UCLA is the place we call home for most of the year; the lovely University which receives more applicants than any other in the nation. It is a place comprised of Bruins who pride themselves on being part of such a prestigious learning institution. When UCLA students are first enrolled in the University, they pledge to uphold the qualities of a True Bruin. The components of a True Bruin are as follows:
I will conduct myself with integrity in my dealings with & on behalf of the University.
I will conscientiously strive for excellence in my work.
I will be accountable as an individual & member of this community for my ethical conduct.
I will respect the rights & dignity of others.
I will make an impact in our global community through public service.
In short, the five components of a True Bruin are Integrity, Excellence, Accountability, Respect, and Service. As members of the UCLA community, it is expected that all five of these qualities be exhibited. However, members of the UCLA community have not upheld one significant trait of being a True Bruin – integrity, which can be defined as, “soundness of moral principle, especially in relation to truth and fair dealing.”
Instead of sitting back and remaining silent, one Bruin, a legitimate True Bruin, dared to speak out against the lack of integrity on our campus.
Sy Stokes, a third year African Studies student from Richmond, California, is not your typical student. He saw a problem at our University, one that has been present since the 1960’s — the discrimination against African American males at the University, evidenced by the small amount of African American males who attend the University and actually graduate.
Think about this: Last year, less than 50 Black males entered into UCLA out of the entire male freshman class of 2,418, and according to graduation rates, only 35 are predicted to graduate.
Seeing that it was an issue that had yet to be discussed on campus, Stokes took it upon himself to make it clear to the student body.
Challenging the problem through spoken word, Stokes posted a video on Youtube entitled:
The video has received over 421,000 views in less than 2 weeks, and has attracted a great deal of attention.
I was interested in hearing more about the issue, so I met with Stokes. The first thing we discussed was his upbringing and his transition to UCLA. Growing up in Richmond, California, he describes the place as “comparable to Compton”.
Stokes said, “Coming from that environment [to UCLA], you notice a lot of things … being privileged here is different than being privileged there. I was the only one of my high school friends who went to college.”
He also spoke of the lack of resources available to his peers in high school, in particular resources regarding SAT prep. Stokes was the only one of his friends who was able to take an SAT prep course to prepare for the exam, which is an important component of the college admission process. According to Stokes, the only reason he was even able to take the course was because his mother and father worked hard to save money for him to adequately prepare for the exam.
That being said, not everyone is able to afford preparation courses, and Stokes believes that this is a significant factor the admissions officers at UCLA fail to consider.
In Stokes’ opinion , the “blind-process” that is used to accept students into the University does more harm than good in addressing the diversity of the student body. He also believes that assuming everyone has the same opportunities is inaccurate. Not all students have resources available to them, whether that be SAT prep courses or even advanced high school courses. In the UCLA freshmen selection overview for 2014, it states “For an applicant who has faced any hardships or unusual circumstances, readers consider the maturity, determination, and insight with which he or she has responded to and/or overcome them.”
Although the University clearly attempts to address these issues, the terms used, such as “unusual circumstances,” are problematically vague and differ according to subjective understandings of “unusual” difficulties. The problem that Stokes wants to address is the small amount of black students at the University and explain that the problem can be resolved. He believes that to take this into consideration during the admissions process could increase the amount of black students accepted into the University and make the campus more diverse.
While watching the video, I noticed that Stokes failed to discuss black females at UCLA.
When asked why females were not discussed in the video, Stokes responded “I didn’t speak of black females because I didn’t have statistics regarding black females available to me … I did not want to put anything out there that was inaccurate, so I only spoke of black males at UCLA because I had solid facts.” Mr. Stokes also stated,
“[Black Male Institute, or BMI] would like to also have a Black Women Institute, but UCLA is not giving us funding for it … right now we’re fighting for funds for just the Black males … we’re trying to do more, but its really hard when UCLA doesn’t support our efforts.”
I attempted to contact Professor Howard, the director of BMI but I was unable to speak with him regarding this issue.
So where does the money go?
Stokes had some insight regarding this situation. In the video he states that “Judy Olian (UCLA Anderson School of Management) spent $647,000 on first-class flights and hotel stays”. During our interview, he explained that “the only reason she was able to do that was because she had a doctor’s note. If you have a doctor’s note, you’re able to fly first class and stay at expensive hotels. That is the only way they get around the system. The administration is using doctors’ notes to spend all this money.”
