Bruin Alumni Association
UCLA in Black and White:
Radicalism in the African-American Studies Department

Chapter 1 - Joining the Multi-Cult

Chapter 2 - More of the Same (Radicalism)

Chapter 3 - This Is Academics?

Chapter 4 - A Shallow Academic Pool

Chapter 5 - The Dynamic Duo

UCLA in Black and White
Radicalism in the African-American Studies Department

Chapter 3
This Is Academics?

    African American Studies 118, which is cross-listed with American Indian, Asian American, and Chicano Studies, is a prime example of the peculiarly UCLA propensity toward navel-gazing.  The class, “Issues in Student-Initiated Retention and Outreach: Student-Initiated Retention and Social Change in Los Angeles,”[1] runs in the same vein as Asian-American or Chicano Studies classes that chart the history of their race’s militant ethnic organizations from the 1960s to present.  But the “Issues” class is even worse, because there’s not even a separation of 30 years to provide perspective.  The class description admits that the “focus [is] on UCLA as a case.”  What it doesn’t admit is that like many other multi-cultural classes, the philosophy, learning, and outcome is centered on conducting radical activism for credit. 

    As the website explains, “For the past fifteen years, the Campus Retention Committee (CRC) has provided a vehicle for the organized participation of students in their own retention and successful matriculation. The Student-Initiated Outreach Committee (SIOC) has similarly focused student efforts on the development of student-run outreach programs for K-12 students, particularly those from underrepresented, disadvantaged communities. The CRC and SIOC represent the most elaborate expressions of student-initiated retention and outreach activity in the country. Collectively, they support, fund, and evaluate 12 student-initiated retention and outreach projects employing more than 60 student staff and over 100 student volunteers in service of nearly 2000 of their fellow undergraduates and 1500 K-12 students annually. The CRC and SIOC provide a broad, creative range of services, uniquely harnessing the collective experiences, energies, and aspirations of students to improve the quality of life and education at UCLA and in the community.”  The website further notes that “The CRC has acknowledged the impact of social change theory and practice on its own retention methodology. Students will have the opportunity to consider whether the CRC has made a reciprocal contribution through its alumni and former students.”[2]

    Translation: through the use of all students’ mandatory undergraduate student government fees, minority students on campus have built a recruitment and retention machine on campus that offers special outreach to prospective students, and members-only tutoring and other support services to current students.  Well, that is, if you’re a minority student.  If you’re a middle-class black student, even upper-class, the CRC and SIOC machines will seek you out, offer you priority enrollment, proprietary tutoring, and full-time employees whose only task is aiding your academic efforts at UCLA.  But if you’re an Iranian émigré, or the poorest of white trailer-park trash, the CRC and SIOC’s doors, and their noble goals of “social change,” are closed to you.  As with the issue of diversity, minorities are UCLA’s Chosen People.  If you’re not one, you are a nobody, an un-person.

    This entire UCLA class revolves around the idea that such a deeply corrupt system of preferential treatment is in fact deeply right, and deeply just.  Rather unnecessarily – given the almost exclusive enrollment of committed student radicals – the syllabus warns that the class will not “tolerate racist, sexist, homophobic or other discriminatory, rude, insensitive or personal remarks.”  That is, of course, unless the rude remarks come from class readings like bell hooks’ “Let Freedom Ring,” from “Why LA Happened: Implications of the ’92 Los Angeles Rebellion.”  This is one of two class readings which refer coyly to the 1992 Los Angeles riots as a “rebellion.”  A third selection, from UCLA Professor Paul Von Blum, lauds “Resistance Art in Los Angeles.”[3]

    The syllabus also assigns “Economic Justice in the Los Angeles Figueroa Corridor,” and “Fighting for a Living Wage in Santa Monica,” both from the radical UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education title, “Teaching for Change.”  It is made clear through the syllabus’ reading assignments and general outline of topics that, for this class and its leaders, teaching is not a dispassionate calling.  Instead, “Education is Change” (bell hooks), “Education is Politics,” and teachers are to pursue “social change,” “equality, self-determination, [and] community empowerment.”[4]

    In this spirit of teaching change, students are assigned to complete ten hours of fieldwork “with a local community-based organization that includes 1) volunteering/site visits/workshops and 2) informational interviews with key staff members.”  Based on the backgrounds of class participants, and on the radical political philosophy underlying the very premise of the class, it’s safe to assume that the fieldwork isn’t with the Westwood Rotary Club, or the Los Angeles-based libertarian Reason Magazine.

    Rather, count on it being with the type of community organizations known as labor unions.  To make this preference crystal-clear, the course website features an informational link about “Organize to Improve,” a February 24, 2005 gathering held by the UCLA Labor Center in downtown Los Angeles.[5]  The event featured UC Berkeley professor Steven Pitts discussing the “security officers campaign, the electrical workers’ push to bring African Americans into the trade, and homecare workers’ struggle to maintain dignity for workers.”  Macias’ deception in mandating work with “community organizations” when that category is essentially confined to labor unions and radical organizations, is characteristic of the deception behind the class itself: turning legitimate academics into liberal activism.



[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.