June 8, 2016 – When she officially steps down as vice provost of the Institute of American Cultures (IAC) on July 1, 2016, M. Belinda Tucker can be satisfied that her 5-year tenure helped re-envision and broaden the focus and mission of UCLA’s ethnic studies research centers – the Asian American Studies Center, the American Indian Studies Center, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the Chicano Studies Research Center. Leading the IAC, the umbrella organization for the centers, and working together with center directors and staff, Tucker grew a collaboration between these four dynamic research hubs. During her tenure, she helped to recreate and strengthen a cooperative work model that embraces and addresses the intersectional issues and changing dynamics of our nation’s drastically shifting demographics.
Dr. Tucker is a social psychologist and Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, based in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in the David Geffen School of Medicine. She is also a Faculty Associate of the Bunche Center for African American Studies, where she served as director from 1989 to 1991. After spending next year on sabbatical leave, Tucker will return to her home department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. However, having been involved with the ethnic studies centers at UCLA for over forty years, there is no doubt, particularly as the centers approach their 50th anniversary in 2019, that Tucker will continue to support the organization over which she has had such a great and lasting influence. We had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Tucker to discuss her tenure with the IAC.
Ed. Tell me about your experience?
MBT. I am pleased and gratified to have had the opportunity to have been the inaugural IAC vice provost. But I give all credit to the directors for envisioning this structure.
Ed. How were the centers governed previously?
MBT. Before, the IAC solely administered the grant-making operations of the centers (i.e., the research and fellowship awards) and since 1989 was under the UCLA Graduate Division.
Ed. How has the change benefited the centers?
MBT. I think that by having a vice provost focused just on the centers and their issues, it has enhanced our visibility on campus and our opportunity to capitalize on initiatives. It really allows us to interact more directly with UCLA’s central administration. For example, I’ve been able to meet with the EVC monthly, specifically on IAC issues. It has allowed us to work together to get the support to seek creative solutions to problems, and made for a stronger relationship with Development. Another example is that we now have dedicated development staff working directly with us to raise money for the IAC. So the change in structure from the centers being managed by and imbedded in the Graduate Division to being directed by a vice provost solely concerned with the IAC has really allowed us to do things that we had not been able to before.
Ed. What are some of those things?
MBT. Most recently, it was cultivating a two million dollar donation from someone who had a critical historical investment in one of the centers. The donation creates an endowed director’s chair for that center. It is something we hope to be able to do for all of the other centers as well. Those efforts are underway now, with development reaching out to potential donors who might be incentivized by this transformative gift.
Another aspect of that is the increased visibility of the ethnic studies centers on campus. The centers have benefited from having someone in the position of vice provost to really promote what we are doing here.
Ed. What are some of the centers’ accomplishments that occurred during your tenure of which you are most proud?
MBT. [There are many!] The IAC hosted nearly 50 scholars-in-residence over the last five years and received a UC Regents’ Lecturer award to bring to campus Ely Guerra, an acclaimed Mexican singer-songwriter and activist. In 2013, the IAC held an interdisciplinary conference on the recent extraordinary changes in our demographic makeup featuring internationally known scholars. And I’ve been pleased to be part of the efforts to recruit new faculty who have enhanced and expanded the scope of ethnic studies at UCLA.
Ed. What is the importance of the IAC?
MBT. All of the centers have a fundamental mission of researching and highlighting major ethnic groups with both a theory and an applied side. What we added with the IAC becoming the umbrella organization for the centers was a refocused mission of looking at the intersectionality of the missions of the centers in a way that reflects the change in the diversity of the population since these centers were formed in the 1960s/70s.
Ed. Why is the intersectionality important today?
MBT. This population shift (massively increased diversity in a single geographic locale) has not really happened before in human evolution – something scholars in Europe call “super diversity,” and it’s something worth exploring on its own, informed of course, [but it is important to look at] by what the different groups have done, where they’ve been, and where they’re going with this fusion of arts, music, food, political, and social formulations. Los Angeles, and southern California more generally, is an amazing laboratory to look at what having all these people with different backgrounds, interests, and foci in one geographic region means. It is new, important, and something exciting to explore.
Ed. What are your thoughts about leaving the IAC?
MBT. I like where the IAC is going, and even though I know we have much more to do, I think the directors we have in place at each of the ethnic studies centers are the perfect people to carry our mission forward. I feel that I can rest in ease once I leave to go on to my “Act 2,” knowing that there are people here who are enthusiastic about the centers and what we can do.