Pro/Con: Does the UCLA Black Bruins Viral Video Have Merit?

Pro: Sy Stokes points to obvious problems at UCLA

By Frankie Bernard, Gavel Media Staff

Picture yourself in Gasson 202. Gasson 202 is a small classroom that holds a maximum of 48 students. If you took the number of African American freshmen from the student body of UCLA and put them into Gasson 202, the room would be filled to capacity. This is the reality of how few African Americans are freshmen at UCLA.

Sy Stokes and company saw this issue and decided to do something about it. They made a video with Stokes reciting a piece titled “Black Bruin” speaking to the injustice of the administration at UCLA for accepting such a low number of African Americans into the institution, of which 65% are athletes. The biggest slap-to-the-face was when Stokes mentioned how UCLA has more NCAA championships than black freshmen.

While it may seem UCLA is to blame, the state of California should be blamed as well. California passed Proposition 209 in 1996, prohibiting public institutions from considering race, ethnicity and sex in their admissions process. As a result, the enrollment of African American students decreased immensely. According to an article from NPR, in 2006, out of class of 5,000 freshmen, only 96 were African American.

 I am no admissions counselor, so I am no expert in the handling of admissions nor am I an expert in what determines the acceptance of a student to an institution, but from my experience a Latino, race and ethnicity do play a role in determining admittance to an institution like Boston College. Is that fair? While it may not seem so on paper, allow me to vent for a moment.

The majority of students who attend Boston College are white. That is a fact and there is no debate on why that is. Yet, there is a debate as to the acceptance of Asian, African American, and Latinos into an institution that is designed to educate for employment. Affirmative action isn’t an action that means a person of color is taking a white student's spot in a university. It is an action that is in place to serve those who tend to suffer from discrimination and unfortunately, those that are underprivileged. People of color have had to deal with discrimination all of their lives.

That doesn’t mean it is just racial discrimination. There is wealth discrimination; for instance, a person doesn’t have the financial ability to pay for an institution like Boston College. There is educational discrimination, such as minorities having to endure a flawed public school system and therefore suffer in the classroom because they can neither afford a private school nor are they educated properly like those in a private school.

Unfortunately for us, affirmative action has been misconstrued, just like we, the student body, have misconstrued the AHANA acronym. It is in place to offer those with less privelige a level-playing field in admission.

No applicant is the same, but many applicants are at a huge disadvantage, and it’s unfortunate that it has to be people of color who are at a disadvantage.

Imagine Boston College with no Office of Institutional Diversity and no affirmative action. Do you think the student population would be as diverse as it is?

This is problem at every institution and it can be solved in many ways. Improve our public education system to be equal to a private education system. How is it fair that a student who can’t afford to pay $30,000 a year for a private school has to be in a public high school that doesn’t offer the same rigorous education or reputation? That’s where the main problem lies. Until there is equality in education, you can’t expect there to be a level-playing field in admissions, thus affirmative action is necessary.

I am proud to be an Eagle and I am proud to attend this university because it does its best to make it as diverse as it can. No university is perfect. But there are many, like Stokes and the 48 black freshmen at UCLA who feel like loners in every sense at college.

When their entire African American student population can fit into a classroom at Boston College, you know there is a problem. Where there is a problem, there needs to be a solution.


Con: Viral Video Falsely Accuses UCLA of Institutionalized Racism

By Kenny St. John, Opinions Editor

While in general I do admire student activism on campus, I disagree with most of the points that Sy Stokes made in his spoken word poem entitled “The Black Bruins.” Throughout the video, Stokes distorts the truth and selectively cherry-picks statistics that do not show the whole picture. His message is misguided, and seems muddled and contradictory at times. Overall, the video has an aggressive, militant tone that undermines its credibility and gets in the way of a constructive dialogue about actual problems at hand.

The video begins with the text, “John Huggins and Bunchy Carter, UCLA students and members of the Black Panther Party, were assassinated inside Campbell Hall on January 17, 1969.” Now, to begin, the Black Panther Party was a militant group that engaged in violent activities. Bunchy Carter in particular was part of a street gang and was convicted of armed robbery. But the killings were not a racist hate crime, nor were the men innocent victims as Stokes implies: they were killed in a gun battle between the Black Panther Party and Organization US, another black militant group, stemming from a dispute over who should chair the Afro-American Center at UCLA. I don’t think that falsely representing this fact, or even bringing up the incident was a good way to begin, as it links Stokes and his message with what was a violent organization.

The poem itself begins by citing some statistics: in the Fall of 2012, the total graduate and undergraduate enrollment of African-American males at UCLA was 660 students. This is 3.3% of all male students, who number 19,838. Out of the 2,418 males in the most recent freshman class, only 48 are black. The African-American male graduation rate is 74%, which means that only 35 out of those 48 black males are projected to graduate.

