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Family of Black women graduate UCLA, celebrate Bruin legacy amid shared experience

From left to right: Ashley Choyce, Jazmin Choyce, Tina Choyce and Briana Savage pose for a photo in front of Royce Hall. This spring, Jazmin will become Tina’s third daughter to graduate from UCLA. (Courtesy of Briana Savage)

By Laila Wheeler

June 10, 2024 12:08 a.m.

Blue and gold runs through the generations in this family.

In 1987, Tina Choyce graduated from UCLA with a bachelor of arts in psychology. Decades later, her three daughters will all have graduated from her alma mater.

As a first-generation college student from low-income households in Los Angeles and Nevada, Tina said she instilled the value of high educational attainment in her children at an early age. She earned a doctorate of education from the University of Southern California and currently serves as a principal in the LA Unified School District.

“My dad used to raise us when we were younger as we had to ‘do better, be better,’” Tina said. “He just felt like we always had to excel and outperform Caucasian people just to achieve the same level of success.”

She said she passed this mindset down to her children by holding them to high expectations inside and outside the classroom. Tina added that throughout their K-12 journeys, her daughters were all scholar-athletes, engaged in community service and held leadership positions in high school clubs.

The family’s Bruin legacy began when Tina’s eldest daughter Briana Savage followed in her mother’s footsteps and graduated from UCLA in 2015 with a degree in political science. Briana said she attributes her success to the positive role models she grew up around, including her UCLA alumnus father and her grandfather, whom she said was one of the first Black surgeons on the West Coast of his time.

“The power of community and a strong family dynamic can go a long way, especially for historically marginalized populations,” she said.

While Briana pursued her undergraduate degree, her younger sister Ashley was in middle school and visited UCLA periodically to see her sister, Ashley said. Years later, Ashley attended UCLA as a psychology student and graduated in 2022.

When senior year of high school finally came for the family’s youngest, Jazmin, she said she considered attending Spelman College but ultimately decided on attending UCLA because it offered a better financial aid package and she wanted to follow her family’s tradition.

“I was very thankful that I had my older sisters and my mom to help with my application and show me the way extracurriculars are important as well as education and just being well-rounded overall,” she said.

Beyond her academics at UCLA, Tina said she was actively involved in the Afrikan Student Union and served as the president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. while working two jobs to pay tuition.

Briana said she served as a tutor for Amigos de UCLA and was a sports writer for Nommo Newsmagazine, a UCLA Student Media publication. Ashley also said she volunteered for UNICEF and interned for SHAPE – a club for increasing access to higher education for Black youth.

Most recently, Jazmin served as vice president of Curls U – a club that promotes Black hair care and gender inclusivity – and as a coordinating chair for the Black Fitness Society, she said.

All three sisters worked at the UCLA Store during their college careers.

From left to right: Briana Savage, Jazmin Choyce, Ashley Choyce and Tina Choyce standing on Janss Steps. (Courtesy of Briana Savage)
From left to right: Briana Savage, Jazmin Choyce, Ashley Choyce and Tina Choyce, standing on Janss Steps. (Courtesy of Briana Savage)

Despite the family members participating in various activities on campus, all said they shared the complex experience of being a Black woman at UCLA, a predominantly white and Asian institution. Each member of the family said they experienced racism and microaggressions by their peers and professors during their time in Westwood.

“I went to a predominantly Black middle school and high school,” she said. “Going to UCLA, where there weren’t a lot of Black people, was really a culture shock.”

Tina added that there were more Black students in the 1980s than there are now at her alma mater. This decline was in part caused by the 1996 passing of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action across the UC.

“There were a few times where I would deal with racist comments from other students accusing me of getting into UCLA because of affirmative action, which was illegal at the time and not the reason why I was at UCLA,” Briana said.

Intersectionality is important since Black women have to deal with both racial and gender discrimination, Briana added, saying she did not notice how salient her identities were until attending UCLA and learning academic terms in education courses that aligned with her experiences.

Despite the challenges each family member encountered, all said the Black community brought a sense of belonging to their time at UCLA.

In the 1980s, Black students would gather on Bruin Walk on Wednesdays at noon to socialize as a collective while the fraternities and sororities of the Divine Nine, or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, step-danced, Tina said.

Jazmin said performing in culture shows hosted by the Nigerian Students Association, East African Student Association and Afro-Latinx Connection allowed her to learn about cultural dances and food while connecting with other Black students.

Education 98, a course titled “Sister to Sister: Redefining Self and Sisterhood,” specifically designed for Black women to explore their identities and positionality in society, served as a support system for Ashley, she said.

Attending UCLA together forged a special bond between the family that not many other Bruins can experience, from rooting for the same sports teams to having interconnected UCLA networks, Briana added.

After serving as an educator for 34 years, Tina said she hopes to retire in the near future and open a charter school. The three sisters aim to follow their mother’s footsteps and work in education once they finish their respective programs.

As an upcoming graduate, Jazmin said she plans to apply to graduate programs to earn a teaching credential. Ashley said she hopes to work as a school counselor in K-12 education as a helpful resource for predominantly Black student populations after finishing her master’s degree at USC.

As a fourth-year doctoral student of education at UC Riverside, Briana said she wants to become a tenured professor of education and launch a nonprofit organization to provide higher education resources for special interest populations.

“It’s really cool to have four Black women … who have been able to go to an institution like UCLA, but then who have also been able to motivate each other through the process and celebrate with each other,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in it.”

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Laila Wheeler | Opinion editor
Wheeler is a 2023-2024 Opinion editor. She currently serves on the editorial board and was previously an assistant Opinion editor and columnist. She is a third-year public affairs, education and sociology student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
Wheeler is a 2023-2024 Opinion editor. She currently serves on the editorial board and was previously an assistant Opinion editor and columnist. She is a third-year public affairs, education and sociology student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
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