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Percentage of Black Students at UCSD at All Time Low

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

More than 4,500 freshman are attending UC San Diego this fall. That’s an all-time high for the university. But something that’s at an all-time low is the percentage of black students on campus. In fact UCSD has the lowest percentage of black students in the entire University of California system. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has the story.

It’s lunchtime at UC San Diego’s main plaza. In a booth, squeezed between the Hong Kong Student Union and the Multi-Asian Student Association is Stefano Rensi. He’s manning the information booth for the National Society of Black Engineers.

Rensi: For a while I didn’t even know there were other black people in bio-engineering. I thought I was the only one in the major -- until I met two other people. So that’s kind of crazy.

Standing next to Stefano is Skeenha Mohammad – a senior from San Diego. Like Stefano, she’s one of the few African Americans in a sea of whites and Asians.  

Mohammad: They either don’t know what to expect from me. Either they expect a lot because I’m one of the few black people that are there. Or they’re wondering how I got here. Am I special -  or something like that.

University of California officials say black students at UC schools began dropping after California voters approved Proposition 209 ten years ago. The measure banned affirmative action in state government and higher education. At UC San Diego, African Americans once comprised three-percent of the population. Now they comprise one-percent.

Brown: Clearly the number of African American students on campus continue to concern us every day.

Mae Brown is UC San Diego’s admissions director. She says UCSD has an obligation to educate the citizens of the state and to reflect the community it serves. She says the university values ethnic diversity. 

Brown: There’s a lot missing in the classroom interaction when you don’t have students of color in classes. Because I think it’s a learning process. You learn from everyone in your class.

Brown dismisses the notion that UCSD isn’t doing enough to recruit and admit African American students. She points to admission criteria that account for such factors as low-income status, high school of origin and whether the student is the first in the family to apply for college. In fact Brown says more than 350 black students were offered admission to UCSD this year, but only 50 accepted.

One of the critical questions we have to continue to ask ourselves is why can’t we convince more African Americans or underrepresented students to accept our offer and come to UC San Diego.

Shirley Weber is a professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State. She says the answer is simple. 

Weber: How do you get a group of students to want to come to a campus, that doesn’t have what appears to be an identifiable culture for African American students, no strong black studies department, no real strong identifiable group of black faculty, far away from the black community. It is not in an ideal situation.  

Weber points out more gifted black students are leaving the state for black colleges than choosing the UC.

For their part, UCSD officials say they’re committed to boosting black enrollment. They say one way they’re doing that is by sponsoring the Preuss School – a college-prep high school for minority and low-income students. UCSD professor Cecil Lytell is one of the founders.

Lytell: The University of California has historically looked at outreach as informational – meaning if you tell them or shout a little louder, they’ll jump a little higher. But to solve this problem we have got to become much more invasive in the K-12 activity.

Lytell says 59-percent of Preuss students are Hispanic and 12-percent are black.  He says almost the entire graduating class this year went on to colleges and universities in California. 

SDSU Professor Shirley Weber agrees the quality of education needs to improve for inner-city youth. But she questions whether Preuss is giving enough black students a chance.   

Weber: There are very few black kids so even though its a pipeline to go to UCSD, there’s not a lot of whole lot of kids in that pipeline -- they don’t seem to be willing to do much to change that. There are a lot of Hispanic kids but too few African Americans children at Preuss. 

Back at UCSD, Oakland native Stefano Rensi works the information booth. He hopes to add a few more freshman to the black engineering society’s roster. Rensi doesn’t want to make too much of the race issue, but he says the student body would benefit from greater diversity.  

Rensi: Some people are open minded but there are people who are close minded. Like kids from the suburbs, who haven’t lived in a city or a diverse environment. I think they’re the ones that are missing out most of all. 

UCLA officials share that view. They recently vowed to overhaul their admissions process so they can identify more underrepresented students. Black activists and community leaders called for the change after discovering only two-percent of African Americans were admitted this year. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.  

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