Fair enough, but as with all statistics, they need to be put into context. How many black males apply to UCLA? What percentage is accepted, and how many of that percentage actually enroll? How many students, like Stokes, are multiracial but part-black, and thus may identify with another race? To clarify, Stokes is also Cherokee and Chinese. What is UCLA’s male graduation rate? And what about African-American females? Stokes never answers these questions.

But on UCLA’s admissions website, we can find some answers. Some of the demographics of the undergraduate student body include: 3.8% African-American. 28% white. 35% Asian/Pacific Islander. 12% international. 18% Hispanic. .6% Native American. This is clearly a diverse campus. And diversity is something that UCLA prides itself on, as according to the most recent profile, 79% of students reported that they had discussed diversity with their peers outside of class. I will say this however: UCLA is clearly more diverse than Boston College, although BC is more diverse than my predominately white, middle class public high school on Long Island.

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As for graduation rates, the 6 year graduation rate for all males at UCLA is 87%. This means that the difference between the graduation rates between black males and the rest of the male student body is nearly the same as the difference between men and women enrolled at the university (43% and 57%, respectively). These are clear disparities and a legitimate concern, but Stokes offers no solutions apart from affirmative action, a flawed and, in California, illegal policy which would only help with acceptance rates, not retention.

Stokes then goes on to equate the small African-American presence at UCLA to using brown or black colors to write words on a white background. But by looking at the diversity of the campus, this analogy is incorrect, as the “background” is not white, but of all different colors. Stokes goes further with this flawed analogy, stating that if African-Americans are only good for being “words,” UCLA should not silence them when they choose to speak.

I have serious issues with his accusations of racism on the part of UCLA. As stated earlier, there is a dedicated center at UCLA for African-American studies. This is an interdepartmental program that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, so it is a stretch at best to claim that the school is racist against black students. Also, UCLA has received a green light rating from F.I.R.E. (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) for free speech policy, so I am unsure as to how UCLA has infringed upon their First Amendment rights.

I will concede that Stokes makes a valid point about the Management School dean spending an exorbitant amount of money on first class flights and hotels while students drop out due to lack of financial aid. This is a problem that many students (55%) at UCLA face in the face of rising tuition rates and growing income inequality. In addition, the dean’s lavish spending is something that the school should investigate, especially since it is a public institution partially funded by taxpayers.

But then, Stokes tries to compare his situation to Rosa Parks, an outlandish, frivolous statement that diminishes the struggles of blatant, de jure oppression and discrimination Rosa Parks and other African-Americans experienced before the Civil Rights era. There is no comparison to be made between getting pulled off a public bus for sitting in the front and being thrown in jail, and being a student at a school that has less members of his own race than he would like to see.

At the end of the poem, Stokes asks not for a handout, but for a “level playing field.” A level playing field is something that all Americans should strive for, but affirmative action is not the way to achieve this. Affirmative action by its very nature is discriminatory, and in my view violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. By condemning UCLA for naming a building after Albert Carnesale for publicly opposing affirmative action, Stokes is essentially condoning the policy, and contradicts himself.

The constant refrain throughout the video is Stokes rhetorically asking himself, “how am I supposed to be proud to call myself a Bruin?” That is indeed something to be proud of. Last year, UCLA was the world’s most applied to university, and has a 22% acceptance rate. It’s a hard school for a kid of any race to get into. It is considered a Public Ivy, has distinguished faculty, and is at the forefront of research. Sure, all schools have their problems, but Stokes applied, was accepted and decided to enroll at UCLA for at least a few of the reasons I mentioned above.

Ultimately, Stokes’s few legitimate complaints are overshadowed by contradictions and inflammatory rhetoric, analogies and imagery. Just because there are not many African-American students at UCLA does not prove that the school is actually racist. His message of exclusivity serves to alienate those who might otherwise be sympathetic to his valid concerns about financial aid and lavish spending by the Administration. I agree with Frankie's suggestion that there should be more funding for public schools to level the playing field, as this is something that would help people of all races, not just those who are black. Affirmative action simply sidesteps the root problems of poverty and subpar education during childhood.

At no point does Stokes make a reasonable suggestion to increase black enrollment, such as the ones I mentioned above, or a campaign to encourage black students to apply via visiting high schools and attending college fairs. This makes me wonder what Stokes’s motivations were for making this video: to effect meaningful change, or to become famous with a viral video on Youtube?

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School, major and year:A&S, Communications and Sociology, Class of 2015
Hometown Bronx, New York
Favorite Beyonce lyric: "Surfbort. Surfbort. Surfbort."