In 1938, Elsie Mae Gardner Ricklefs, a Native American student, was accepted to UC Berkeley. While she was a student, she suffered from severe health complications, which led to academic deficiencies and her dismissal from campus. But when she applied for readmission several times years later, she was repeatedly rejected.
Ricklefs’ story is just one of many in the campus’s long history of excluding students from marginalized groups in admissions processes. In 1975-76, UC Berkeley awarded only 0.002 percent of the total degrees conferred to “American Indian” students.
And as the campus community celebrates UC Berkeley’s 150th birthday, it’s important to grapple and engage with that harmful history.
The blame doesn’t always lie solely on UC Berkeley. Structural inequities in the state’s K-12 education system make it hard for some high schoolers to achieve the necessary test scores and extracurriculars for the UC system to accept them.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program allows undocumented students to attend UC Berkeley. But under President Donald Trump’s administration, that too is being threatened. And the Bay Area’s housing crisis makes living as a student in Berkeley increasingly difficult for low-income students. With declining state funding and burgeoning student enrollment, rising tuitions make it harder for students from low-income communities to attend.
The campus community has made efforts since the 1970s to try to address these external forces. Students pushed to create organizations such as the Underground Scholars Program and the Undocumented Student Program, which provide support for students who have traditionally been left out of higher education. But there are still exclusionary measures in place today.
California voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, banning affirmative action practices that would allow university officials to consider race in admissions decisions. After the proposition passed, the number of students of color admitted to and enrolled at UC Berkeley plummeted.
A year before Prop. 209 passed, Black students made up 6.7 percent of all enrolled California resident freshmen. But just two years after the proposition took effect, this number dropped to 3.7 percent, exacerbating the lack of diversity at the UC.
It should be acknowledged that The Daily Californian editorial board endorsed Prop. 209 in 1996 — we were wrong, and we’re well overdue to recognize that mistake.
It’s time the rest of California and our state officials recognize that mistake too: Repeal Prop. 209. It’s that simple.
As part of an ongoing effort to address historically exclusionary admissions practices, the campus administration, too, has to invest more in outreach, support and housing aid to ensure that low-income students of color can attend UC Berkeley and succeed. Too often we see administrators throw up their hands and point a finger at Prop. 209.
UC Berkeley loves to remind people that it’s the number one public university in the world. And nobody can deny the amount of social good that has come from students fighting for a more equitable world. But until UC Berkeley itself equitably extends that chance for education and opportunity to students, the campus will continue to not live up to its full potential.
So as the campus community celebrates UC Berkeley’s big 150, it should remember all the students who weren’t able to attend this school.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.