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UCLA

The Faces of Change

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By Jack Feuer, Photos by David Black

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM


In 2006, fewer than 100 African-American freshman chose to enroll at UCLA. The entire university community came together to meet this challenge and, as a result, African-American freshman enrollment has doubled. Today, the first students to benefit from these efforts are about to graduate. They are appreciative of all that's been done for them — and even more determined to pass the legacy on to those who follow.

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Jared Richmond makes sure to smile at every African-American Bruin he meets on campus.

Jasmine Hill '11 was accepted to UCLA in 2006, but Westwood wasn't high on her list of choices. Then the young scholar was invited to campus for a weekend hosted by the UCLA Afrikan Student Union and the UCLA Black Alumni Association (UBAA), and everything changed.

"Those students told us what UCLA was about," says Hill, now the president of the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), "the rich legacy of people of color on this campus, and the impact they've made through their activism and their scholarship. They [challenged] us not to just come and be students, but to be leaders. ... The great thing about UCLA is that it allowed me to be who I am and craft out what kind of leader I want to be. Who would have thought that I would eventually become student body president?"

One of Hill's constituents, Dennis Denman '11, had decided to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta after graduation in 2007, the nation's only all-male historically black university. In fact, he already had a plane ticket when he came to Westwood for an event. "I was just going to be nosy and it was a free meal," he says with a laugh. "But I met some of the alumni, saw some other classmates, and they all said, 'We know Morehouse is a great school, but come to UCLA — we'll take care of you.'"

When Denman struggled after coming to campus and sought help from the nation's premier student retention program, UCLA's Academic Advancement Program, or AAP, "peer support got me through." Now the sociology major intends to go into higher education after he graduates, "because of my UCLA experience. I want to do my part to help another underrepresented student's experience be as good as mine."

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Jasmine Hill on Bruin Walk, talking to Afrikan Student Union President Kenyada McLean.

These are just two of what now totals almost 1,000 African-American undergraduates, all of whom chose to attend UCLA since 2006. What changed? An extraordinary commitment by the university at all levels to find solutions, and an enthusiastic, broad and deep partnership between faculty, administrators, students, alumni and friends to encourage the best and brightest underrepresented students to enroll at UCLA.

"The last five years have been a phenomenal set of opportunities for the university and for our engagement with different communities, both internal and external," says Janina Montero, UCLA vice chancellor of student affairs. "It has enabled us to have a difficult and complicated set of conversations that, however, have brought a lot of people to the table. This is very important for the sense of belonging of African-American students, for the connection between students, for community-based organizations, and for the university."

A Tradition Endangered

Throughout most of the 20th century, most of the African Americans living in California lived in Los Angeles. And if you asked most black high school kids in Los Angeles where they wanted to go to college, most would probably say UCLA, or at least put it at the top of their list.

Westwood, after all, is where Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ralph Bunche '27 went to school. As did Congressman Augustus Hawkins '31. Former Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley '41. And a host of other African- American leaders, thinkers, scientists and scholars who chose what the UBAA notes "has frequently been called 'our University of California.'"

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