UC president says schools nationwide must confront systemic racism

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MU students protest inside Jesse Hall after report of racism. Photo: KOMUnews via Flickr

Protests at the University of Missouri and the resulting resignation of the school’s president have brought national attention to race relations at colleges and universities across the country.

The students demanded, among other things, the school increase the amount of black faculty by 10 percent and compose a 10-year plan to increase retention rates for marginalized students.    

But the events in Missouri are just one example of student unrest connected to the issue as of late.

In California, Claremont McKenna College’s dean also resigned following student protests and hunger strikes over concerns the school wasn’t supporting its minority groups.

Students at Los Angeles’ Occidental College also staged a sit-in this week and issued a list of demands to be met by Friday, including the creation of a black studies major, increased funding for minority student groups and diversity training for faculty and staff.       

Blacks are as underrepresented at the University of California as they are in other college systems across the country. The group made up 7.5 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in universities nationwide in 2014, according to census data.

This year’s UC freshman class is comprised of 36 percent Asian-American, 30 percent Latino, 25 percent Caucasian and only 4 percent African American, UC President Janet Napolitano said on “Which Way L.A.?”   

“The number 4 percent is quite frankly one that should trouble us all and we’re working very hard to increase the number of African American students who apply to the university and when accepted actually enroll at the university,” Napolitano said.    

The university president filed an amicus brief in a case seeking to challenge the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Napolitano argues a blind admissions process fails to fill colleges with diverse student bodies.

Students at UC Riverside echoed that sentiment and others beleaguering minorities, the frustration manifesting into the “Million Student March” last week.

“I think that university leaders around the country do need to address it,” Napolitano said. “Acknowledge the problems that exist, confront them. We are universities, experiment with different approaches to solving them and listen to our students and our faculty and those who are from underrepresented minorities.”  

Some fear the number of black students enrolled in college isn’t proportional to the population in the country, but Napolitano argues that’s the wrong denominator. What needs to be looked at are the percentages of graduating high school seniors, she said.

Though that number is still low among black students, the gap is decreasing.

“Our goal is by increasing enrollment to increase access for all Californians,” Napolitano said. “And there are talented kids throughout the state who really should have the opportunity to attend what is commonly regarded as the best public university in the world.”