by Dr. Boyce Watkins
The students at UCLA have been frustrated for decades. I’ve seen no less than three campaigns or racially-charged incidents come out of the school over the last three years, and it appears that the campus is determined to remain in denial regarding their commitment to creating an environment that is welcoming to students of color.
One case was the incident involving Dr. Christian Head, the physician on campus who was compared to a gorilla. The second was the video released by black male students claiming that just 3.3% of the students on campus are black males, with 65% of those individuals being money-making athletes (who are unpaid, by the way). So, it appears there the trend is that UCLA is a campus full of seemingly intelligent people who see black people see either animals, athletes or both. At the very least, they don’t seem to be able to appreciate the value that the black experience can bring to the table of intellectual discourse.
The third incident was a video I was sent this week, called “33,” where the students at the UCLA School of Law explain that out of 1,100 law students on campus, just 33 of them are black.
“It feels isolating. It feels horrible. It feels like there is a lot of pressure, a lot of weight. It feels like I don’t belong. It feels unwelcoming and hostile,” a student told the Huffington Post.
The simple conclusion here is that the UCLA School of Law is just not very good at what it does. Part of the role of a leading academic institution is to provide its students with the kind of diverse experience that rises above the biases and limitations inherent in an historically racist society. But like so many other campuses across America, the data clearly shows that UCLA is just as guilty of falling into the trap of believing that African Americans are valuable commodities on the football field and basketball court, but meaningless in the classroom environment.
As I said before, this is the thinking of an inferior and undisciplined institution. You can’t simply replicate the racism that exists all around you and somehow think that you are exceptional. The fact is that I can go to the backwoods of West Virginia and find a greater commitment to meaningful diversity than we are seeing at schools like UCLA right now. An even greater reflection of the institution’s lack of commitment to academic integrity is that fact that they so blatantly adjust their admissions standards for black men who are 6’9″ and can dunk a basketball. Once again, if I go to the least educated county in my home state of Kentucky, I can also find people who make every racial exception in the world when a man can dribble and shoot his way to an NCAA championship.
Legal training is, for some, one of the best pathways to financial success in a capitalist society. For African Americans, legal training means much more, since it is so directly linked to our ability to fight for fundamental rights. My secret prayer for the students in this video is that they use this experience as a clarion call to avoid the temptation to simply sell out to the highest-paying law firm and join together to file the kinds of lawsuits that need to be filed in order to end these forms of blatant discrimination. People can only walk all over you if you keep on lying down….so, after the complaining and emotional expression is all said and done, it’s time to pool your resources and DO SOMETHING.
The video from the law students is below, please take a look. It’s interesting: