Systemic issues need systemic solutions.
And often, those solutions mean starting from the ground up.
Across the nation, black students are still facing the consequences of generations of institutionalized racism – and their education is suffering the costs. The Los Angeles area is no exception.
A recent UCLA report found that young African American students still face considerable education barriers in LA County. The 2019 study, titled “Beyond the Schoolhouse: Overcoming Challenges & Expanding Opportunities for Black Youth in Los Angeles,” reported that in 2017-2018, only 45% of black students had met UC and CSU requirements.
Furthermore, 42% and 54% of black students had not met the English and the math standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, respectively. Black students also had the highest rates of suspension in high school among the ethnicity groups in the study.
According to the study, many factors lead to this level of disenfranchisement. Some components are access to healthy food, clean air and medical services, which are all crucial to high-level academic performance. And with racially isolated schools throughout LA County, the majority of black students are often concentrated in academic environments with very little resources.
So when the UC runs into low enrollment for black students, it might consider looking at the historically inequitable pool it’s drawing from.
As the largest institution for high-quality, relatively affordable education in California, the UC has its work cut out for it – but that work might be more manageable if it started earlier. These problems need to be addressed at every level of the California public education system in order to help disenfranchised students along every step of the UC college pipeline. And in LA, UCLA has a big role to play.
Numerous solutions already exist – they just need to be implemented.
According to the study, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and LA school districts should coordinate to make sure underprivileged academic communities have access to social support such as after-school programs and social workers.
Tyrone Howard, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, director of the Black Male Institute and one of the co-authors of the study, said these educational barriers for African American students need to be dealt with using specific policies at all levels of government – from city to federal.
“Part of what we’ve done in this country is we’ve put the burden primarily on schools, saying you’ve got to fix it, you’ve got to do better – but part of the challenge is that schools can’t do this alone,” Howard said. “We think that there is enough evidence to suggest that an African American learners initiative or an African American educational task force that specifically targets our most disenfranchised populations is long overdue.”
And UCLA has the resources to be part of these solutions – especially during the wait for sweeping policy reform.
K-12 involvement is the only way to fix the systemic racial issues that plague UCLA’s admissions, and it’s the necessary solution to higher application rates, acceptance, enrollment rates and success of students from underserved communities.
Ebreon Farris, a site coordinator for the UCLA Early Academic Outreach Program, says many of these communities are completely underresourced.
“In my personal opinion, it’s a combination of things. I personally would say that one of them has to do with coming from underresourced areas,” Farris said. “Whether that be of course, books, materials and also of course overstepping into the boundaries of having access to college-going culture, materials such as a college center, college counselors.”
It’s not like UCLA has a complete lack of programs for underserved communities – between UCLA and UC-sponsored programs such as BruinCorps and EAOP and student-led organizations such as Afrikan Education Project at UCLA and Students Heightening Academic Performance through Education, the university is working to improve.
Sandhya Rajkumar, a third-year computational and systems biology student and secretary for the Los Angeles Mentorship Program, a UCLA student organization, said that it provides AVID tutoring, SAT preparation and personal statement workshops for the students at the local high school, University High School Charter.
“I know a lot of organizations that focus on helping, tutoring and mentoring in high schools, elementary schools and middle schools who come from more underserved backgrounds,” Rajkumar said. “From our standpoint, from where we are in life right now, that’s one big thing we can do to help.”
Of course, UCLA should not prioritize one group of students over another, but that is not the point. The university has long since banned affirmative action in a nation that continues to debate its role in higher education. But early involvement could serve to create an environment in which affirmative action is not the be-all, end-all of diversity. In doing so, academic power is given back to students at an early age, and the question of “deserving” an education falls by the wayside.
The university has a duty to the Los Angeles community and building an educational pipeline for underrepresented students is part of that – but it’s falling behind on this goal.
Being surrounded by the bougie streets of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, UCLA might have forgotten the communities just a few miles away that it’s supposed to represent.
Because no matter where students are from, education is a right – not a privilege.