regal and mobell posted--
Shades of gray in black enrollment
Immigrants' rising numbers a concern to some activists
- Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
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When educators and politicians argue for giving more African Americans the chance to thrive at top universities, they see people like UC Berkeley fourth-year student Obi Amajoyi as a perfect example of what they have in mind.
He's a biology major who has emerged as a peer leader and athlete. He recruits high school students and is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. But while Amajoyi was born in the United States, his parents are from Africa. He considers himself both African American and Nigerian.
"I definitely identify with all the struggles that we as African Americans have had to go through," said Amajoyi, 21. "But at the same time, I have this (other) history from my parents."
But Amajoyi is not a direct descendant of American slaves. And critics say his presence at the university -- and that of other black immigrants and their children -- shows institutions have failed to reach those who were the original targets of diversity outreach efforts.
Affirmative action programs were started in the wake of the 1960s civil rights movement to help African Americans overcome the legacy of slavery and decades of Jim Crow discrimination in employment, education and other fields.
In 1998, the passage of Proposition 209 ended the programs in California and led to -- what many activists say -- a steady decline in African American enrollment. Critics say that the rising number of black immigrants and their children, such as Amajoyi, at the universities has further decreased outreach efforts to African Americans and have raised concerns that American- born blacks will again be left behind.
But outgoing UC Regent Ward Connerly says the debate only shows how affirmative action has always failed to help those blacks most in need.
"Over the years, preference programs, affirmative action programs, have really not benefited low-income blacks, those who were the descendants of slaves," said Connerly. "They have benefited middle- and upper-income blacks.
"Recent immigrants are the beneficiaries of this terribly flawed program, " said Connerly. "The institutions don't care about that -- all they care about is chalking up the numbers."
Connerly says schools run the risk of sowing division between immigrants and African Americans. But he doubts UC officials will do anything to address the issue.
"To a large extent, this has flown beneath the radar," said Connerly. "We (regents) have not discussed it, and I don't think we will."
Nathan Hare, who fought to establish the first ethnic studies program in the United States at San Francisco State University in 1968 and is co-founder of the Black Think Tank in San Francisco, blames these numbers on old stereotypes.
"I have nothing against immigrants, but there are sociological realities we have to look at," said Hare. "They don't have the stereotypes of them being lazy and so on."
Hare says black immigrants often arrive with higher levels of education and are more willing to take low-level jobs, which can affect how quickly they move up in society.
"We'd have a much harder time doing that -- we're supposed to have been past that," said Hare. "We are the ex-slaves and inhabitants of the slums. They (immigrants) are coming in without that (baggage)."
Since 1990, according to immigration figures reported in the New York Times, more African immigrants have arrived in the United States voluntarily than the total who came as slaves before international slave trafficking was outlawed in 1807. More have been coming here annually -- about 50,000 legal immigrants -- than in any of the peak years of the Middle Passage across the Atlantic, and more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries, according to the report.
In addition, a recent study shows the number of black immigrant students is high.
Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania who have been studying the achievement of minority students at 28 selective colleges and universities (including Berkeley, Columbia, Yale and Duke) last year found that 41 percent of the black students identified themselves as immigrants, children of immigrants or mixed race.
In December, 300 black students at Berkeley staged a "blackout" day to protest the school's lack of diversity, wearing all-black outfits and bandanas over their mouths. Last fall, there were 108 African American freshmen enrolled at Berkeley out of more than 3,600 freshman students.
Richard Black, associate vice chancellor of admissions and enrollment at Berkeley, says the school does not keep records on the immigrant vs. nonimmigrant makeup of its black student population.
Black says that under state law, students are judged under comprehensive review, which looks at an applicant's life experiences and not at race.
"We're looking at where the student is now and where they went to school, " said Black. "We're not looking at conditions of several generations ago."
Black says the school seeks to attract a diverse student body by having increased visits to urban schools and through outreach efforts by alumni and current students.
"Obviously, we have not had the success that we want," said Black.
On a recent day, Amajoyi and some other students gathered on UC Berkeley's campus to discuss the challenges they face at the elite institution.
"I'm not sure how deep the line between being from Africa or the Caribbean or being African American is," said Amajoyi, who was born in Texas and grew up in Southern California. "Because our numbers are so low, just being black on campus brings you together. The first thing is you're black."
Amajoyi's parents both came to the United States on student visas and attended Texas A&M University.
Branden Turner, 20, a third-year biology major from Los Angeles, recalled taking an African American studies class taught by a professor from the Caribbean. His teacher's background was the topic of discussion on the first day of class.
"His point was that even though he came to America, once you walk onto American soil, you deal with the black struggle," said Turner. "I'm perceived (by classmates) as not being as intelligent as the others in my class."
Rabiah Burks, 21, a fourth-year student majoring in history and African American studies, grew up in South Central Los Angeles. She says kids in her inner-city high school suffered from a lack of books and other supplies.
"We didn't have proper teachers. We didn't have proper books," said Burks. "My calculus class had no books. Our teacher worked off a board. Nobody invests in black children."
Harvard law Professor Lani Guinier has voiced concerns that many of Harvard's black undergraduate students are West Indian and African immigrants or their children.
Guinier believes the numbers are a sign of a much greater problem: the criteria used in admissions by top schools. She's writing a book that proposes expanding current merit-based criteria to examine other factors.
"For me, the key point is not whether you should be admitting immigrants or native-born people of color," Guinier said. "The key point is the schools should be reconsidering their reliance on a set of predictors that don't measure the potential outcome of the students."
E-mail Jason B. Johnson at email@example.com
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