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Advocate for Access


Published Aug 16, 2011 3:44 PM


Photo courtesy of UCLA Media Relations and Public Outreach

Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, is a champion of diversity. In 2006, when UCLA faced severely declining numbers in admission of African American students, he was a key player in efforts to adopt a holistic admissions process. The policy was implemented and the next year, African American enrollment doubled. For those efforts, among others, Hunt received this year's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award from the Academic Senate. Hunt also conducts research on diversity, or the lack of it, in the television and film industry.

Senior writer Mary Daily talked with him about diversity on campus and in Hollywood.

What is the current status of the admissions issue?

UCLA has in place a solid admissions policy — the best we can have, given the constraints of the law. Absent a return to affirmative action, and given the incredible competition we face, I don't see a wholesale change in the numbers of underrepresented groups here in the future. We already have the highest yield rate of any campus in the UC system for African American students. The students we're admitting through holistic review do really well and go out and make important contributions to their communities.

Why did you support the change to holistic admissions?

The Bunche Center received a grant to study the crisis affecting African American students. African Americans tend to be the first people affected, so [we knew that] UCLA's admissions process could unfairly impact other students as well. We studied other top-tier institutions, public and private. Once we understood holistic review and looked at the literature by education scholars on questions of merit and access, it made a lot more sense than what UCLA was doing.

In California major inequities in high schooling exist between the resources that underrepresented students typically have access to and what majority students have. Yet studies have shown that minority students coming in from affirmative action programs often have given more back to society, to their communities than those who were supposedly more prepared.

Holistic policy emphasizes rank within your high school. How well did you take advantage of every opportunity there? How did you compare to your peers? If you were at the very top in your high school environment, we're going to look at you much more closely. That gives students from many different communities a fair shot.

What about the current state of diversity in Hollywood?

It's not very diverse. There are real barriers to entry for writers, producers and directors of color. There hasn't been much progress made over the last few decades. The numbers are pretty stagnant, while America becomes more and more diverse. This disconnect is about more than jobs. It's about the image we get of who we are and who we aren't and what that means for how we relate to each other across racial lines. Sometimes it's easier as an actor to get on the screen but to be a writer, director — those jobs are really hard to come by for people of color.

I did the last three Hollywood writers reports for the Writers Guild — a definitive study of employment and earnings for writers of color, women and older writers. The numbers don't change much. Writers of color represent about 35 percent of the U.S. population and only about 10 percent of the writers in television and only about 5 percent in films. About 25 percent of the writers in television are women, and of course women make up more than half the population. The same is true of older writers, although it's not nearly as pronounced.

You don't see it improving?

No. With increasing consolidation of the industry, four or five media conglomerates own everything. The points of entry have diminished, and it becomes increasingly difficult for those people who haven't had a foot in the door. The market — the way it's organized — seems to be eliminating opportunities.