One-on-One with Dr. Darnell Hunt
For years Black students have worked to maintain and increase their admission into the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and other institutions of higher learning. Their struggles became more intense when California passed Proposition 209 in 1996, which, among other things, prohibits public universities, colleges, and schools, from giving so-called “preferential” treatment to any individual or group in public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Last year, 103 Black freshman entered UCLA, and that number doubled this fall due to urgent actions by a coalition of educators, Black alumni, politicians and activists, which comprise the Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education, according to Dr. Darnell Hunt. The Director of the Bunche Center of African American Studies and Professor of Sociology at UCLA explained the increase to Final Call Staff Writer Charlene Muhammad, as well as the importance of the Black presence at institutions of higher learning.
Final Call (FC): How, specifically, did this increase come about?
Dr. Darnell Hunt (DH): I think that the progress we made this year in enrolling Black students was an important step forward, and a result of a lot of groups’ efforts. The Black community in L.A. got involved when they heard how bad the numbers were last year, and worked to let the administration know that “business as usual” wasn’t sufficient. Something new had to be tried in reversing the numbers of Black admission to UCLA and the big change was the admission process itself.
FC: What did those changes include?
DH: UCLA adopted a holistic admissions model which means that students were evaluated fully. Two readers read every applicants’ file from beginning to end and were able to make sense of a student’s grades and standardized test scores. One of the problems Blacks had in the past was we tend to go to schools that don’t have the same resources that more affluent White and Asian students went to. Our best students could not match the same GPAs of students at these other schools.
The average GPA for incoming freshmen was over 4.2 last year. All of the students admitted were extremely strong, but our students. Because we couldn’t, without looking at race in California, we were disadvantaged. We had straight-A students being turned away at UCLA and accepted to Ivy League schools. We looked at where a student ranked among other students in their high school and looked at family status and how much a student had to achieve. We said that if the goal of the exercise is to develop tomorrow’s leaders, then the leaders we develop need to be reflective of the population that we’re serving. We instituted a new admissions policy borrowed from Berkeley.
FC: Some take the position “If they don’t want us, why want them?” in regards to attending UCLA and other “prestigious” schools of higher learning. What are your thoughts on applying to these types of schools?
DH: I’m a firm supporter of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and feel we should do everything we can to support them. By that same token, UCLA is a public institution. Why should we pay taxes and not have a presence there? It’s almost like taxation without representation. UCLA played a pivotal role in Los Angeles.
Go back to Ralph Bunch, a UCLA valedictorian, Nobel Prize winner, and important player in the Civil Rights Movement. Other political movers in UCLA’s history are Congresswoman Diane Watson, Tom Bradley (former mayor), Jackie Robinson and other figures that made their mark in American society.
UCLA has played that role in times when other traditionally White schools weren’t entering Black students and allowing them to move up in the way they did at UCLA, which is also known for its training of Black student leaders, [such as] the Black Panther Party [and] US Organization. There was that center and student movement at UCLA where Blacks of the inner city of Los Angeles were able to come and prove they could do better than other students–and actually did–and contributed more to their community. That activity and scholarship are extremely missed because Black students are dwindling away because of the admissions policy.
FC: What is your view of the enrollment status of Black students in such schools around the country? Are UCLA’s numbers reflecting increasing and declining stable?
DH: The trend you see at UCLA is nationwide. Young Black women outnumber Black men 2-1 at most of our college campuses–and that’s throughout society as a whole. Every ethnic group, except Asians, is experiencing this; even Whites, however, it is more extreme among Blacks. This has to do with what’s happening to boys ages K-12.
Boys are vilified to a degree girls aren’t in early education. They’re seen as trouble makers, tracked and not encouraged to go to college the way girls are, and that’s more severe for Black males. There’s the classic literature about our prison population and the over-representation of Black males that are of college age. All of these factors come together and starts early on in the types of role models our young Black males don’t have, who would benefit from having those role models to help set their sights on college as a viable option.
FC: Thank you.