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The Black Bruin Experience: UCLA must improve access to resources, support for Black students

A computer lab with three art pieces. UCLA must do more in providing resources and support to Black students and applicants. (Sakshi Joglekar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Laila Wheeler

Feb. 9, 2022 10:04 p.m.

“The Black Bruin Experience” is a series by Opinion columnist Laila Wheeler, a first-year sociology student. As a Black student at UCLA, she will be exploring a variety of Black issues, from institutional racism to anti-Blackness to the everyday experiences of being Black in the higher education system. These columns will not only focus on Black trauma, but they will also highlight the multidimensionality of Blackness, including Black creativity, Black success, Black leadership and Black excellence. The Black community at UCLA has been tirelessly advocating for its demands to be heard, and these columns aim to amplify Black voices and call on UCLA administrators to actively work toward creating an anti-racist institution. Black Bruins are welcome to submit op-eds or letters to the editor to be published as part of this series to fully represent the diverse experiences and viewpoints of the Black community.

(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)
(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)

UCLA has a responsibility to provide all students with opportunities to succeed, but it is evident that race is a determining factor in the inequitable allocation of resources for Black students.

In Fall 2020, the undergraduate enrollment rate for Black students at UCLA was about 5%, which means that out of 31,636 undergraduate students, only 1,723 students are Black or African American. Black people make up 6.5% of California’s total population; therefore, the 5% Black student enrollment rate at UCLA is unrepresentative and lower than it should be.

Black students are more than qualified for admission to UCLA. However, the higher education system was built on institutional racism, which continues to marginalize Black students today.

Black high school students disproportionately attend underfunded schools in economically disadvantaged and racially segregated areas, giving them less access to support services, extracurricular activities and high-quality education.

According to UCLA enrollment data from 2017, the four-year graduation rate for Black students who entered UCLA as freshmen was only 75% – and just 60% for Black males – whereas four-year graduation rates for white and Asian students at UCLA were 86% and 89%, respectively.

UCLA must provide resources to Black students and address the institutional racism ingrained in the higher education system. It’s time for Black students to be given equitable resources and opportunities to receive acceptance to the university and to graduate on time. This has been an ongoing demand that Black Bruins have tirelessly advocated for, with minimal action from administration.

In 2013, Dr. Sy Stokes, a UCLA alumnus and postdoctoral research fellow for the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan, released a spoken word video titled “The Black Bruins,” which addressed issues that Black students at UCLA face. The video currently has over 2.4 million views and garnered international attention and heavy backlash from the public, including some UCLA administrators and faculty who claimed that too many unqualified Black students were being accepted to UCLA, Stokes said.

However, a few administrators supported Black students’ demands, including Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Dr. Youlonda Copeland-Morgan and former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Janina Montero, Stokes added.

As a member of the UCLA Black Male Institute, Stokes – along with a group of 11 Black students and the integral support of director Dr. Tyrone Howard – created a set of goals for UCLA to better support the Black community, including the creation of a Black Bruin Resource Center. Although administrators failed to meet most of these demands at the time, the diversity requirement was successfully approved in 2015.

UCLA celebrated the opening of the Black Bruin Resource Center seven years after the demands were made. However, UCLA only agreed to fully fund the center following the murder of George Floyd and the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Needless to say, administrators should not wait for the tragic loss of Black lives to listen to Black students’ demands. Black students deserve resources always, not just when it is on-trend to stand for Black lives.

“We are convinced to think that change is a slow process. It is not, and it never has been. I think what proved that was one, ‘The Black Bruins,’ video, and two, the summer of 2020,” Stokes said. “It is unfortunate that it takes a visceral, visual example of Black death to get … corporations and institutions to act.”

According to the UCLA Newsroom, “UCLA takes pride in the extraordinary diversity of our students and in providing opportunity for students, regardless of socioeconomic background.”

But the abysmal enrollment rate of Black students certainly does not reflect “extraordinary diversity,” and their low graduation rates also tell a different story than what UCLA advertises.

To clarify, low enrollment and graduation rates of Black students are not a reflection of the students’ academic abilities. These failures are institutional, not individual, and occur on the basis of pervasive, systemic racism and the false rhetoric of Black inferiority that can be detrimental to students’ academic performance.

Gene McAdoo, a doctoral student at the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies who attended UCLA as an undergraduate, published a 2021 research article that examined anti-Blackness at UCLA and the educational barriers that Black students face. McAdoo said an inequitable allocation of resources and support at UCLA contributes to the disproportionately low Black student graduation rates.

“Some Black students aren’t prepared to do well academically at UCLA,” McAdoo said. “I’m not blaming that on them as individuals, but on the societal structures that contribute to their high schools being underfunded … and (Black students) not having access to the same resources that other students have.”

For example, schools that are predominantly composed of students of color spend $733 less per student each year than predominantly white schools, according to the United Negro College Fund.

UCLA needs to listen to Black students and the needs voiced by the community. As recent as October, the Afrikan Student Union was calling for increased funding for the Black Bruin Resource Center, which has been open for a little over a year – including the time it operated virtually. Although the center is undeniably a major win for the Black community, the university fails to invest in high-quality services, and Black students are often given the bare minimum.

Administrators must provide more accommodating financial aid services, academic resources and holistic support for Black students to graduate on time.

Leilani Fu’Qua, a third-year English and public affairs student and the editor in chief of Nommo Magazine, UCLA’s Afrikan newsmagazine, said she would never forget walking into her first lecture hall and seeing less than five Black people in a crowd of 300 students. This is a shared experience among many Black Bruins, which may lead to students feeling like they don’t belong at the university.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Black Bruins Matter. Black Futures Matter. Black students are future leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists and more than we could ever imagine.

As the No. 1 public university in the nation, UCLA must do better. Support, guide and provide equitable resources and opportunities to your Black students. The future depends on it.

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