Welcome to Berkeley: A visitor’s guide to understanding the unusual

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During my freshman year, I was in a class about social movements. It was the most “Berkeley” thing I could have chosen to do, and it was the full deal: We watched videos of Mario Savio giving his famous speech on Sproul Plaza, got extra credit for writing about protests and did presentations on movements of our choice. I took it to complete a requirement, but I was immediately hooked. It opened my eyes to the campus I was at and to what it really means to be a student at UC Berkeley.

It was the little things that stood out to me. I’m an expert at evading flyers. I look down, put my hands in my pockets, turn up the music on my headphones, and I’m basically invincible. It takes a lot to get me to stop, but a well-advertised event or cause that catches my eye will do the trick. Berkeley is sort of ridiculous that way — the student body just doesn’t stop. Every day, there’s someone handing out something on Sproul from when they set up tables at 8 a.m. to when they pack up several hours later. It isn’t because the school loves to hand out flyers — there are definitely more efficient ways to convey information to thousands of millennials — but we do it because it’s tradition, and because until people spoke up for our right to, we couldn’t.

That’s the interesting thing about Berkeley: You can miss out if you don’t understand it. The part about how we can flyer, protest and keep people accountable stems from a long history — going back to Mario Savio and First Amendment rights and continuing to the way we write our history today.

Crime reports in the city of Berkeley are no joke, and as a visitor, it’s easy to be wary. Over the summer last year, I became friends with a girl from Turkey who was quick to question People’s Park. “A woman shoved meth in a baby’s mouth? Why haven’t the police stepped up and arrested everyone in that dangerous park?” It’s hard to explain the story behind the park, what it symbolizes and why it’s still there to an angry, scared (and ignorant) visitor. There’s always more than what meets the eye, and as someone living in Berkeley, no matter for how long, it’s your duty to make sense of it. While People’s Park is still around, go back to 1969: Listen to videos of Ronald Reagan speaking about stopping protests at UC Berkeley, and read about how Berkeley residents protested. People’s Park isn’t just a sanctuary for the homeless community — it stands as a reminder of the strength of the people of Berkeley when they fought to take back the park, when authorities put up an 8-foot-tall fence to keep them out.

When you’re walking down Telegraph Avenue, try to search for the things that make the city what it is. The record store, the vintage clothing shop, the jewelry stand on the sidewalk and the lady who sells succulents may look out of place and might not be what you imagined, but not too long ago, small businesses and eclectic knickknacks were the essence of this city. Don’t shy away and head to a chain store, but instead, try to open your eyes and warm up to the real essence of Berkeley, of the few reflections of past movements and counterculture that still remain.

There’s a bit of tradition everywhere you go. Some are more recent than others, but try to find out what they are, so you aren’t confused when you see people rolling down hills and evading the university seal to get their GPAs up. To get as much as you can from the campus, it’s worth your time to know what’s going on. Yes, as first-time visitors, we’ve all been up the Campanile. But did you know that there are baby falcons up there? Yeah. Real-life baby falcons, right above you.

We’re still in the news, and we’re still writing a story here. We welcome you as a visitor to Berkeley with open arms, but you’re borrowing our campus and our city. You’re probably going to see something weird during your stay, and whatever that quirky and unusual thing you meet is, it’s what sets us apart from being a typical urban city. While you’re here, I urge you to make the most of your time and get to know the campus and appreciate it for all the victories that it stands for. We’re proud of UC Berkeley, and this summer, regardless of what part of the world you’re from or where you go to school, you should be, too.

Contact Mahira Dayal at [email protected].