efficacy of diversity initiatives on college campuses, Mitchell Chang, professor of education and Asian American studies, joined the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion this summer as associate vice chancellor.

Chang earned his doctorate from UCLA in 1996 and in the years since, he has become a renowned expert, written more than 100 publications, and was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding race-conscious affirmative action in the case of Grutter v. Bollinger.

He has more than two decades of experience serving the UCLA community in multiple capacities, including being a member of Moreno Report Implementation Committee.

In his new role, Chang is a senior member of the EDI leadership team reporting to Anna Spain Bradley, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. Chang is utilizing research-informed best practices to innovate and lead EDI’s efforts to advance faculty diversity. 

How does the work of the office of equity, diversity and inclusion build on your prior work?

My research addresses the benefits of diversity for learning environments. Because this work has implications for defending race-conscious admissions practices, it has informed legal deliberations concerning affirmative action. This includes two cases already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and another two regarding Harvard and the University of North Carolina that the court recently heard.

I conducted the first empirical study to test the educational effects of compositional diversity—which means the proportion of people from varied demographic backgrounds in an educational institution. Consistently we’ve seen diversity contribute to more satisfying college experiences. Learning more about, and engaging with, people from different cultures produces greater gains in cultural understanding. Beyond that, increasing diversity facilitates democracy: it gets people more interested in community service and makes them more likely to vote. However, diversity is not sufficient — people need to engage with those who are different.

How can an institution like UCLA encourage such engagement?

Through methods such as the curriculum — courses can help break down assumptions and reduce prejudice, which is why we instituted an undergraduate diversity requirement. Workshops and living-learning communities also can create ongoing opportunities where people can really get to know each other.

We must reach students during orientation and the first week of classes, to convey UCLA’s expectations about equity, diversity and inclusion and to challenge students to take a path they may not have thought of, to extend themselves and interact with people who are different. It’s human nature to seek comfort but we don’t want students’ journey to end there. We want people to take risks and feel a little bit uncomfortable. UCLA is great place to do that.

We also need to address campus climate and make sure we welcome people from all backgrounds. That requires being proactive in addressing discrimination. The EDI office has done very well in improving its capacity to do that, for instance through creating the civil rights office.

We all have biases and prejudices, but supporting vibrant intellectual, social, and cultural exchange means confronting prejudices and addressing how such beliefs have historically shaped institutional practices and norms that still contribute to the underutilization of talent. 

Have your personal experiences informed your work?

I’m an immigrant who arrived in this country at 5 years old and benefitted from modern civil rights legislation. My family landed in northern California after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act that protects people against housing discrimination. So, when new track home communities were being built, my family was able to live alongside people who didn’t look like us. Our immediate neighbor was a Black family and two Latinx families resided down the street. The same street also included a third-generation Chinese family and immigrants from Denmark. I did not realize how remarkable this diversity was. I traveled to other parts of the country and did not see such integration.

I attended a neighborhood school that was built to serve a newly established integrated community, which did not exist at such scale in the U.S. until after the enforcement of civil rights legislation. So, I was among the very first to be a part of an extraordinary social experiment and this prepared me to not only survive but thrive as the demographics of the nation gradually shifted.

What has prepared you to shift from professor to administrator?

In over 20 years at UCLA I have served on many committees, including the graduate council, the council on academic personnel and on the search committee for the inaugural vice chancellor for EDI. I was a member of the Moreno Report Implementation Committee since it was formed in 2013. Additionally, I have worked with numerous other institutions to advance their EDI efforts.

This experience has helped me establish an extensive network across campus and gives me deep understanding of UCLA, the faculty and the challenges they face. It’s also allowed me to see that some of the best people in the country are right here on this campus. I’m amazed by the work people are doing. And that work translates into lifting human potential. That’s what we do best at UCLA. We do that best when we do it with people who don’t look like ourselves

What lessons does UCLA have to offer other institutions in achieving authentic equity, diversity and inclusion?

First, by providing opportunities for students to move beyond their comfort zones and engage with people different from themselves, we’re improving our ability to prepare students to reason, communicate and engage in an increasingly diverse and complex world. 

Second, EDI efforts work best when pursued in and outside of the classroom.

And lastly, pursuing EDI is hard work that does not result in change overnight. Sometimes, the situation seems to get worse than better because invariably, the process gives rise to a clash of ideologies, self-interests and aspirations. So, we are constantly challenged to resist moral panic and remain committed and purposeful, with an eye on long-term rather than immediate success.

We would like other universities around the country look to UCLA as proof that sustained investments over time in efforts to advance EDI significantly enhances the capacity of an institution to educate, discover, innovate, and serve the general public.

Why is EDI’s mission important to UCLA’s overall mission?

The overarching purpose of universities is to offer a vibrant intellectual space to seek truth by engaging with and building upon the existing knowledge base, and then sharing that knowledge. UCLA does this best when we bring together people who hold different viewpoints and perspectives shaped by different experiences and backgrounds. Such a diverse setting increases the chances that we will look and think beyond our limited sphere of association and be exposed to and challenged by the most thought-provoking ideas, pressing problems, and strongest evidence. This kind of exposure not only expands and sharpens our own thinking but also helps us better recognize shared interests, which leads us to forge deeper bonds across difference to offer new discoveries and innovative solutions.