Oral Histories

Interview of Kogee Thomas

Counselor for the UCLA High Potential Program and associate director for the UCLA American Indian Studies Center.
UCLA High Potential Program
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Research Centers and Programs
Mercado, Juan Pablo
Thomas, Kogee
Persons Present:
Thomas and Mercado.
Place Conducted:
Lobo Lodge, the American Indian museum at Clarence Lobo Elementary School in San Clemente, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Juan Pablo Mercado, graduate student interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; C.Phil., history, UCLA. Mercado prepared for the interviews by consulting various primary source materials in the file on the High Potential Program (HPP) located in UCLA’s University Archives at the Charles E. Young Research Library. These materials included early proposals for the program, administrative memoranda, meeting minutes, university reports, and correspondence assessing the progress of the HPP. To contextualize the development of the program, Mercado also reviewed secondary literature on such events as the Watts rebellion of 1965, the Chicano Moratorium, the East Los Angeles Blowouts, the occupation of Alcatraz, the anti-war movement, and the numerous student-led protests and campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s. Understanding these circumstances helped put in perspective what was at stake for the people at UCLA and throughout Los Angeles and demonstrated how significant the struggle for political, economic, and social change really was.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Thomas was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
3 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This is a series of interviews with people who were involved with the High Potential Program (HPP) at UCLA between 1968 and 1971. Although the HPP was one of the earliest efforts to broaden admissions criteria and recruit historically underrepresented students, the archival sources that have been preserved are very limited and, by and large, do not represent the views of those involved. This project attempts to capture those voices and includes not only students who were admitted to the HPP but counselors and mentors, as well as non-HPPP students who helped recruit students to the program and worked to make it a success. In 1968, the first cohort of approximately fifty black and forty-eight Chicana/o students was admitted to the High Potential Program. Subsequently the program broadened its recruitment efforts to include Asian American and Native American students as well. Although the primary aim of the HPP was to recruit students from traditionally underrepresented communities in Los Angeles, the larger hope was that these students would graduate and return to their communities as leaders and organizers. As part of its effort to prepare students for those tasks, the program developed culturally relevant curriculum for its students and thus contributed to the long-term development of ethnic studies classes and programs. The High Potential Program was a short-lived experiment: after three years of consistently diminishing funding and low graduation rates, and in the face of much protest from HPP students, it was discontinued. Different versions of the program emerged in the wake of the HPP, and the Academic Advancement Program (APP) is actually in existence to this day on campus. Yet the program’s successors focused more narrowly on traditional academic achievement, and none of them were able to replicate the HPP’s radical ideals and practices.
Family background, including parents’ experiences at Indian schools in Oklahoma and why parents decided to move to Long Beach, California—Early memories of grammar school and being labeled mentally disabled—Is the only American Indian student for most of junior high and high school years—Father’s understanding of race—Family excels at music--Travels as part of American Indian contingent in World's Fair—Role religion played in family and culture—Connection to American Indian history and central role that land plays in American Indian life— Role of education in family and within tribes—Significance and legacy of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools—Serves on the first youth council for the United Nations—Early memories of higher education at University of California, Irvine, UCLA, and Fullerton College.
Memories of living on a farm in Southern California—How grandmother helped to raise family and instill Indian culture—Attends Azusa Pacific College—Personal experiences related to higher education and cultural differences—Interactions with American Indian Movement (AIM) while at UCLA—Memories of the occupation of Alcatraz and how it symbolized contemporary Indian experiences—Counseling job with the High Potential Program (HPP) at UCLA—Opportunities and expectations of counseling position in HPP—Memories of several of the students recruited and advised during time as counselor—Major accomplishments at UCLA, including affiliation with the American Indian Studies Center—Student leadership at UCLA.
Early memories of High Potential Program and student unrest at UCLA—Education as a means to change conditions in Native American communities—Significance of mentors—Recruitment of Native American instructors, including Vine Deloria—Memories of shooting at Campbell Hall —Role of Native American counselors in the High Potential Program—Significance of American Indian Movement (AIM) nationally and on the UCLA campus—Relationship between C.Z. Wilson, the High Potential Program, and the Institute of American Cultures (IAC)—First cohort of Native American students in the High Potential Program—Role of counselors, access to resources, and the challenges of recruiting Native American students to the High Potential Program—Development of resources on campus for Native American students, including faculty support and financial aid counseling—Development of the American Indian Studies Center (AISC)—Producing film for the Ford Foundation assessing needs of Native American students—Challenges of being the only woman in a Ph.D. program at UCLA—Experience coordinating American Indian judges’ conference with AISC—Experiences at University of California, Irvine developing program and curriculum for Native American students—Reflections on the importance of the High Potential Program at UCLA as it relates to Native American education.