For many minorities, UC Riverside is the campus of choice
It offers race-based programs to assist them on campus. The school
celebrates its diversity, but some critics charge that the UC system
funnels minority students to that campus over others.
By Richard C. Paddock
Times Staff Writer
January 15, 2007
When it was time for Woodrow Curry to decide where to go to university,
he had several choices. An African American with good high school grades
and test scores, he was accepted by UC Berkeley, among other schools.
But Berkeley is not where he ended up. Spurning one of the nation's
premier public universities, he picked UC Riverside. Although Riverside
is sometimes scorned as the lowliest of UC campuses, it offered Curry
something that Berkeley did not: a place where he felt welcome.
"I liked the atmosphere," said Curry, 22, who plans to go to law school
after he graduates next year. "I liked the black community on campus. I
knew that UC Riverside had the most African American students of any UC
and that they had a lot of programs geared toward helping African
UC Riverside, sometimes viewed as a dumping ground for students who
can't get into other UC campuses, has become the university of choice
for many black and Latino students, whose numbers remain
disproportionately low at other UC campuses.
While campuses like UCLA and UC Berkeley struggle to attract students
from underrepresented minority groups, UC Riverside increasingly enjoys
a reputation as one of the most ethnically diverse research universities
in the nation.
"Maybe they should be looking at what UCR is doing right in attracting
minorities," said Jayna Brown, an assistant professor of ethnic studies
Since 1996, state law has forbidden using race in college admissions.
But at Riverside, administrators say they have worked hard over the last
decade to reach out to eligible minority applicants, giving financial
aid packages to promising students such as Curry, and creating
race-based programs to assist minority students once they enroll.
UC Riverside Chancellor France A. Cordova, hailed as the first Latina
chancellor in the UC system, notes that more than half the students say
Riverside was their first or second choice.
"We are not UC rejects," says Samantha Wilson, 19, a white student who
chose Riverside because of its diversity. "We are UC on the rise."
On the campus of 17,000 students, the university's success in achieving
a diverse student body is obvious. At midday, the Commons is filled with
young people of many ethnic backgrounds, some sitting in mixed groups,
some with others of the same heritage.
Nearby are offices set up by the university to serve targeted groups.
There are places for black students, Chicano students, Asian Pacific
students, Native American students. There is a Lesbian Gay Bisexual
Transgender Resource Center and a Women's Resource Center. Similar
programs exist at many colleges, but the effect is palpable.
"It's the face of California," said Ellen Wartella, UC Riverside
executive vice chancellor and provost. "It's not the campus of last
resort. It's the place that minority students feel comfortable coming to
because we are diverse."
This year, the UC Riverside undergraduate student body is 7.1% African
American, 43% Asian American, 25.1% Latino and Chicano, and 18.7%
In 2005 - the last year for which system-wide figures are available -
UC student bodies overall were 3.1% African American, 39.9% Asian
American, 14.3% Latino and Chicano, and 35.8% white.
Riverside has the highest percentage of African Americans of any of the
10 UC campuses and the highest percentage of Latinos of any UC campus
except the small, new Merced campus, which has slightly more.
By law, UC guarantees a spot for every California high school student
who graduates in the top 12.5% statewide.
But there has long been a pecking order among the campuses, with
Berkeley and UCLA at the top and Riverside near the bottom.
Berkeley and UCLA typically draw students from the top 3% of the
state's high school graduates, a pool that is more white and Asian
American than California's population as a whole. Riverside draws a more
diversified student body, but accepts nearly every eligible student who
Some critics accuse the UC system of racial bias in its admission
policies and charge that it funnels minority students to Riverside. Some
question why other UC campuses don't look more like Riverside.
"It's separate, but certainly not equal," said Darnell Hunt, a
professor of sociology and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for
African American Studies at UCLA. "It's the resegregation of the UC
UC officials deny that minority students are intentionally steered to
any particular campus. The problem starts much earlier, they say, with
unequal educational opportunities in California's public schools.
