Panel discusses black enrollment

    Students and campus administrators gathered at the Chancellor’s Complex on Feb. 25 to discuss the status of blacks at UCSD. The discussion, led by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson, was the first of many upcoming discussions in the Brown Bag Lunch Series, which will feature a different vice chancellor every month.

    Billy Wong
    Guardian

    The talk was sponsored by the Ujima Network, an alliance of black faculty, staff, and students at UCSD.

    The talk proposed to examine why UCSD has a lower ethnic minority percentage than other comparable universities, as well as offer ways in which these disparities might be resolved.

    Watson opened the discussion by addressing affirmative action and Proposition 209, which has prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment of any individual or group in public employment or education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

    “Up until 1997, the university was, in at least a public sense, in support of affirmative action and diversity issues,” Watson said. “With the passage of SP-1 and SP-2, and later with Proposition 209, the university stance is very overtly anti-affirmative action. It is not a sympathetic attitude by the Regents.”

    Blacks comprise one percent of UCSD’s student population. Many in the room, including Watson, voiced their feelings that this number was not only unacceptable, but embarrassing.

    “If African-Americans are six to seven percent of the graduating high school class in California, then yes, I believe they should be six to seven percent of the entering class of the university, but they’re one percent,” Watson said. “We have an absolute disaster here, and we have some university leadership that feels [the current numbers] are more than acceptable.”

    Another topic that was touched upon during the discussion was the low numbers of accepted black students who end up accepting the admissions offer and attending UCSD.

    Watson said that despite the relatively recent implementation of the admissions policy of comprehensive review, only 24 percent of African-American applicants are accepted. Sixty percent of the acceptants choose to attend UCSD, according to Watson. Among various possible reasons for this trend, Watson said, is the lack of an African-American studies program at UCSD.

    “Not having an African-American studies program on campus hurts our ability to attract African-Americans to the campus, not because they’re all going to major in it — in fact, the majority of them will not even take a course in it — but it’s symbolic,” Watson said. “It shows that African-Americans are part of the academic program of the campus; it’s a symbolic indication that yes, you’re part of the campus.”

    UCLA and UC Berkeley, which enroll roughly ninety percent of accepted black students, Watson said, possess African-American studies programs.

    “[The UJIMA Network] is hoping that the chancellor and academic affairs will take this on,” Executive Officer of Student Affairs Darlene Willis said. “We are trying to move in that direction and let the campus know that this is very important.”

    One student in attendance also suggested the idea of black culture-themed houses in which black students could find a support network and feel more integrated into the campus community.

    While Watson remained optimistic for the potential of increasing the number of black students at UCSD, he spoke of the difficulty of implementing policy changes and the necessity of a straightforward dialogue among university officials.

    “This is a period in which resources are limited, and therefore there are not the human and financial resources to do everything that may be desirable,” Watson said. “However, I think there’s still lots of things that can be done. The first thing that needs to be done is for [university leadership] to state that there is a problem and there should be a change. The second thing that should be done is that some action should be taken to favor underrepresented groups. If you have a group that is one-seventh of what it should be, why shouldn’t you take actions to bring it more into parity with their representation? I think there is need for some open, honest discussion.”

    The next gathering in the Brown Bag Lunch Series will feature Vice Chancellor of External Relations James Langley and will take place on March 29.

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