UCLA goes all out to entice black students

Times Staff Writer

UCLA recently admitted 392 African American students for next fall’s freshman class, and black alumni, students and community leaders celebrated at the news. Norman Abrams, UCLA’s acting chancellor, called the numbers “heartening.”

But a big question remains: Of the students admitted, who will actually enroll?

In 2006, only 96 of the 249 black students admitted said yes to UCLA, a campus which, some black students say, can be an isolating place for an African American. Although their numbers had risen slightly by fall, blacks made up about 2% of a freshman class of about 4,800 students. It was the lowest figure in decades.


Hoping to reverse the trend, current black students, alumni and others spent the weekend wooing high school seniors with scholarship offers, campus tours and overnight visits.

“We love seeing beautiful brown faces on campus,” junior Princess Fortier enthusiastically told the group of about 100 students at a barbecue Friday near the dorms.

UCLA officials have been careful to note that they must abide by Proposition 209, the voter-approved statewide initiative that banned the use of race in university admissions. But black students and alumni, acting as individuals, have made boosting their numbers on campus a priority.

Fortier and other students who hosted the high school students are part of the African Student Union, a campus organization that has spent two months meeting with university officials, alumni and community groups to beef up the activities designed to woo admitted students.

The event, called “Admit Weekend: Black by Popular Demand,” usually draws 40 students. This year about 150 to 200 students registered for activities Friday, and on Saturday about 300 students and parents attended a new event, a dinner on campus.

The dinner was moved from Tom Bradley Hall to a larger ballroom in the Ackerman Student Union, which was decorated with blue and gold balloons and where jazz could be heard in the background. The names and hometowns of the would-be freshmen were projected on a screen. A tour of Westwood was planned for Saturday night.

This year, members the African Student Union hustled to raise -- along with donations from black alumni and grants -- thousands of dollars to fly about 50 students to campus for tours. Group members talked Southwest Airlines into donating about 30 tickets. About 10 student union members were up before dawn Friday to drive as far as Rialto to pick up high school seniors and shuttle them to campus.

“We needed to pull out all the stops,” said senior Doug Johnson, chairman of the African Student Union. “We are really trying to make a push to get around 300 students” to enroll.

On Friday the high school students were welcomed into the “UCLA family,” attended lectures by professors in their desired fields and were given a campus tour that highlighted famous black alumni, among them former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Some students were impressed.

“I’m going to go here,” said Lynwood High School senior Chanel Beasley, who made up her mind within a few hours of Friday’s events.

Other students remained undecided.

“I’m not sure I want to come here yet,” said Camille Lafayette, who attends Piedmont High School near Oakland. “My biggest fear is that it would be too big for me.”

Many of the students said they would not decide until they made similar visits this week to UC Berkeley.

The low number of African Americans on campus was a turnoff to some. It was a concern to Hascal Humes, who attended the Saturday dinner with his wife, Roxan, and their son, Hascal Jr., one of the admitted students.

“I’ve been frustrated by the small number of black students here,” said Humes. “I think 2% is just egregious.” He and his wife are UCLA alumni.

But several students said the small numbers of blacks on campus did not affect their interest in UCLA. They were used to it.

“There’s only eight black people in my grade,” said Jade Watkins, who attends a private school in North Hollywood. “That’s not as big as deal to me.”

For others, parents’ opinions and financial aid were also factors.

Christina McIntosh, a senior at San Gorgonio High School, said she has wanted to attend UCLA since she toured the campus in third grade. But she hasn’t declared yet.

“My parents wanted to see the tour first,” said McIntosh, 17, adding that she may just go “where the money’s at.”

All 392 admitted students were offered grants of at least $1,000 by a scholarship fund headed by Los Angeles businessman Peter J. Taylor and leaders of UCLA’s Black Alumni Assn. Additional awards will be based on need and academic merit. “I didn’t even apply for it,” McIntosh said. “It just came in the mail.”

The deadline to accept admission offers is May 1, and many students said they would take into account the events of Friday and Saturday.

“I think they’ve shown us today that there is a support system for us and they have resources for us,” said senior Courtney Porter, who attends King Drew Medical Magnet.

Porter was accepted at 14 schools, including the University of Virginia and UC Berkeley. UCLA is promising, “but I don’t know.... It’s a hard decision,” Porter said.