|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, May 10, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle 5-10-04
Black students at Cal irked by lack of diversity
She is young, smart and black. And she is mad.
By one measure, Renita Chaney is fortunate indeed. She's one of the elite students who won a coveted place at the most prestigious public university in America: UC Berkeley.
But the campus that has long prided itself on diversity -- only 31 percent of undergraduates were white at the beginning of this school year -- has become increasingly less diverse for certain minority groups, particularly for Chaney and her African American peers.
"Where is the diversity promised to my community by UC Berkeley when we decided to come here?" she demanded at an April 22 rally in front of the chancellor's office after the latest fall admission figures were released.
Those figures vividly illustrated the continuing legacy of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure by which voters banned affirmative action, or racial preferences, in public education, contracting and employment in California.
Chicano/Latino admissions for this fall fell 7 percent from last fall, American Indians declined 22 percent and African Americans dropped the most --29 percent.
Of 8,676 acceptance letters, blacks received 211, or 2.4 percent. At Harvard, African Americans account for 10.3 percent of this fall's admissions. Blacks make up 6.7 percent of California's population and 12.3 percent of the nation as a whole, according to the 2000 Census.
"I don't want to say 'segregated,' " senior La'Cole Martin said in an interview, "but it's kind of discouraging when you don't see a lot of faces in the classroom that look like you."
Student Aquelia Lewis told the UC regents in March: "Ever since I stepped onto this campus, I've had to fight racism, negativity and questions about why I should be here."
The distress is compounded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's austere budget and its proposed elimination of state funds for UC outreach programs, which are designed to recruit disadvantaged students to campus.
The shrinking number of black faces has created extra stress not only because of the resulting alienation but also because many African American students feel driven to do what they can to stop the trend.
Many of them devote long hours to volunteer outreach efforts in addition to their schoolwork and jobs.
Working at the recruitment and retention center "is like a full-time job on top of being a student," said senior James Drake. "If we didn't do stuff like that, things would be worse. It's really, really stressful having all these commitments.
"You would think being a Berkeley student, 'Wow! I get to do all these things' -- but being a black student, you can't really enjoy that."
Martin, an American studies major applying to law school, has worked part time since she came to Cal, while also volunteering to help pre-college youth in her Oakland community around McClymonds High School, where she herself benefited from UC outreach programs.
"A lot of us go to different places and volunteer our time, different schools and community centers," she said Friday before meeting with fellow seniors to plan next Saturday's African American Studies graduation ceremony, a major annual event for families and members of the Cal black community.
"I want to be sure when I leave Cal that there will be students like me coming here."
The new admissions numbers follow a long decline since 1998, the first year that the Proposition 209 ban took full effect.
Underrepresented minorities at Berkeley fell to 11.2 percent of entering freshmen in 1998 from 24.3 percent just three years earlier, a plunge rivaled only by UCLA's in the nine-campus UC system.
Among all undergraduates at Cal, the number of African Americans has fallen from 1,543 in 1995 to 924 this school year, or 4.1 percent of the current nonforeign total.
The latest admission figures have fanned a growing sense of alarm among not just African American students, but the black community at large.
Several dozen Bay Area black leaders invited UC President Robert Dynes to a private Oakland home Tuesday night to express concern about the declining admissions, particularly at UC's flagship campus, Berkeley.
"President Dynes is concerned about the representation of African American students and wants to understand personally the factors affecting the declines we've seen," said UC spokesman Hanan Eisenman.
For the UC system as a whole, African Americans received 3.7 percent of admission offers in 1997 (1,435) compared with 3.1 percent this coming fall (1, 469).
But acceptance letters don't reflect the entire problem. Many highly qualified black students are choosing not to apply in the first place, said UC Berkeley's director of public affairs, George Strait.
Applicants to Berkeley from King Drew Magnet High School in Los Angeles, a source of many gifted black seniors, fell 45 percent this year, Strait said.
"Part of that is they're going to Harvard," he said. Their decisions are influenced by UC's rapidly rising fees, cuts in financial aid and the "perception problem" that they won't feel welcome at Cal.
UC Berkeley is going out of its way to try to raise the numbers of African Americans on campus and to make sure they feel supported after they arrive, he said.
Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who is retiring at the end of this school year, is "going to spend his final weeks with this as his No. 1 priority," Strait said. The campus is expected to officially announce this week, for example, that it will finally establish the long-promised student multicultural center this fall, Strait said.
When the new admissions figures were announced, Berdahl called them "flat- out unacceptable."
Dynes wants to address all the sources of the decline, including the factors causing similar declines at other universities, deficiencies in the public schools and laws that need remedying, Eisenman said.
It's not an issue just for minorities. A newly formed group of white male students also is raising the banner. A dozen members donned "White Male for Diversity" T-shirts Wednesday at a campus plaza.
"We wanted to show the campus that diversity is important to the whole student body," said senior Adam Balinger.
Senior Melissa Geddis, another planner of the African American Studies graduation, said the problem starts in poorly funded public schools.
"The issue is California has a poor education system," she said. "A lot of the schools where the income and property values are low don't get the resources they need."
These news clips are provided by the Public Affairs Department of The California State University. They are intended for the internal use of The California State University system and should not be redistributed. Questions and submissions may be sent to email@example.com.