Oral Histories

Interview of Rita Ledesma

California State University, Los Angeles, professor of child and family studies. During time at UCLA, was a student in the UCLA High Potential Program.
UCLA High Potential Program
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Research Centers and Programs
Mercado, Juan Pablo
Ledesma, Rita
Persons Present:
Ledesma and Mercado.
Place Conducted:
UCLA in Los Angeles, 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. Ledesma 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.
3.5 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.
Born in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles in 1951--Paternal family leaves Mexico as a result of the Mexican Revolution--Maternal side has ancestral ties to Pine Ridge Reservation, member of Oglala and Lakota tribes--Paternal family came from an educated family in Mexico--Develops an early awareness of difference because of two distinct familial histories--Father was a working man, often working two jobs at a time; mother was a stay-at-home mom, very involved in local politics--Grew up in City Terrace, attended Catholic school for 10 years--Reading Los Angeles Times was a significant memory--Mother very involved in local politics and organizing, including War on Poverty work--Attends Roosevelt High School--Classified as a slow learner--Common for many of the students at Roosevelt to be misclassified as slow learners--Boyfriend introduces her to the Brown Berets—Gets involved with the East LA student walkout movement of 1968--Attends Chicano youth conference at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu--Significance of music growing up in East LA--Learns of the High Potential Program (HPP) at UCLA while participating in the Upward Bound Program--Admitted to UCLA through HPP—Time at UCLA is very lonely and very challenging--Leaves UCLA in 1971.
Attends Camp Hess Kramer, one of the first coordinated efforts to discuss and understand what it means to be a Chicana or Chicano living in East Los Angeles--Joins the Upward Bound Program from Roosevelt High School at UCLA--Has contact with Sal Castro and Luis Ortiz-Franco--Recruitment and application process for the High Potential Program (HPP)--Several of the Chicano men in HPP assigned to live off campus at an old fraternity house on Landfair, known as the “Landfair house”--More on the loneliness and isolation of living at UCLA--Feelings of isolation at UCLA eventually inform the work she currently does as a dean at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA)--Attempts to develop a support network of like-minded students--Has negative feelings towards some of the HPP staff and instructors--Palpable tension in classroom between instructors and some students-- Able to take “mainstream” classes at UCLA; receives an F on her final essay--Students feel pressure to succeed on campus, yet also feel an overwhelming lack of support--The shootout at UCLA in Campbell Hall, January of 1969--Very little interaction between the Chicano HPP students and Black HPP students--Very engaged as a community activist outside of campus--After first year in HPP thirteen students get dismissed from program--Successfully challenge dismissal and are eventually re-admitted to UCLA, but are no longer part of HPP--Second year at UCLA is completely as a mainstream student--Rents a house in Santa Monica and meets students who help her develop her academic skills--Involvement in community activism-- Leaves UCLA--Attends Pasadena City College (PCC) from 1973-1974—Transfers back to UCLA—Gets more involved with the American Indian students on campus--Juan Lara, director of the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) at UCLA becomes a mentor--Meets Mike Davis, Robert Brenner, and Dorothy Healey and is recruited into the Democratic Socialists--Manages responsibilities as a mother and a student better during second stint at UCLA--In 1979 takes classes at CSULA and eventually decides to pursue a master's in social work-- Recruited by Community Counseling Services to help Central American refugees--Recruited by Kaiser Permanente (KP) as a Spanish-speaking clinician—Recruited by Rosina Becerra to pursue a Ph.D. at UCLA in social welfare and focuses her research on American Indian issues--Starts her teaching career at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and then accepts a tenure track position at CSULA--Traces her professional trajectory to experiences in the High Potential Program at UCLA--Navigating the tenure process at CSULA as a Chicana--Reflects on being one of the only HPP students who earned a B.A., M.S.W., and Ph.D.--Role as a mentor and meaning of diversity on college campuses--Importance of engaging and supporting new students on campus.