In my two years at UCR, I have seen many changes. I have changed from being a freshman at a new setting to a confident and empowered junior who knows that UCR is where I was meant to be. I have developed friendships and bonds with wonderful people that I believe will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, I have also had to witness a couple of friends who don’t attend UCR anymore due to financial issues or academic ineligibility. Despite all these changes, one thing continues to stay constant: the extremely small black population on UCR’s campus.
UCR is praised as one of the most “diverse and inclusive” universities in the country and emphasizes their unique campus climate at every opportunity that they get. After being here for two years, I can honestly admit that this “diversity” is not all that it’s made out to be. In a campus of about 22,000 students, you definitely stick out as a black student. One thing I tell all prospective black freshmen is “I hope you aren’t shy because you will be stared at on campus.” In the 2015-2016 school year, 4.5 percent of UCR students identified as black or African-American which means that there are less than 1,000 black students on a campus of nearly 22,000. We are all UCR students, but there are differences in a black student’s experience.
In regards to my personal experiences of being a black student at UCR, I will share a story. During my first year on campus, I lost count of how many people assumed that I was a transfer student before giving me the time to tell them I was a first-year freshman. Now while many people haven’t lived my experience, some will be quick to judge and tell me that all those people just assumed I was a transfer because I looked older. Personally, I believe that they were indirectly saying that they didn’t expect a “black person” to be able to get into a UC straight out of high school. As if that concept was so foreign to their minds, that when they were actually presented with somebody who defied their stereotype of a “black person,” they froze. I saw confusion and disbelief on several faces when I elaborated on my first-year status. Now mind you, this wasn’t an isolated event because I talked to fellow black friends of mine throughout my first year and they experienced the same thing. It’s ironic how some students of a diverse institution could have such low standards for black people.
The irony of UCR’s “diversity” claim is that they always are increasing the number of students on campus, like recruiting a lot of international students, while simultaneously ignoring students that live in California. An example of this is a plan created by Chancellor Kim Wilcox called “UCR 2020.” The premise of this plan is to increase UCR’s student population to 25,000 students by 2020. What I am interested to know is within this plan are there efforts that emphasize recruitment of black students from the local Inland Empire areas, or in a greater degree in the state of California? Additionally, I am interested in learning why the California black population is 6.5 percent while UCR’s black student population is 4.5 percent because in the UC diversity statement it says that the UC institutions are supposed to serve “ the interests of the state of California” and “… remove barriers to recruitment, retention and advancement of talented students, faculty, and staff from historically excluded populations.”
Increasing the number of black students should be essential in the plan because although UCR has one of the largest amounts of black students on a UC campus, our numbers are still miniscule in regards to other ethnic groups on UCR’s campus. Essentially, having more black students on campus is important because there are more diverse perspectives that non-black students can acquire.
I am a black man. I am a Highlander. I matter. Furthermore, I will continue to be a loud and proud black Highlander that always makes his presence felt and his knowledge known. As black students on campus, we are not the stereotypes people label us with and we are not the statistics that say we aren’t supposed to be in college. We are black students defying all odds on a daily basis at UCR. Through my eyes, that is something that we should all be proud of and never take for granted.