Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.
UCLA is frequently rated one of the best public higher education institutions in the country and there are many factors contributing to this success. Yes, we do have some of the most innovative and intelligent professors in the country. Yes, we do have an ample supply of funding for research allowing faculty and students to make breakthroughs in virtually every field. Yes, we have a rich history of athletic excellence with the most NCAA Championships in the country (113, if you’re wondering). Yes, our alumni are leaders in every field imaginable and continue to support their alma mater. And yes, we do have THE BEST dining halls in the country. While all of these factors contribute to the eminence of UCLA, I personally do not believe that any of these markers are what makes us one of the best schools in the country.
I believe that what separates UCLA from other schools in the United States is our unmatched diversity. UCLA is arguably the most diverse elite institution in the country with about 29% of our undergraduate population coming from low income backgrounds. Almost a third of our students are the first in their families to go to college. In addition, UCLA is home to people of varying racial and ethnic communities, religions, sexual orientations, and gender expressions. The increasing diversity on our campus hasn’t just happened. In addition to efforts by the University of California system, the success we have achieved is due in part to student initiated, student run access and yield projects for underrepresented student populations to provide opportunity to all high school graduates. There are also dozens of student groups and organizations where you are able to discover, connect to, and explore your identities further, such as Hillel, Afrikan Student Union, Muslim Student Association, First to Go, or one of the organizations within the Queer Alliance – just to name a few!
Fortunately, UCLA administrators are also proactive in addressing the varied needs of our diverse undergraduate community. In 2015, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), led by Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, was created to implement changes within our institution and I have had the honor of serving on the inaugural Student Advisory Board. As members of the board we have been tasked to serve as advisors to EDI, liaisons to the campus community, and problem solvers for the any number of issues facing undergraduate and graduate students. In my role, I have had the opportunity to help write a funding application for diversity related programming, which seeks to bring attention to a multitude of marginalized identities as well as encourage sustainability and collaboration. I have also been developing a training program for men aiming to critically engage male undergraduate students in sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention. Another ongoing project I have been involved in seeks to create a standardized EDI training module for all students as well as frequent follow-up trainings as allyship is an ongoing process. The work I have been able to do seems to really make a difference and it is encouraging that our administration and leadership take the student voice so seriously.
Equity is something to be pursued as too many people have been denied access to opportunities, too many people have been dealt with unjustly by society, and too many people continue to experience these hardships on a daily basis. Diversity is something to be celebrated as each of us comes from a unique background. We have all had our own experiences informed by our identities. The expression of these varied experiences may challenge others’ worldviews, but it is only through challenge that we are able to grow. My own worldview has been challenged through my experiences in the classroom and through my activities around campus.
Here at UCLA, the students, faculty, and staff community members are among the most diverse and the best and brightest, but we are all human. We constantly push ourselves to be better than we were the day before. We can always learn more, do more, and love more and that’s what we as Bruins – The Optimists – try to do on a daily basis.