There are times when a message can transcend it’s intended audience. Though inspired by specific events and designed to evoke a response from a targeted audience, a well crafted message has the ability to allow seemingly disparate communities to find common ground and unite behind a shared cause. On November 4th such a message was delivered by a group of UCLA students known as The Black Bruins.
A spoken word piece that was performed by third year UCLA student Sy Stokes and published via youtube, the self titled “Black Bruins” not only highlights the lack of African American representation in the UCLA student body but fundamentally challenges the reputation of UCLA as a diverse institution. An impassioned presentation of a variety of UCLA admissions, graduation, financial aid and university administrative spending statistics, Stokes makes what was by far the most buzzworthy revelation when he explains that UCLA has more NCAA national championships (109) than black male freshman (48). It is from this damning statistic that Stokes goes on to assert that the make up UCLA’s student body is both reflective of the of the value that the institution places on black students, and detrimental in shaping the priorities and aspirations of future generations of black male students.
Though it is clear that the Black Bruins message was intended for the immediate UCLA community (administrators, faculty, students etc), the words of Sy Stokes and the Black Bruins have struck a cord with individuals far beyond the grassy knolls of the UCLA campus. Since the initial release of the “Black Bruins” video, hundreds of thousands of individuals have viewed the video on youtube. From this large group of viewers, a smaller subset have gone on to sign an accompanying change.org petition urging UCLA to adopt new diversity initiatives. Extending beyond digital activism, the message of the Black Bruins has been covered by numerous news agencies and has become the catalyst for renewed national debate surrounding the state of higher education admission practices and the social ramifications said practices hold not only for particular minority communities but for the quality of education for all Americans.
While only time will tell if the Black Bruins’ message will have a lasting impact on UCLA as an institution, there is no doubt that the “Black Bruins” is already a socially significant media object. More than simply challenging specific policies of UCLA, the “Black Bruins” elucidates the misleading qualities of the institution’s communication narrative and brand. Though the lack of black students may be something that is felt by the members of the student body on a daily basis, there is certainly no shortage of black representation across the UCLA website and literature. This is not to say that UCLA should not showcase the black students they have, but as Sy Stokes so eloquently explains, “this school is not diverse just because you put it on a pamphlet.” The fact that the “Black Bruins” acts as both a local call to action as well as a digital artifact means that one does not have to be physically on campus to understand there is a disconnect between the UCLA message and the UCLA reality when it comes to diversity.