Last week, Sy Stokes and 11 other black male students from UCLA uploaded a YouTube video of a spoken word poem called “The Black Bruins.” The poem attacks the university for its lack of racial diversity, specifically its incredibly small percentage of black male students. Overall, only 3.3 percent of the male population of UCLA is black. Of the 2,418 entering male freshmen, only 48 were black.
The poem goes on to cite several other statistics about black males at UCLA. The graduation rate for black males is 74 percent, while the overall graduation rate is around 90 percent. Additionally, 65 percent of the 660 black males at UCLA are undergraduate athletes. UCLA also holds 109 NCAA championships, more than double the number of black male freshmen.
Stokes interprets the meaning behind these figures with the lines, “When we have more national championships than we do black male freshmen, it’s evident that our only purpose here is to improve your winning percentage. So now black high school kids can care less about grades, just as long as the number on the back of their jersey doesn’t fade.”
The video took the Internet by storm and amassed nearly 300,000 views by Tuesday evening. Many were disturbed to learn how little diversity exists on the large university campus, including some Yale students who posted the video on social media.
The UCLA vice chancellor of student affairs issued a statement to the UCLA student newspaper saying that the administration is concerned about the underrepresentation of certain minority groups on campus, but that the problem is difficult to fix without taking race into consideration during the admissions process. As of 1996, affirmative actions policies at UCLA were prohibited under California Proposition 209, which disallows state institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in employment, education or contracting.
Although Yale is not bound to legislation like Proposition 209 and is able to consider race in its admissions process, the University also lags behind in racial diversity. As a whole, the University is only 6 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic, not including international students. The American population as a whole is 13.1 percent black and 16.9 percent Hispanic. The discrepancies become even larger when we take into account that Yale students disproportionately come from urban areas. In New York City, the population is 25.5 percent black and 28.6 percent Hispanic.
These days, conservative rhetoric claiming that affirmative action is unnecessary in a “post-racial America” is heard far and wide. The fact that even an institution that considers race in admissions, like Yale, underrepresents black and Hispanic students shows that affirmative action is still very much important and necessary. Stokes eloquently asks his audience to reconsider affirmative action saying, “We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for a level playing field.” His assessment of the purpose of affirmative action is accurate.
Yale has made great strides in diversifying its population over the years. Its student body has a larger percentage of black students than UCLA, although it still lags far behind the national average. The University’s financial aid policy is much more generous than UCLA’s, a factor that likely assists in racially diversifying the population. Stokes notes in the poem that many black students drop out of UCLA because of lack of financial aid. At Yale, this is typically not the case. And while Yale has a smaller percentage of Hispanic students than UCLA does, this can be partially attributed to the racial makeup of California.
Still, Yale can, and should, take steps to further diversify its student body. Aggressive recruitment of black and Hispanic students should be continued and possibly expanded. The admissions office should actively concentrate on admitting more black and Hispanic applicants.
The University should also consider making transparent data about race on campus easily accessible. The UCLA video mentions the numbers of black male athletes, as well as the racial breakdown of the university by gender and the graduation rate by race. These figures should be posted on Yale’s website. If they currently are, they are by no means easily accessible. Providing these numbers would help give insight to the minority experience at Yale. It would also help hold the university accountable for maintaining the same quality of education for students of all races.
By no means is lack of racial diversity a problem specific to UCLA or Yale. It is a problem that plagues universities across the country. Yale should look to further solidify its place as a leading university by taking steps to ensure increased racial diversity on campus and transparency regarding the minority university experience.
Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Her column runs on Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.