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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

During Black History Month, The Aggie recognizes Black alumni

Alumni Lois and Darryl Goss share their UC Davis experience and motivation to support the Department of African American and African Studies

By MAYA SHYDLOWSKI — features@theaggie.org 

This article is the second in a four-part series in honor of Black History Month in which The California Aggie interviews a few of the many distinguished African American UC Davis alumni. These alumni discuss their achievements, share how they’re uplifting underrepresented communities and offer their wisdom to Davis students. 

Lois and Darryl Goss, both UC Davis alumni, just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in August 2021. They met on campus and got married while they were students. Darryl graduated in 1983 with a degree in African American and African studies (AAAS). Lois graduated in 1985 with a sociology degree and a minor in history. 

Both attribute their education at Davis to changing the trajectory of their lives. Darryl, who played football for Davis, started college wanting to be a computer programmer but instead found his passion with AAAS after his first encounter with a different perspective on history.

“I was first exposed to Native American studies [at Davis], and it was really quite interesting to understand the contributions of other groups on society,” Darryl said. “It was eye-opening at a late age, a sophomore or junior in college, just starting to learn about the contributions of African Americans on not just American society, but worldwide.”

Both Lois and Darryl found support from the AAAS department. Lois remembered the encouraging professors, graduate students and administrators who motivated students to keep going, especially when there came negative sentiments from outside the department. Lois said that both she and Darryl came into UC Davis under affirmative action, a strategy to increase diversity and equity in education and employment, but they sometimes felt unwelcome due to people’s opposition to affirmative action.

“People didn’t just say it, but it was an attitude that you were wrong here,” Lois said. “The discouraging thing was that even when you had so many people telling you that you have just as much right to be there as anybody else, it only takes one negative encounter to tear all of that down. Now, I’m more mature, and I’ve realized that I allowed a lot of that to affect me in a negative way. If I knew then what I know now, it would have been different, but we had so many people who were encouraging, and that’s what kept me going.”

Luckily, the AAAS department provided both Lois and Darryl with support that helped them confront these attitudes and succeed academically. Darryl said that the department gave him a realistic perspective on what he was going to face after graduating. He said that his knowledge of how people stereotype different ethnic and racial groups gave him an advantage after graduation so that he was able to face these conflicts realistically. The AAAS department, as well as the Native American and Chicano studies departments, do not get enough recognition, he said.

To acknowledge and aid the work of AAAS, Lois and Darryl Goss recently made a donation to the department. Their donation helped establish a presidential chair, the first in the department. The Austin and Arutha Goss Presidential Chair is named after Darryl’s parents. They hope that this investment will support the contributions of research and teach others a more expansive and inclusive history. 

“I think it goes back to how eye-opening it was to learn about the legitimate contributions of Africans and African Americans to society, and we want people to be more aware of those contributions,” Darryl said. “What better way to build upon that than to invest in the department whose responsibility it is to share that and to modernize it. It’s not just about what happened 200 years ago.”

They financially support multiple undergraduate scholarships for UC Davis students, but the Gosses also provide more than just financial support to the university. Although they live in Texas, the Gosses have been active alumni for the last 15 years. Lois is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Letters and Sciences, in addition to being a member of the Women & Philanthropy group at UC Davis. Every year, the couple hosts a football tailgate where they bring together other alumni, friends and family to celebrate the positive impact Davis has had on their lives and to see how it has changed since their time as students. 

Darryl said that UC Davis has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. “Probably the most disappointing things are that students are dealing with some of the

same challenges that we dealt with — food insecurity, support, those kinds of things,” Darryl said. “The university has made great strides around diversity. Look at women in STEM and the Chicano, Latino and Asian American [student] populations, but the African and African American student populations are the same as when I was a student. It’s only up 3%.”

Lois is concerned that African American students remain underrepresented compared to the larger student population. According to a 2020 University of California publication on diversity, only 3.68% of undergraduates and 3% of graduate students at all UC campuses identify as Black and just 1.8% of lecturers identify as Black. Another publication on admissions data across UC campuses showed that in 2021, 4% of all freshmen admitted to UC Davis were African American, compared to the UC average of 5%. That same year, 5% of all transfer students admitted to UC Davis were African American, which matches the UC average. Although the percentage of African American admitted students is 7% or less for all UC schools, UC Davis remains one of the campuses with the lowest percentage admitted. And although the school admits 4% and 5% of first-year and transfer students respectively, the percentage of African American undergraduate students attending UC Davis remains around 3%, compared to UCLA’s 5% and UC Merced’s 4.2%.

“[African American students] get admitted, but something [at Davis] isn’t quite as welcoming that convinces them to stay,” Lois said. “They’ll come and, in such a short period of time, realize that Davis isn’t for them and they’re off to other places. This is who we are and what we are here for. We aren’t going to complain about things that we’re not willing to get into and make a change. So we’re not saying this as a complaint, but we’re saying this because we’re willing to do the work.”

While encouraging these topics of conversations at Davis, the couple also finds it important to engage in these discussions themselves. Darryl talked about how he tries to be open and approachable for people to ask him about his experiences. Being able to talk about sensitive topics like microaggressions allows him to share his perspective, which helps other people gain a better understanding of situations than just what they read or see in the media, he said. These are important conversations to be had, especially at a university level, which is partly why Darryl decided to major in AAAS. 

When asked what advice she would give students in underrepresented groups at Davis and other institutions of higher education, Lois said to follow your heart like Darryl did when he chose his area of study. 

Lois and Darryl attribute their success to all the help they’ve had, and they hope that their contributions will help support African American students thrive at UC Davis. 

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Darryl said as advice to students of color. Both Lois and Darryl also emphasized the importance of asking for and accepting help.

“You have the resources there on campus to be successful,” Lois said. “That’s the thing about Davis — it lifts you up and tries to show you not who you really are but who you can be.”

Written by: Maya Shydlowski — features@theaggie.org


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