"I want to be careful not to blame the high schools, but not every
student has the same access to high-quality education," said Susan
Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the UC system.
Among California high school graduates, Wilbur notes, 31% of Asian
Americans are eligible for UC, while African American and Latino
students have an eligibility rate of 6%. White students fall in the
middle, with an eligibility rate of 16.2%.
Moreover, competition for Berkeley and UCLA is great. Last year UCLA
received more applications than any other university in the country.
One advantage Riverside has in attracting underrepresented minorities
is that it draws many of its applicants from the Riverside area, which
has a large black and Latino population.
The university reaches out to the community, dispatching students and
alumni to high school campuses and local groups. "We make recruiters out
of our students," says Alfredo Figueroa, assistant dean of students.
The university also runs summer programs to give high school students a
chance to experience life on campus.
With many students arriving unprepared for university-level math or
English, even though they are UC-eligible, Riverside provides remedial
courses - which it calls "bridge classes" - for more than 30% of
Such programs can be found at most public and private universities, but
UC Riverside is building on its reputation for diversity. It's the
inverse of what's happening elsewhere. Since news of UCLA's small
incoming black freshman class became public last summer - about 100 were
admitted - some black community leaders and high school students have
questioned whether African Americans should apply to the Westwood
But Riverside was a good fit for Daniel Polk, 21, a third-year Latino
student from Moreno Valley who was accepted at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC
Santa Barbara. He is happy with his choice. He notes that undergrads get
personal attention from their professors and can participate in research
projects - rare at big schools like UCLA and Berkeley, which are nearly
twice the size of Riverside.
"It's gone beyond my expectation," he said. "I'm getting everything I
wanted out of my college career."
But some students say the university could do more to bring students of
various ethnic groups together. There is too much emphasis on racial
identity and not enough integration of the student body, they say.
Campus clubs too often recruit solely along ethnic lines.
"Everyone is very compartmentalized," says Amanda Moreno, 20, a
third-year student who is half Mexican and half Italian. "It's never
about integration. It's about making sure we maintain our identity."
Other students complain that disciplines such as the sciences are not
racially mixed. Gretchen Stanton, an African American chemistry major,
says she sees few blacks in her classes.
"While it looks very diverse, people are in their own groups a lot of
the time," she says.
Another gap in diversifying the campus is the faculty. At 7.9%,
Riverside ranked sixth among the nine undergraduate UC campuses in
attracting members of underrepresented minorities.
Curry, the student who turned down Berkeley for the Inland Empire, said
he first visited the Riverside campus during a summer program for high
school students and it shaped his idea of what he wanted in a
university. Ken Simons, the head of African Student Programs, actively
Although Curry was accepted at Berkeley, he never toured the campus or
heard from university recruiters. Already inclined to stay close to
home, he couldn't say no to UC Riverside when it offered to pay his
tuition in full.
He hopes to get into law school at UCLA or Georgetown and believes his
exposure to different ethnic groups and viewpoints at Riverside has
helped prepare him for a career in international or corporate law.
He has since visited Berkeley and concluded that he made the right
"It was nice," he said. "It reminded me more of an East Coast school,
with larger buildings and older structures. But I wasn't too impressed.
It seemed like it had everything we had. It was just bigger and older."
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Minorities at UC Riverside
The ethnic and racial diversity of the
undergraduate student body at UC Riverside increased over the last
decade despite the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which banned
racial preferences in university admissions. A look at UC Riverside
compared with the state population:
UC Riverside, 1996 | Asian: 39.2% | White:30.4% | Latino:19.5% |
Black:5.7% | Others: 5.2%
UC Riverside, 2006 | Asian:43.0% | White:18.7% | Latino:25.1% | Black:
7.1% | Others:6.1%
California, 2005* | Asian: 12.2% | White: 43.3% | Latino: 35.5% |
Black: 5.9% | Others 3.1%
*Most recent statistics available.
Sources: UC Riverside, Census Bureau