Here at UC Berkeley, we enjoy a classic tough luck attitude and a unique grit that makes us such a rare breed.
The recently retired Tele-BEARS — the notoriously dysfunctional, hellish, mental breakdown inducing, destabilizing and dehumanizing class signup system introduced to us as high school graduates — took on the role of introducing us to that specific grit.
We’re a large public university — the best one in the world — and owning that identity doesn’t mesh with private school luxury and, often, entitlement. Tele-BEARS immediately purged all incoming students of this aura of pretense and privilege at orientation.
At CalSO, we were blitzed — vulnerable and nervous, yet still expected to absorb the first taste of college and make important adult decisions without parents, sleep, actual friends and any knowledge of the Hell-e-BEARS reality that would be forced upon us at the end of orientation.
Before we were even active students, we found out: This school is massive and resources are limited. You. Will. Not. Get. Every. Class. You. Want.
It was the perfect buffer for the brutal transition from being classroom stars to having our prior academic swag negated by the equal, if not greater, successes of our peers at UC Berkeley.
Tele-BEARS gave new meaning to “You can’t always get what you want,” and questioned faith in “if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” There are certain classes you think you need, but if there’s anything the UC Berkeley experience offers, it’s how to claim agency and individuality in a realistic world where control is not always granted.
It stripped us of that initial cockiness and prepared us for some of the unforeseen challenges of a huge public university and a dynamic, loud and vibrant college town that we immersed ourselves in and have eventually come to identify with. Tele-BEARS was the first step in badassifying us.
It’s necessary to have those feelings of individual entitlement destroyed so a community of equally frustrated and ambitious people can form. We need something to humble us before we embark on this four-year transformation. The dysfunction of Tele-BEARS did just that, but now it’s gone and CalCentral is too polished and aesthetically appealing to take over that role.
CalCentral sugarcoats the dysfunction beneath its cartoony aesthetics.
CalCentral is pretty — prettier than Evans Hall or the Remy’s bathroom on a Tuesday night.
CalCentral exudes a sense of control. “Here,” it says, “Construct your schedule, make it however you like!” This model does not prepare us for unforeseen daily obstacles — from an eight-mile Brown’s line to a 2 a.m. fire alarm in Unit 3.
CalCentral mimics a capitalist model, giving power to the consumer and commodifying classes, somehow naturalizing the class choosing process and making it seem easy. It cultures an expectation that what you put in your cart is something that you can actually buy and walk away with. This establishes a feeling of infinite options and total control over the market when, really, you’re shopping in a North Korean grocery store. You’re hypnotized with abundance, yet ultimately faced with little substance.
CalCentral neglects to do the one thing that Tele-BEARS was phenomenal at — giving a massive middle finger to incoming students, who perhaps foolishly expected the royal treatment.
CalCentral hints at a place where the WiFi might be trustworthy or where the curve might actually be in your favor. CalCentral exudes stability and confidence, swagger and mystique. CalCentral is a dangerously misleading pat on the back, saying, “Yes, take these classes, you deserve it.”
For a long period in the pre-Internet stage of the UC Berkeley class signup saga, the school distributed paper class cards to enrolled students. There’s a famous story about the limited number of cards rotating out on the Pimentel stage and students racing to the stage to fight over the cards. It was Hunger Games-esque. And Tele-BEARS was the virtual version of that.
CalCentral does not unleash that savage mentality. It doesn’t scare you into fighting for what you need, which is an essential element of the UC Berkeley student psyche.
UC Berkeley is a place that doesn’t have everything, sometimes frustrates us and fosters a take-charge mentality, equipping us to channel our ambition into positive change.
Tele-BEARS tested our limits — destroyed all malignant cockiness and, when we finally figured out how to navigate it and successfully create a schedule, fostered a new type of swagger necessary to supersede real life obstacles. It obliterated any entitlement within us — the infallible sentiments that we’re deserving of our desires and equally intense expectations that they will be fulfilled. Once vulnerability is exploited and mental toughness is tested to its limits, you realize that you really are only a tiny student in this massive pool of other high achievers.
Despite the challenges, despite the dysfunction, despite feeling ill-equipped and unqualified, you just figure it out. And in that process, you go through a unique type of hazing. You know you can survive at this school — that you belong. Being aware of this, avoiding the oppressive hypnosis from the superficial successes of your peers, provides you with a unique strength, which will only intensify within the next four years.
UC Berkeley won’t be easy. But you belong here, you’ll thrive here, you just have to tough it out. And you will.
Contact Natalie Silver at [email protected].