After a months-long search, Dr. Belinda Robnett was hired as the inaugural Vice Chancellor for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in August and began work at UC Santa Barbara in September. As the inaugural director of the office, Robnett’s hiring comes amid calls for the university to bolster its diversity efforts and to uplift marginalized communities on campus.

Robnett said she hopes to build on the existing work of activists and leaders at UCSB, rather than starting from scratch. Courtesy of the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences

Robnett comes to UCSB from a position at UC Irvine as the Inaugural Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity in the School of Social Sciences, where she worked to establish an Equity Office and create several diversity educational programs. Before that, she served as UCI’s undergraduate director in the sociology department and as the African American studies program director. 

The first to hold the title of Vice Chancellor for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Robnett said she defines the job as “making social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion everyone’s responsibility” and plans to facilitate discussions that “allow for robust disagreement.”

“As an institution dedicated to higher learning, it is so important that everyone has a basic level of cultural competency. That is the commitment that my office is making and doing so to improve the campus climate. We need to have conversations that are making people uncomfortable,” she said. 

Robnett, a biracial first-generation college student who grew up in southeast Los Angeles, said she understands the trouble first-generation college students can have navigating “the system, navigating basic things, navigating things that are easy for others in higher education.”

On UCSB’s campus, where only 5% of undergraduate students and 4% of graduate students are Black, Robnett said she plans to “emphasize the work of Black activists and accept that changes need to be made here to make Black students feel safe and feel like they have a place,” starting with a campus-wide survey to assess the work of existing diversity programs. 

“This is typical of many campuses where you’ve got 50%, maybe even 75%, African American faculty and graduate students who feel alienated, not included, who’ve experienced racism directly or implicitly and who are struggling every day just to feel like they can survive,” Robnett said. 

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office, which plans to create a number of new advisory boards to promote diversity in the coming months, will soon introduce a new diversity education certificate program to promote cultural competency and a “system of metrics” to measure the campus campus climate and experiences of marginalized students, according to Robnett. 

Robnett said she hopes to build on the existing work of activists and leaders at UCSB, rather than starting from scratch. 

“You don’t want people messing with what you’ve done when you’re in that position. And I get that, and I don’t want to mess with what people are doing, but instead help them and uplift them,” she explained. 

Amit Ahuja, a political science professor at UCSB, lauded Robnett’s previous work in creating diversity education programs for UCI. Robnett’s programming includes the Diversity in the Academy and Diversity in the Classroom programs and the creation of an equity office for the School of Social Sciences. 

“Dr. Robnett has engaged with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues for a long time at UC Irvine as a researcher, instructor, advocate, and an administrator. She has led successful initiatives to make UC Irvine a more inclusive institution,” he said. “We saw in Dr. Robnett a leader who was ready to be more impactful on a larger scale in the Vice Chancellor position at UCSB.” 

“Our campus has many grassroot constituencies who care deeply about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I am confident the arrival of Professor Robnett on our campus will improve the coordination among these [diversity, equity and inclusion] constituencies,” Ahuja added. 

According to Bill Maurer, dean of UCI’s School of Social Sciences, Robnett’s work centers on uplifting the voices of minority students — something she displayed throughout her tenure at UCI.

“[Dr. Robnett] hit the ground running, rapidly setting up faculty and graduate student committees to identify and address barriers to professional success. Her passion and dedication led to an entire suite of new programs and training activities in our school, as well as new spaces of collaboration across campus,” Maurer said in an email to the Nexus.

She led by example, and while we will strive to continue the important work she began, she left us with a solid foundation on which to build. I’m thrilled she’s advanced to the Vice Chancellorship at UCSB and look forward to continuing to learn from her,” Maurer continued.

While Robnett has not yet met with Black Student Union members to address their 2019 demands for the university — some of which have not yet been met — she said she looks forward to working with the students and discussing their demands. 

“The most important things are that these students have a seat at the table,” Robnett said. “I really want to have everyone’s voices integrated as we move forward. Some people are going to say it’s not enough, some people will say it’s too much, but it’s just important that we’re moving forward.”


Holly Rusch
Holly Rusch (she/her) is the Lead News Editor for the 2022-23 school year. Previously, Rusch was the University News Editor and co-Lead News Editor for the 2020-21 school year. She can be reached at or