Monday, January 27

Editorial: Crop of commencement speakers lacks diversity

Since the UCLA College of Letters and Science reinstated a college-wide commencement in 2002, the crop of commencement speakers has lacked the diversity that UCLA administration touts as one of the university’s top priorities.

Only four out of 13 were people of color. Seven of the past 13 speakers were white males. Only two were women and neither of those women were people of color.

While the College has picked successful and compelling speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and fields of expertise over the course of its history, the College’s recent choices point to a lack of critical thinking.

It is just as important to give students relatable and diverse role models as it is to give them speakers with impressive academic, professional and personal accomplishments.

The commencement speaker for this year, Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, is a perfect example of a speaker whose professional accomplishments and personal dedication to the public university system make him a compelling pick for the College.

But looking forward, the College should look to combine accomplishment with a greater level of diversity.

Graduation speeches are an avenue for instilling inspiration, hope and a sense of direction into seniors stepping off campus and into a new chapter of their lives.

Providing speakers with a myriad of different personal experiences – shaped by a number of factors, among them gender, race, personal history as well as field of expertise and academic accomplishment – will enable students from all walks of life to see themselves in their commencement speakers.

The committee within the College in charge of picking the commencement speaker would do well to remember this come next year.

In an email statement to The Bruin, the deans of the College said that they are “proud that half of (the) speakers come from underrepresented backgrounds and have broken barriers to reach the pinnacle of their careers.”

The deans are counting the two women who spoke at the 2012 and 2013 commencements, respectively, as a part of the “half.”

It should be noted that until two years ago, there was not a single woman featured on the list of commencement speakers at all. And even now, there is not one woman of color to be found on the list.

These numbers speak to a need for the College to more carefully examine its choices and to think more deeply about what it means to look back on a list of speakers that reflect the diversity of the student body.

“Diversity” is too often a token word thrown around by university administration. Chancellor Gene Block announced a new post for a vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion in December – a position that will remain unfilled for months to come – and recently called on faculty to pass a diversity general education requirement that has failed at UCLA two times in the past 10 years already.

By selecting a more diverse group of commencement speakers, UCLA can demonstrate publicly that it is committed to fostering diversity at every level and in every way, not just in talking about it.

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  • Mifty Popularis

    When will people realize that diversity of opinions is far more important than skin pigmentation? Life is more than just a checkbox or making sure you have a perfect “diversity zoo” with the exact mix of races? Why does the Daily Bruin Editorial Board insult students’ intelligence by assuming that people can only relate to others of their own pigmentation?

    • Intelligent_UCLAstudent

      the quote you chose from the DB piece regards “speakers with a myriad of different personal EXPERIENCES- SHAPED by a number of factors, among them gender, race, PERSONAL HISTORY as well as FIELD OF EXPERTISE etc…”, (keywords are CAPs kid). Your argument seems to dangerously simplify the argument of ‘diversity’ by claiming that it only regards “skin pigmentation or sexual organs” and absolutely nothing else. Check out the CAPS, kid. Understand where your argument goes wrong? 😀

  • Kendra

    Why are we so focused on skin color and sex. What the speakers have to say is much more important. This editorial is pablum.

  • Civil Engineer

    Dang, imagine if we could bring in a black female commencement speaker. We’d be the most diverse campus in the country!

    • Kendra

      Lesbian and left handed too

      • Mifty Popularis

        You’re committing an act of micro-aggression.

  • Roberta Paulson

    This is disgusting.

  • BruinInsider

    They choose the speaker based on who is a strong donor prospect. The development or fundraising staff will ask for a donation from this speaker. I know this because I used to work in Development.