I imagine UC Berkeley as a castle. The Campanile serves as a tall fortress that oversees the Bay Area and beyond. Each classroom holds academic artillery for me to train with. There are even drawbridges across Strawberry Creek for those who dare to seek admission.
Here, I discuss the legends of our fields, famous philosophers, doctors, economists, engineers and more. Here, I can afford the leisure to learn and dream of joining the ranks.
Welcome to the Ivory Tower.
No, this is not some chimerical portrayal of an imaginary university or a hyperbole of my experience as a college student. I am, however, concerned that as a privileged college student, I am fixated on this precinct. We are blinded from a society teeming with real, current issues. Inside this castle, we learn the gameplay, the hypotheticals, the “if this, then that” to tackle societal problems.
But as college students who construct lenses to perceive the outside world rather than directly immerse in it, the cognitive dissonance is too real. UC Berkeley is guarded by invisible walls, often self-imposed by students. Whether on campus, in classrooms or in clubs, we are admittedly creating an artificial environment.
But while I absorb material with utmost satisfaction and passion to expand my knowledge, I cannot help but feel frustrated by the end of the day. I understand the gist of problems that plague our world — yet why do I feel comfortable discussing these issues without holding myself accountable for my lack of action in addressing these problems? How can I muster the courage to step outside this Ivory Tower and sincerely apply what I have learned?
I needed someplace where I could confirm that I am on the right track, that I have not yet lost my touch with reality. I refuse to become a mere shell of my education.
There are many areas in Berkeley that need our help. Remaining inside academic constructions of the real world is precarious when we forget that our immediate environment requires our attention.
With this realization in mind, a neon poster on a bathroom stall caught my eye. The Berkeley/Oakland YWCA, an organization aiming to empower women and eliminate racism, was looking for student advocacy interns. Now, I work there with fellow peers to help pass the DREAM Act for DACA recipients, raise awareness of sexual violence on campus and provide students with free menstrual products, to list a few projects.
YWCA Berkeley was founded in 1889 when 17 women at UC Berkeley decided to provide services for women and youths. Through the advocacy internship, I had the opportunity to write to Ken Calvert, a Californian and a Republican representative whose immigration platform is against the DREAM Act. I carefully typed each word in my letter to convey the gravity of this issue that is concerning not only my friends and loved ones, but all Americans.
When Trump became president, 800,000 DACA recipients suddenly faced the possibility of deportation. The Trump administration gave Congress six months to pass legislation and maintain the DACA program. Currently, California has the highest concentration of DACA recipients, at 223,000, and thousands are attending or have already attended UC campuses.
The DREAM Act would effectively continue and protect the DACA program and enable DACA recipients, who came to the United States as youths through no choice of their own, to achieve citizenship over time after meeting certain requirements.
The presence of DACA recipients reinforces American tenets of tolerance, diversity and respect. As I learned more and more of how Trump’s executive power may affect my friends and fellow Americans, I only felt more and more impassioned to actively protect their rights.
Even if you are not convinced that America is the only familiar home for DACA recipients, it is an undeniable fact that they have spurred the U.S. economy and contributed to our national livelihood. In fact, Center for American Progress predicts that by ending DACA, national GDP would decrease by $460.3 billion over the next decade.
To know that my input through this organization could pressure politicians to allow DACA recipients to continue the work they do for the United States — their only familiar home — is gratifying. By interacting outside of academia to initiate change, I was able to avoid my fated road to hypocrisy. While proud of this newfound application of my studies, I was simultaneously humbled by the amount of work still yet to be done in order to protect what I believed in.
UC Berkeley may be a castle, rich with history, but beyond these grand walls we have established in honor of academia, there is a world out there that we must grow accustomed to. Whether we are ready to tackle this challenge depends on our dedication as students to not only learn, but also take what we learn to actively address injustices that we see daily.