In my opinion, the University clearly goes above and beyond to supports administrators. Could the University then aid students in a similar manner? For example, the $647,000 that was spent on flights and hotels could have been used to educate students and promote a widespread understanding of problems such as discrimination.
Education. That is the reason UCLA even exists –- to educate people. As the True Bruin statement goes, “I will conduct myself with integrity in my dealings with & on behalf of the University”. Spending $647,000 on things other than education on behalf of the University is not a way to act with integrity.
The lack of integrity displayed by figures in the administration is also seen in some members of the student body and in the UCLA community. Speaking with Stokes about his experience at UCLA with racism specifically, I was able to hear experiences that are rarely brought to light on campus.
He told me of one scenario in which he attended a party on frat row with several friends who were Caucasian. None of his friends knew anyone at the frat, yet they were all let in. He was the only person who was not allowed into the frat, but all of his Caucasian friends were let in without a second glance.
Stokes told me of another incident involving the UCPD. While attending a birthday party for a friend in the apartments near UCLA, he noticed a cop car waiting across the street. Stokes approached the officers and asked them if there was a problem and the officer told Stokes to (essentially) “mind his own business and go back to the party.” Stokes went to the party, which he describes as a simple get together, comprised mostly of African-American students. Although he says his friends were not acting in a disorderly way, nor were they making copious amounts of noise, UCPD felt the need to enter the apartment. He recalls the police claiming that there was a noise complaint, yet Stokes argues “all of the neighbors in the apartment complex were at the party, so no one inside the complex would have called to make a noise complaint.” He believes that the police were suspicious because a “bunch of African-Americans” were in a closed space together, so they must have thought something was bound to go wrong.
According to Stokes, in these two scenarios, both UCLA students and UCPD were not acting with integrity, but as influences of discrimination.
In response to the lack of integrity displayed by the UCLA community, Stokes created “The Black Bruins” Youtube video to express his concerns. In general, the video has received both positive and negative feedback with over 4,400 “likes” and 680 “dislikes.” Many viewers believe that Stokes did a great service to the community by addressing such a pressing issue at a large University. Others had only rude things to say. One comment on the video stated:
Stokes commented on this response by saying, “If I was ungrateful, I would have dropped out.” He continued this thought noting that he worked diligently to get into UCLA and is simply trying to explain that the black community cannot and should not be disrespected by being viewed on an unequal level with everyone else at the University.
Stokes has several ideas about how to promote change.
He said, “One way is to instill a diversity requirement. At all the other UC’s it is a requirement to take a course on ethnic studies as a GE, except at UCLA. They are uneducated when it comes to cultural and social problems … I wouldn’t have even known about things like residential segregation or institutional racism if I didn’t go out on my own and take a class to learn more about it.” Thus, many students are ignorant of issues such as racism and discrimination because they haven’t ever discussed it.
I personally agree with Stokes. Because UCLA prides itself on having students that understand the meaning of integrity, then classes should be available to teach students the meaning of the term — to act morally and in consideration of others.
Additionally, Stokes believes that aiding students who are currently in high school could definitely increase the amount of African-American students at UCLA.
Stokes spoke of his experience putting on weekly workshops for students at a high school in East Los Angeles. He specifically teaches high school students about spoken word and helps them write poetry. Stokes recalls one student in particular who used to be on the streets selling drugs but stopped because of the spoken word workshop. Only about a dozen students attend these workshops each week, but Stoke understands his job as meaningful because “that is still twelve more kids that have a chance to succeed and change their lives, twelve less kids that are off the streets. I’m doing something to help these kids, something I wish someone would have done for me and my friends.”
It only takes one person to change a life, and Stokes has shown that it can be done with something as simple as a poetry workshop.
If we as a University do not address issues such as discrimination, especially regarding admissions, we will never truly be the prestigious institution we claim to be. Additionally, if students and other members of the UCLA community continue to pass judgment on other humans simply based on race, we can never reach our full potential as a positive influence on the community. There is a problem at UCLA and it must be fixed.
Although there are clearly many members of the UCLA community that do not display the qualities of Integrity, Excellence, Accountability, Respect, and Service, Sy Stokes definitely embodies the meaning of a True Bruin.
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