On July 1, Belinda Robnett will become the UCI School of Social Sciences’ first-ever associate dean of faculty development and diversity. Focused on elevating existing – and creating new – programs to facilitate excellence that includes attracting and retaining a diverse faculty and student body, the role seems a perfect fit for the sociologist who has spent more than three decades studying diversity from a racial-ethnic, gender and social perspective.
“I’m honored to be the inaugural associate dean for faculty development and diversity. The school has made significant strides under dean Maurer’s leadership, and I am pleased to join the team,” says Robnett. “I hope to build upon the existing programs that support professional development; provide mentoring resources; address family/work balance issues; and develop faculty leadership.”
The job also includes overseeing and further developing the school’s role in a number of diversity initiatives for both faculty and students.
“My position has a unifying purpose, and that is building a learning and work environment that supports equitable inclusion and nurtures respect for diversity to facilitate advancement and excellence for all students and faculty members,” she says.
That mission is near and dear to the sociologist’s heart. Robnett grew up in south central Los Angeles and attended school in Compton. Her father earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at USC, thanks to help from the GI Bill, but struggled to find a job in his field in the pre-civil rights era. He spent his days bussing trays at a cafeteria in LA until the late 60s. At that point, legislation – coupled with her father’s college degree - made a professional move possible for the family of six.
“Access to education and a changing view of race and rights opened up doors for my father and my family,” she says. “From there, it was never really a question whether or not I and my siblings would go to college.”
Robnett and her three siblings all went on to earn degrees. For the now-UCI professor, that included an A.B. in psychology at Stanford University, Ed.M. at Harvard University, and M.A. in psychology at Princeton University. She went on to get her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Michigan where she focused heavily on racial and ethnic inequality. She then spent nine years on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and about seven years as a faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program at UC Davis before coming to UC Irvine in 1999.
Her research, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and Russell Sage Foundation, seeks to understand how racial-ethnic and gender hierarchies are formed by and maintained within formal and informal societal institutions including social movement organizations and the dating market. Her book, How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights, analyzes the formation of women’s leadership roles in the civil rights movement and highlights the gendered nature of leadership in social movements. She also examines racial hierarchy in the dating market, and illustrates that racial inclusion and exclusion is gendered.
Her scholarly work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Race and Social Problems, Sociological Perspectives, Social Problems and Social Forces, among others.
In her new role as associate dean, she’ll draw upon her current research on the power of discourse about race and ethnicity in politics and the public domain.
“It’s very clear that there are two different views of race and its relevancy in today’s world,” she says. “Too often, these viewpoints and the impact of prejudice and discrimination depend upon a person’s race or ethnicity. So facilitating a productive dialogue across racial-ethnic groups can be difficult. This perspective informs my view of how to approach diversity in our school and the overall environment in which we all live. My job will be to bridge the gaps to make our environment more hospitable and inclusive.”
She’ll also draw upon her past service record as a guide for implementing programs and initiatives within the university structure. Among her many contributions to the campus, she has served as the chair of the Subcommittee on Affirmative Action and Diversity, UCI Council on Faculty Welfare Committee; as the School of Social Sciences Equity Advisor; as a member of the Subcommittee on Racial/Ethnic Diversity, Council on Student Experience; as a member of the Special Senate Committee on Diversity; and, as the director of the African American Studies Program.
“The School of Social Sciences is the trailblazer in supporting our diverse student body and in fostering recruitment, research and teaching to support inclusive excellence across all our areas of expertise. We support a very large number of programs and student groups, as well as faculty development activities like the Faculty Success Program,” says Bill Maurer, social sciences dean. “But the road is long, there's a lot to do, and we can't rest on our laurels. With her academic and administrative background, Belinda is the perfect choice to serve as inaugural associate dean for faculty development and diversity. I am excited to work with her to build on what we have already achieved.”
Robnett says communication, action and accountability will be key to success as she seeks to create a faculty committee and student advisory board to help carry out special programming to further establish common ground to facilitate equity and inclusion within the school.
“I believe all members of the social science community should have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. While underrepresented groups can often feel silenced, I hope to offer a set of communication best practices that are inclusive of all voices,” she says. “Listening is vital. And trust rests on action and accountability. The implementation of evidence-based methods and the communication of outcomes will be paramount to fostering diversity and a hospitable environment for all in the school.”
-Heather Ashbach, UCI School of Social Sciences