In a short time, Sy Stokes has become well known as a critic of the diversity record of the school he attends, the University of California Los Angeles, and an increasingly well-known advocate of increasing the number of African-American male students at the college.
It started with a video he and other Black students posted that included a spoken word poem about the low number of African-American students at UCLA. In the video, Stokes states that only 3.3 percent of the school’s population is comprised of African-American male students. He added that 65 percent of those Black male students are athletes.
The video was posted to YouTube less than two weeks ago and has already received more than 200,000 views. Additionally, a large number of viewers praised Stokes for confronting an issue that is a dominant one at largely white campuses around the country.
“The main reason I got involved in this was to make people understand that the lack of diversity affects everything at the school, from the social climate to the overall tone of the school,” Stokes said, in an interview with BET.com.
“A lot of people don’t understand it, but it leads to a lot of undesirable circumstances. It can lead to us being discriminated against on a daily basis,” he said.
Stokes, a native of Richmond, in California’s Bay Area, is in his third year at UCLA, where he is majoring in African-American studies. He is a cousin of Arthur Ashe, the legendary tennis champion and civil rights advocate, a fact that he said makes his current activism second nature.
"Because I’m a cousin of Arthur Ashe, I feel that I have a responsibility to be a strong voice of the UCLA community," he said. “In fact, UCLA has experienced a number of instances of injustice recently. It’s important to highlight the problems here.”
He said he considered dropping out of UCLA in his freshman year because of the strong feelings of isolation that he described as being common to African-American students at large white campuses. Eventually, he became involved in some campus activities, such as the Undergraduate Students Association Council Cultural Affairs Commission, and decided to remain at UCLA.
Stokes and other Black students at UCLA are calling for the university to step up its recruitment of African-American students and to strengthen programs to retain them once they are enrolled.
“There are programs that have been known to work, so we want to see more resources put into those so that they can affect a larger number of students,” Stokes said.
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(Photo: Sy Stokes via YouTube)