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Data-Driven DEI™ Case Study: University of California-Davis

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The University of California Davis (UC Davis) is recognized as one of the top five public universities in the nation for degree programs in agriculture, veterinarian science, STEM, and marine biology. UC Davis is a Tier I[1] research institution recognized for its academic excellence, and also ranked #1 among universities in the nation for “inclusiveness, diversity and internationalization,” according to the 2021 QS World University Rankings.


Diversity and inclusion policies at UC Davis began decades ago, via affirmative action and access to education programs for marginalized students. However, as many colleges and universities moved away from quota-based admissions, UC Davis amplified their position as champions of diversity, and established a formal Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI). Dr. Gary S. May, UC Davis Chancellor, appointed Dr. Renetta Garrison Tull as the inaugural Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) with added oversight of the Office of Campus Community Relations (OCCR) that formerly managed all Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity (OAD), and the Office of Health Equity Diversity and Inclusion (OHEDI) on the Sacramento campus, essentially forming a hub for all DEI related activity. “Coming from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, with distinct needs and goals, we recognized that to create an inclusive and intellectually vibrant community at UC Davis, we must understand and value both our individual differences and our common ground, Dr. May stated.


What led to a comprehensive arsenal of DEI support sources was revealed in their Campus Climate Study (CCS) that showed 24% of UC Davis respondents (4,371) students and staff, reported they had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive or hostile conduct based on ethnic or racial identity in academic environments, a workplace or in healthcare.


Acting on its findings, UC Davis published its first DEI strategic vision and plan, identifying four focus areas with five primary goals and metrics:

1. Pipeline, Recruitment and Retention

  • Identify, attract, retain, and graduate a diverse student body

  • Identify, attract, and retain a diverse faculty and staff

2. Climate

  • Identify, attract, retain, and graduate a diverse student body

  • Advance a climate that fosters inclusion excellence

3. Research, Teaching, Public Service and Training

  • Promote diversity and inclusion in research, teaching, public service, and training across campus and in neighboring communities

4. Institutional Commitment

  • Ensure accountability to diversity and inclusion efforts on campus and in neighboring communities


The DEI Division’s Diversity & Inclusion Executive Leadership Team was assigned to work with the Chancellor and Provost on equity and inclusion training opportunities for senior leaders, including vice chancellors, deans, chairs, and others. The university’s division of Human Resources also took additional steps to establish a permanent Staff Experience Campus Advisory Group, to assess and identify gaps, best practices, and trends that can improve the work experience and engagement of all staff members. Among the concrete steps UC Davis has taken to improve DEI are the following:


  • More flexible work schedules and location options to support work/life balance were offered and a Group Mentoring Program was restored as a professional development tool.

  • The “Race Matters” series was launched in 2020 to help teams have conversations about race.

  • The “Creating Safe and Inclusive Spaces” series was established to prepare leaders to create safe spaces for conversations impacting their team's work and professional lives.

  • The “Becoming An Inclusive Leader” series was launched in 2022, empowering leaders to spearhead our increasingly diverse workforce.


Additionally, existing DEI supports such as employee resource and retention groups; ethnicity-based administrative advisory committees, and programs designated to increase faculty diversity have been utilized more effectively.


UC Davis has received the following recognitions for its efforts:


  • Forbes placed UC Davis on their list of Best Employers for Diversity from 2019 to 2022.

  • Forbes placed UC Davis on their list of Best Employers for Women in 2022.

  • Healthcare market researcher Monigle ranks UC Davis Health #3 nationally as "most committed to improving diversity and inclusion"

  • The Human Rights Campaign Foundation designates UC Davis Health an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader


According to Dr. Garrison Tull, UC Davis’s data-driven DEI success thus far can be seen in better communication, meaningful engagement, and favorable collaborative outcomes between colleagues and across business units. “As a research institution we are obviously data-driven in almost every way, but we’re also people driven – inspired by the contributions of our diverse students and staff who value diversity of thought as much as they value individual authentic expressions of self. This is what connects us, expands our definition of community, makes us feel seen, heard, empowered, and ultimately ranked as the top university in the nation for its DEI initiatives and policies. We are now a litmus test and can share both our challenges and successes with other universities seeking to initiate or improve their own DEI plans. Feedback shows that we are moving in the right direction, and we’re happy to share any of the practices that have been working for our context.”


[1] A Tier 1 university operates at the highest levels in not only teaching and research, but throughout the university in services to students, the arts, athletics and more.

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