UCSB’s Jesse Bernal, the 2009-10 student regent, was recently elected as the University of California system-wide University Diversity Coordinator.

Jesse Bernal

As UDC, Bernal will manage current racial diversity projects and initiate further programs that will be enacted throughout the 10 university campuses. The position is part of an 18-member council created by UC President Mark G. Yudof for the new Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion.

According to UC Provost Larry Pitts, who selected Bernal for the position, the job was created in light of recent racial tensions and hate crimes.

“There’s definitely been an increase in activity along these lines at all campuses,” he said. “It felt like we needed to renew our efforts in the diversity inclusion arena. [President] Yudof felt it was important to raise the issue to the highest level of attention.”

Pitts said Bernal’s scholarly pursuits, experience and research in the field — which focus on underrepresented students in higher education — make him the ideal candidate for the job.

“Some of the most acute problems in the last six months have been at the student level and Jesse has been a superb student regent, who has conducted research in the area of diversity,” Pitts said. “I think he is particularly well-suited to the immediate needs at hand.”

Bernal, a graduate student at the Gevirtz School of Education and a first-generation college student, agreed that the new position will facilitate discussion about race at the university-wide level.

“What I’ve learned about the UC as a student regent is that the UC can take a leading role in diversity,” Bernal said. “While diversity has been infused in a lot of the efforts at the Office of the President, having someone to coordinate these efforts seems to be an important step.”

Although the job focuses primarily on creating opportunities for minority groups, Bernal said he hopes the position will improve the quality of higher education for all students.

“Of course, in a purely analytical sense, diversity is important,” Bernal said. “But there’s also research that proves that a diverse campus provides better outcomes for all students. Expanding on that idea is important for our institution.”

As part of the job description, Bernal will initiate statewide efforts to discuss the racial issues pertinent to each UC campus and then disseminate the gathered data.

Although Bernal is optimistic about improving diversity efforts, he said total racial equality cannot be achieved overnight.

“It’s an issue that we’re always going to have to deal with,” Bernal said. “But as long as we continue making efforts in this area, it’s going to benefit the entire community.”