Equity and inclusion work is research for the collective good

Friday’s Campus Conversations delved into future plans for Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Dania Matos. (UC Berkeley video)

This article and headline have been updated to remove an inaccurate quote that was taken out of context.

In higher education, excellence in research should not be defined solely by groundbreaking experiments in a science lab, but also by the ability of a university to identify innovative ways to bring a better sense of belonging to its campus community.

“Sometimes we think of education as something that occurs in the four corners of a classroom,” said Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Dania Matos. “But education happens in all spaces. … To frame equity and inclusion as not being a part of a university’s research or excellence is a misstep.

Matos (she/her/ella) was speaking at the third Campus Conversations event of the semester. The monthly series features senior Berkeley leaders discussing their work and vision and taking questions from staff, faculty and students.

As the fourth vice chancellor in this role, Matos took over this past August for Oscar Dubón Jr., who stepped down at the end of June.

On Friday, Matos unveiled an ambitious portfolio of goals that include some of Berkeley’s most pressing priorities, including pushing to make Berkeley a certified Hispanic-Serving Institution and creating a centralized hub for equity and inclusion work on campus.

Her office also wants to develop more transformative leaders on campus to help shift recent campus climate surveys that show underrepresented communities at Berkeley still feel unwelcome.

The responsibility for that change, though, she said, lies not only with her office, but with colleges and offices across the entire campus.

“We need lateral engagement to address the anti-Black racism on campus that impacts so many other communities,” said Matos. “We have to go beyond just offering scholarships. From our curricula and pedagogy, to financial aid and student organizations. … How can we create a collective community to bring into those spaces?”

This semester, Matos launched listening sessions for students, staff and faculty to express their lived experiences to her office. The series of meetings focused on “truth-telling, trust and transformation” on campus, she said.

Research and data from these sessions, Matos said, will be used to craft equity and inclusion initiatives, moving forward for the “collective good.”

“It surprised me that there was a really critical need for this. When people speak up, it comes from a place of caring,” Matos said. “I’m hearing that there’s a high level of institutional distrust and mistrust in ways we need to pay attention to and create actionable solutions around.”

Over the last decade, Matos has led equity and inclusion work spanning the private, nonprofit and government sectors. She also served in the public defender’s office in Virginia, where Matos said she noticed there was a lack of educational access for many of the clients she defended.

That experience led her to seek ways to transform institutions of higher education, which has included serving as the first chief diversity officer at both William & Mary, a public research university in Williamsburg, Virginia, and UC Merced.

With institutions across the country leaning into roles focused on equity and inclusion, Matos said that the work of her office has always existed, but there was never the language and opportunity to build efficient structures for success.

Now that she is at Berkeley, Matos said she aims to honor the values of diversity, equity and inclusion by making an impact that goes beyond Berkeley.

“At Berkeley, for what we do here — the world is watching,” said Matos. “So, it’s not about getting things right, it’s about doing the right things … approaching the work through a shared humanity. Being mindful of identities we don’t hold, and coming from a place of learning, and being aware of the filters we may have as we listen to each other.

“It’s going to take some time, but I think it takes champions like us, and transformative practitioners, to continue doing the work.”