In profile: Interim University Diversity Coordinator Jesse Bernal
Jesse Bernal didn’t miss a beat in moving from student regent to his new job as interim university diversity coordinator for the UC system.
“It’s really an extension of my work as student regent,” said Bernal, whose term as a regent ended June 30. He said some of the reports he requested while a regent, “Six months later, I’m writing them.”
Bernal worked briefly at UC Merced as coordinator of the Fiat Lux Scholars program before UC Provost Lawrence Pitts offered him a one-year position to serve as staff person for the Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. UC President Mark Yudof created the advisory council in June.
“What’s really important is my position and the work are an extension of the president and the provost’s diversity efforts,” Bernal said. “It’s really comforting to know how dedicated they are.”
Bernal started his job in June and is on a one-year contract to get systemwide campus climate initiatives rolling. It’s yet to be determined whether the position will become permanent. Bernal also serves as liaison to the UC Regents Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Climate and similar groups created by chancellors at each campus this year.
The appointment of the president’s council, regents’ committee and campus groups followed a series of highly charged racial, religious and cultural incidents during the past year on some UC campuses.
Bernal, a Texas native, is a first-generation college student and that experience was part of the reason he decided to pursue a doctorate in education from UC Santa Barbara. He is finishing his dissertation about higher education and students from underrepresented groups.
While at UC Santa Barbara, Bernal worked in the summer-sessions office and managed programs for incoming freshmen and outreach to high school students. At Merced, the Fiat Lux program he coordinated helps first-generation college students adjust to academics and life on a university campus.
“Jesse is a good fit for this job,” Pitts said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge from his time as a regent, and he understands the issues involved with fostering a campus environment that is inclusive of all.”
One of Bernal’s projects is helping to identify a tool to assess campus climate systemwide. Currently, the only systemwide data available comes from the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, which has questions relating to respect, tolerance and other facets of campus environment but was not designed to measure campus climate.
Bernal also helped with coordinating communication plans between campuses, faculty and human resource departments for the recently launched UC website where incidents of discrimination or intolerance can be reported anonymously.
The systemwide assessment tool and the reporting website are both mechanisms to examine what’s happening on campuses and provide data for annual reports on campus climate that the Board of Regents has requested, Bernal said.
“The idea is to first monitor what’s going on and also develop a response plan,” Bernal said. “Most of the information provided would go back to campuses so they can really use it to enhance programming.”
Longer term, Bernal said his goals are to follow through on implementing UC’s campus climate priorities including efforts related to gender, sexual orientation and other broader definitions of diversity.
“While it’s important to focus on underrepresented groups, I believe it’s necessary to push the university to look beyond race and ethnicity,” Bernal said. “We’re making progress along those lines.”
It’s been a whirlwind few months for Bernal, who moved from Santa Barbara to Merced and then to Oakland with Bailey, his 7-month-old German shepherd, in tow this summer.
“I think I’ve gotten used to traveling after having to do so much during the two years as student regent and the year before that being on the executive board of the UC Students Association,” Bernal said. “It’s actually refreshing to know I’ll be in one place for a solid year.”