In collaboration with the Office of Black Student Development, Career Services and UC Santa Barbara Admissions, UC Santa Barbara Alumni Affairs organized the Black Alumni & Student Connect Weekend for the first time in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic from Feb. 2-4.
Planning members and participants reflected on the weekend of events.
Thursday’s events featured a job and internship fair, a virtual webinar on salary negotiations. Friday’s program included a lunch with a keynote panel, break-out sessions, and ended with a reception for professional development. The programming included diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace and mentorship connections.
Saturday began with a “coffee house,” where alumni affiliated with planning for the alumni weekend, Gauchos in Tech, Chicanx and Latinx Alumni Network, among others, and students networked over coffee and pastries. The event ended with a campus tour of UCSB.
The event was part of various ongoing events for Black History Month, according to third-year history of public policy and law major and Alumni Association DEI intern Naka Elelleh.
The weekend featured keynote moderator Jeffrey Stewart, a UCSB professor of Black studies and the interim vice chancellor of UCSB’s DEI office, as well as a keynote panel of UCSB alumna Jena Dominique Pruitt and Associated Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Otis College of Art and Design Nicholas Negrete. He said the responsibility of Black student empowerment lies on the university, emphasizing an overall message about community building. Stewart said that a future of true inclusion stems from “embracement,” instead of “toleration.”
“When I was listening to the students tell their stories … I was thinking about this concept of embracement,” Stewart said during his speech. “It was clear that as much as many of them liked UCSB, and they were getting something out of it, few felt embraced. Instead of students who are Black or Brown or queer or trans or differently abled being tolerated at an arm’s length that you often see, they should be embraced.”
Other topics covered during the event included authentic leadership, financial security and investments, building a successful business, attaining a dream career and networking.
UCSB Alumni Affairs Planning Committee Chair and alumna Cindy Chineduh-Edoka said the event was ultimately about creating a platform for UCSB students and alumni to forge connections.
“It was to align them to the UC Santa Barbara community, to close any gaps and to renew,” she said in an interview with the Nexus.
Alumni Association’s Interim Executive Director Samantha Putnam said the event was also about the visibility of the alumni community on campus and showing students the support that is available in the network of UCSB graduates.
“One of our goals is to really have our student population to see the alumni population by their side, championing them, for our students to be able to see that there’s a thriving networking community of Gaucho alumni they’ll graduate into,” Putnam said.
Elelleh said the planning committee was also hoping to bring Black high school students to campus to connect with alumni and get a tour of UCSB, but could not bring most of the students due to logistical issues with transportation. He emphasized the importance of creating educational empowerment for Black youth.
“Education is the most potent attack against social injustice,” he said. “We cannot fight against things we don’t understand.”
Chineduh-Edoka emphasized the importance of connecting prospective students to the Black community at UCSB.
“[We want to] drive that culture, to create that sense of belonging, to let prospective students know that they can find a home at UCSB,” she said. “It’s not just a home for their education — it’s their home that they can carry throughout their careers.”
Putnam echoed Chineduh-Edoka’s sentiment, saying that exposing prospective students to the group of alumni that exist at UCSB is important in cultivating that sense of belonging and safety, especially for the Black community.
“I think it’s really important to have our students see that the alumni are there to support them — alumni that have walked the same journey,” she said. “[The alumni] are able to say, ‘I know how to support you because I’ve been there myself.’”
Chineduh-Edoka said Stewart’s speech was one of her highlights of the weekend, saying his message about the importance of community mirrored the underlying goal of networking events like this weekend’s.
“[It is] the importance of community, the importance of keeping connected and how much we can achieve when we come together as one,” she said.
Putnam emphasized that the weekend highlighted how work in DEI stems from authenticity and an investment into the work of the entire university.
“It shouldn’t just be lip service … and I think that was a really important takeaway: that it has to be authentic,” she said. “It can’t just be driven by one department, it’s got to be driven from the top down.”
“It can’t happen successfully without community,” she continued.
Elelleh spoke of being inspired by UCSB alumnus Jerry Windom during the weekend. Stewart is featured on the walls of North Hall which showcase the North Hall Takeover of 1968, signifying his physical place in Black history at UCSB.
“I think just hearing stories like that, and lessons like that is super interesting to me, having a scope of the community that I belong to,” Elelleh said.
Chineduh-Edoka said she loved the conversations between alumni and students during the weekend, saying that the personal connections forged during the events were “wonderful to see.”
“Whether you’re recently an alumni or you’re a seasoned alumni, everyone found a place,” she said. “That personal connection, being able to connect with everyone and be able to drive thought-provoking conversations, was so wonderful to see.”
Speaking about his personal experiences, Elelleh emphasized that networking events for Black students create visibility for a future with progress and potential.
“Poor Black kids don’t get the opportunity to visit colleges and do these things and go see these places and realize that there’s a life for them, that they can have a community, that they can belong here,” he said. “Growing up the way we have, we’ve felt that need for community … that we can come together and discover what it’s like to be a better version of ourselves.”
Chineduh-Edoka recognized that the Black student population is grossly underrepresented at UCSB, and said that is why holding such events for Black student progress is important at the university.
“When you come to an area and there’s not so many of you, you want to have that sense of belonging,” she said. “This huge sense of belonging drives progress that drives engagement that drives synergies.”
“There is a sense of community, there’s a place, there’s a shared love, a shared vision,” Chineduh-Edoka continued. “Even if we may be small in number, we are a mighty community in terms of the atmosphere and environment that we create for successful graduates.”
CORRECTION [2/9/2023, 5:40 p.m.]: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated a source’s last name and did not include the keynote panelists who spoke at an event. This article has been corrected to reflect the source’s last name is Elelleh, full name, Naka Elelleh. and include keynote panelists Jena Dominique Pruitt and Nicholas Negrete.
The article previously misattributed an alumnus that was on the campus walls depicting the North Hall takeover. The article has since been corrected to reflect the alumnus depicted on the walls is Jerry Windom and not Jeffrey Stewart.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Feb. 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.