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It was a bittersweet moment for Kendall Green as he took his place in the beehive that is UC San Diego last fall.
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He had earned himself a top 10 graduate school. And it was exciting to be on a campus where enrollment had grown to almost 39,000.
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But Green, a black sociology major, says, “I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me, even in large classes. This made me question whether UCSD cares about black students. If so, wouldn’t there be more of us?”
The issue is highly charged as UCSD prepares to begin its 60th year with the Black Lives Matter movement still in the headlines.
The campus had 1,092 black undergraduates and graduate students last year. They represent 2.8 percent of total enrollment, roughly 1 percentage point more than ten years ago. Hispanic/Latino enrollment increased by 6 percentage points. And with the biggest jump of all international students paying twice as much in tuition, 16 percentage points jumped to 23 percent.
Black students point to the numbers and say UCSD, touted as a cradle of diversity, has failed to deliver on its promise to greatly increase attendance and bring racial harmony to a campus that has had some ugly moments.
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The pledge was made after “Black Winter,” the name given to a series of racist incidents in 2010, including the Compton Cookout, a party led by an off-campus fraternity that mocked Black History Month. Students wore costumes that depicted and perpetuated racist stereotypes. The party invitation encouraged people to use offensive stereotypes.
Shortly after the cookout, a UCSD student media outlet issued a racial slur, a noose was discovered in Geisel Library, and a KKK hood was placed over a statue of Dr. Seuss.
His academic reputation survived. “I lead two research teams. What student does that?”’ said Siritha Nolan, a specialist in black psychology. “You can do it here!”
But current black students say they still have to deal with everything from simply feeling unwelcome and marginalized to struggling to find the help they need to thrive in a notoriously fast-paced and difficult academic environment at UCSD.
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“It can be difficult for a black student to find a study group that will be a positive learning environment where you can talk and understand your peers and not encounter unintentional bias or ignorant behavior,” said Darryl E. Brown II, black student in a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
In late May, days after the death of George Floyd, unknown intruders hacked into a Zoom conference call and hurled racial epithets at black students who were discussing race relations.
“I have relatives who have been called the N-word, probably ancestors who have been called that,” Nolan said. “I didn’t think I would get to a point where I would be called that out of hate and racism. It really gave me an intuitive connection to my story.”
“I just broke down,” Henry said. “I’m a student. What is it about me that makes you hate me so much that you would interrupt and desecrate a safe room like this?’
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Many turn to the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Black Resource Center (BRC) for comfort. They are favorite samples.
Last fall, UCSD had 1,409 tenured or tenured faculty, 39 of whom were black. That’s about 2.8 percent.
There were no black faculty in the Department of Physical Sciences or the Rady School of Management. UCSD’s 117-year-old Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the campus’ predecessor, recently hired its first black professor. The campus also recently appointed Cheryl Anderson as its first black dean. She directs the Wertheim School of Public Health.
Becky Pettit is trying to help improve those numbers as vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. She also serves as a healer in a difficult time.
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“UCSD is made up of people,” said Pettit, who is black. “It is made up of imperfect people. It is made up of an administration that is doing everything it can to do right by our constituents.
“UCSD leadership and administration, ‘those in charge’ of decision-making, lack awareness and true understanding of the biased and ‘racist’ policies that currently exist (when it comes to black and Hispanic hiring),” Trejo said , assistant deputy director. Rector for the Affairs of the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Trejo, who is Hispanic, said increasing faculty diversity “is not a priority” and that the “fear” of losing power and control by having “other” people at the table who are new and different” also appears to be a factor. .
The lack of minorities can make it difficult to recruit the best candidates. The problem was particularly evident two years ago when UCSD tried to attract a doctor to a radiology residency.
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UCSD officials say a black doctor who graduated from Harvard is among the top candidates. He visited the school and at the end of the day asked the appointment committee not to seek his services. The university says he was troubled by the lack of black people in leadership positions.
UCSD advertises itself as a progressive, welcoming, “we are the world” kind of place. And he doesn’t miss chances to polish his image.
In 2018, the school released a University of Southern California study that found UCSD doing well in serving black students. USC arrived at this decision in part by deciding that UCSD had a good ratio of black students to black faculty.
“I never had a black professor my freshman year,” said Adrian Dimali, a biology major who is president of the Black Student Union. “It matters. If you can’t see yourself in the university, how can the university serve you?’
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In July, UCSD received an equally harsh reality check from the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
In a new report, the group says UCSD and six other California universities are among the least accessible elite colleges and universities in the country when it comes to black and Latino students.
The study compared the percentage of black students at each school to the percentage of black 18- to 24-year-olds in California.
The study said 1.3 percent of UCSD students were black in 2017, nearly 5 percentage points below the average for college-aged students. UCSD was ranked lowest among the six UC schools.
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It’s possible UCSD will finish with low numbers this year as well. The campus offered admission to a record 22,658 freshmen this fall. But the percentage of offers to black students fell 1 percentage point to 3 percent of the total offer. The decline comes at a time when the number of applications from black students is increasing. (UC admission application numbers).
The Union of Black Students issued a list of demands to address these issues. The BSU wants, among other things:
Trejo said, “There are excellent (faculty) graduates, but they are not being hired for teaching positions.”
But it is widely recognized that a number of factors will make it difficult for UCSD to achieve these goals.
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There is a problem with the “pipeline”. Only 35 percent of California’s black high school graduates meet eligibility requirements for either the California State University system or the UCs. And only 3 percent of black students enroll in UCs.
Blacks also earn less than 6 percent of doctorates awarded nationally. Most permanent or permanent positions at UCSD require a Ph.D.
California voters will be asked on Nov. 3 to approve Proposition 16, which would, among other things, restore the right of the state’s colleges and universities to consider race, ethnicity and gender in admissions decisions. It would repeal Proposition 209, which voters passed in 1996 to prevent state agencies from using so-called affirmative action.
The Corona pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown is also slowing faculty hiring at schools like UCSD, which just lost one of its star professors, black bioengineer Todd Coleman, to Stanford.
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“We’re very aware that if minority applicants don’t see enough people like themselves, it can be very difficult to hire them,” said Al Pisano, dean of UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering.
“I think there’s a lot of racism in California in general,” said Richards, who was a student at UCSD at the time of the Compton Cookout incident and is now working on a doctorate in civil engineering.
“People kept it behind closed doors. Now it’s in your face. There’s so much hate.”
UCSD is well aware of this concern and last week presented the Chancellor’s 21-Day Anti-Racism Challenge, a series of webinars on race. It was presented during one of the quietest times of the year at UCSD.
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“The history of anti-Blackness on this campus and the current toxic racial climate will not go away with the implementation of a 21-day anti-racism challenge, but with a genuine commitment to acknowledge the voices, concerns and demands of the Black community at UCSD,” the statement said of BSU.
There is a deep sense among black students that the university does little more than signal their concerns.
“They shout expressions to sound like they don’t care – sort of