The Lack of Black Bruins at UCLA: The Questions

Sy Stokes spoken-word video about UCLA's lack of diversity has been burning through the Internet and should prompt us to ask questions.

For the past few days many have caught wind of the lack of diversity at UCLA by way of a YouTube video that has been making the rounds on social media and news outlets. Sy Stokes, the lead in the video, is a spoken-word artist in his junior year at the university. Stokes is backed by a phalanx of silent black male UCLA students as he drops statistics about UCLA’s black male student population as of the 2012-2013 school year:

  • 660 graduate and undergraduate African-American males which is 3.3% of the 19,838 male population of the school
  • 65% of those African-American males are athletes
  • 2,418 is the number of entering male freshman students, 48 were African Americans
  • 74% is the graduation rate, which translates to 35 out of the 48 black male students predicted to graduate

This video is no random act, but a strategic move released just weeks before UCLA’s admissions deadline. Stokes said that he wanted to show potential black students how small the black student population is before they apply—although he only showed how small the black male student population is. But that it was released at such a time poses some questions about the broader demographics of applicants and how California’s Proposition 209 affects the numbers. Known as the California Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition 209 was approved in 1996 and prohibited state government institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, public contracting or public education. This hotly contested proposition was endorsed by then Governor Pete Wilson and University of California Regent Ward Connerly who said,

“Let’s not perpetuate the myth that ‘minorities’ and women cannot compete without special preferences. Let’s instead move forward returning to fundamentals or our democracy: individual achievement, equal opportunity and zero tolerance for discrimination against any individual.”

Janina Montero addresses the admissions/Proposition 209 issue in an e-mail to UCLA’s newspaper stating, “University officials agree that UCLA lacks diversity and are trying to work within the parameters of Proposition 209 to bring more students from underrepresented communities to UCLA.” Working within these parameters still present some difficulties and it appears that the holistic consideration of every applicant won’t necessarily increase the number of black male students. Therefore is there some other issue at play here.

In Fall 2013 between 57.2-60.6% of the student body at UCLA was part of a minority ethnic group. (The range is attributed to the fact that 3.4 percent of the student body population is of an unknown race or ethnicity.) That is:

  • 1,082 African Americans
  • 159 American Indians
  • 9,965 Asian/Pacific Islanders
  • 5,156 Hispanics
  • 972 Race/Ethnicity unknown

What these statistics show us is not that UCLA lacks diversity, but that it lacks volume in certain racial and ethnic profiles. For Stokes, the low number of black male students indicates this “lack of diversity.” Given his statistics about the black male students in 2012 and looking at the profile in 2013 one could assume that the number of black female students outnumber black males but this is also nothing new to educational statistics in general. Thus there is a question of root causes that must be asked.

The issue of there being few black male students enrolled at UCLA—the majority of those few being athletes, may not be about a failure on UCLA’s part, but about low numbers of black males applying to school in the first place. Whose fault is that? Could it be equal parts UCLA and the individual black male? If it is UCLA’s fault it is because they have failed to recruit black male students in high school for anything but sports. If it is the individual black male’s fault is it because they are not interested in the school? Or do they assume that they can’t get in so they don’t apply? Knowing what percentage of the applicants are black males and how they came to apply to UCLA would help this situation along. We also have to consider the drop-off—not dropout—rates in admission. That is, the number of students who were accepted to the school but withdrew or declined their acceptance.

At this moment it is difficult to be comprehensive about the questions that the Black Bruin video poses. Suffice to say that it must put us in the position to ask better questions of both our academic institutions and ourselves. Before we get angry about being excluded and ready to be up in arms about it we have to substantiate our claims with valid evidence and figure out the root causes of possible exclusion. We must also figure out what is under our control—like the possibility of having UCLA students do independent recruiting in their high schools and not putting the onus on the university to do so. Maybe there are subversive strategies that could lead to an increase in the black male population of the school, but that won’t happen before we put a pin in the “why” of the situation. Furthermore, we may want to be careful about what we call a lack of diversity. Let’s use this Black Bruins video as a conversation starter and start asking more questions.

So what are some of the questions you have about this and what are your thoughts in general about black males in higher education?

About the author, Nicole Symmonds

Nicole Symmonds is a newly-minted Master of Divinity joining the droves of people with MDiv behind their name who aren’t planning to minister—at least not from behind a pulpit. She views writing as a type of ministry and is happy to have the opportunity to return to her first vocational love while she continues to discern God's call upon her life. Nicole currently resides in Atlanta where she works as a freelance writer and journalist focusing on issues in religion and spirituality in the black experience, sexuality and spirituality, and pop culture and entertainment.
  1. The solution is to prepare for the sat and act tests in 8th grade. It’s all about test scores , test prep, and GPA. I wish someone provided test taking classes that many of the upper income folks are getting.

    FYI

  2. Thanks for your commentary. I can definitely understand their unhappiness with the status quo, but agree that a complete look at the root causes is warranted. And just because money is wasted by one office or official within the university, that doesn’t mean that money could be available for scholarships or any other form of financial aid. Definitely the most important thing is believing that college is within reach, and having examples and encouragement that supports preparation and planning.

  3. Race affects every part of life for POC. The lack of affirmative action means there are no minority scholarships which in turn means those who can’t afford college can’t go. It sustains the pipeline from school to prison. There also needs to be a thorough restructuring of higher education. Let’s be honest, major division I schools are more concerned about athletics than anything else. You have more for profit schools and student loan debt has risen astronomically. Education is big business.

  4. Lack of blacks, yes. Lack of minorities and diversity, no. Actually whites are a minority at UCLA…that is if you dont count Asians as whites and last I saw a few seconds ago, Asians are not whites.

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