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On listening

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APRIL 28, 2016

This semester, we set out to tackle university issues that seemed too complicated to address in one week’s column. We thought that maybe with two weeks, we could present a fuller image of the issues we hoped to explore.

Unsurprisingly, we found that we could not. While two weeks allowed us to consider our chosen angles twofold, there were many we were unable to broach. In addressing issues that demand countless voices, we inevitably found ourselves coming up against the limits of our word count.

In our columns, we considered the relationship between UC Berkeley students and our educations, student homelessness and housing insecurity, sexual harassment and assault on our campus, the movement to rename Barrows Hall, and the intersection of public education and the prison system. In writing about these issues, we found seemingly insurmountable obstacles instead of clear-cut narratives.

But just as often, we encountered community members who have already taken action to surmount the campus’s most pressing problems. The efforts of these individuals make up a blueprint for progress at UC Berkeley. For each issue that we covered, we found that the members of our community best informed their solutions.

Most recently, we wrote about the school-to-prison pipeline and higher education within prison walls. On our campus, the Underground Scholars Initiative provides support for formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley students — their mission, in fact, is to build a prison-to-school pipeline rather than the opposite. They provide counseling and advocacy in order to break down stigma and help students pursue alternatives to prison through higher education.

Meanwhile, the fight to rename Barrows Hall continues. Students Anthony Williams and Bradley Afroilan have twice displayed an art piece in protest of the building’s name and spread the word further by presenting on the issue at a Multicultural Center symposium. The campus is moving forward with its reassessment of all of UC Berkeley’s building names. This effort will engage with community representatives, some from the departments that make their home in Barrows Hall.

The campus community continues to react to the mishandling of sexual misconduct. As it does so, UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff alike have demanded the campus do more — this includes voices like that of Penny Edwards, a Southeast Asian studies professor who wrote in an op-ed to The Daily Californian that “creating a genuinely inclusive and diverse environment requires … the reform of campus structures to incorporate staff, faculty and students as a single campus community who are all equal before a universal standard of acceptable behavior.”

As both our campus and the university at large promise to make a change, students play an integral role in informing this progress. The UC Office of the President’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force has a student working group that will make crucial choices as the UC considers policy reforms.

This movement shouldn’t start in college — community efforts to curb sexual violence are happening before students reach higher education. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill — making California the first state to do so. This sort of proactive work can be seen in the Whole Human Project, a nonprofit based in Oakland that provides progressive sex education for teenagers in local middle and high schools. This includes a focus on sexual boundaries and sexual violence.

The movement to end housing insecurity for UC Berkeley students is also making valuable progress. A pilot program sponsored by the financial aid office hopes to provide housing for students in need over the holidays for the second year next winter. Campus surveys are also helping to provide more accurate information on the issue of student financial struggles in the first place.

The community outside of the campus is taking action to mitigate homelessness and instability as housing prices soar. YEAH!, a housing advocacy program, supports homeless young adults in Berkeley by providing basic necessities, as well as counseling and education programs. Youth Spirit Artworks helps to support the Bay Area’s homeless youth by providing a space to make art for 16- to 25-year-olds.

Our first columns took on student-faculty engagement and peer education. On both fronts we observed a campus community with limited resources but a wealth of dedicated students, faculty and staff. Their efforts sustained our column, and likewise, they will sustain movements to make UC Berkeley more equitable and accessible for every member of its community.

By its nature, a column prioritizes the voice of the columnist. This is where its influence comes from: By speaking in her own voice, a writer has the power to frame a persuasive narrative. But this form, for us, had the potential to undermine our goal — to engage with issues outside ourselves.

So while this space could only do so much to promote other voices, we hope to have contributed to an ongoing community conversation. This dialogue can prompt action — listening creates the potential for change.


Libby Rainey and Alastair Boone write the Thursday column on bits and pieces of the UC Berkeley experience. Contact them at [email protected].

APRIL 28, 2016