Creating my own history

Berkeley Got Back

In 1870, the UC regents finally voted to admit women on equal terms with men, paving the road for multiple generations of female innovators, researchers and activists.

I am free to write, because The Daily Californian gained its independence from UC Berkeley in 1971. I am proud to have advocated for political causes on the Berkeley campus thanks to Mario Savio’s demands for change in 1964. I am thankful that student organizer Jean Quan, later mayor of Oakland, taught the first class on Asian women in 1969.

But I did not unearth my passion for politics and social inequities until I spent a year as a confused, undeclared freshman.

Going in my first year of college, I was confident that a molecular & cell biology bachelor’s degree was the right and most fitting choice for me. But this decision soon felt like an outfit that failed to conform to my figure. The material was coarse and fettered me from freely stretching my arms.

While I knew a STEM major offered more profitable job prospects, I gradually succumbed to what has always excited me. Sociology helped me answer the question: Why do people behave the way they do? Political science naturally led me to another: How should people behave in certain situations? My world frame changed dramatically, and its configuration finally made sense.

Not only am I encouraged to frame the world holistically in my study of sociology and political science, but UC Berkeley’s past has also opened opportunities for me now as a person of color and a female undergraduate student that I would not have had access to had I attended this university at its founding. My intended majors inspired me to continue the work that has changed my reality — to expand inclusivity and equality in every aspect of life.

Depending on the time, day, place and, ultimately, person, deciding what career to pursue and selecting what major to dedicate one’s academic life to are burdensome tasks. Even worse, we instinctively compare our success and our progress to others; we brace ourselves for the comparisons conducted by others and how they value our choices; and finally, we are afraid that we made the wrong choice.

At first, I intended to become a STEM major to satisfy others and to think long term based on society’s perception that STEM graduates have a better chance of employment. These are, however, all arbitrary suggestions that are fickle. People’s opinions change, but my passion, interests and dreams for public speaking, writing and social activism do not change as easily.

In 2007-08, the College of Letters & Sciences Arts & Humanities Division awarded about 1,000 bachelor’s degrees, while in 2017, it awarded about 700 degrees. Yet, in the same year, the Math & Physical Sciences Division awarded about 300 bachelor’s degrees, while in 2017, it awarded about 600. Regardless of whether the major is the most popular, lucrative or practical, opinions change over time. Values change over time. Statistics change over time. If people’s perception is subject to change, is it worth following the masses?

Though, by the end of the year, I realized what truly interested me enough to dedicate my life to, I still wasted a whole year of potential development trying to determine my academic path when the majority of my peers have already advanced to upper-division courses in their concentrations. Even worse, my GPA suffered because of classes on subjects I no longer cared about. At first, these personal disappointments consumed my mind.

I was stuck in limbo. For the first time in a while, I received bad grades despite my 100 percent effort. I felt that I was slowly losing control over producing results that I wanted. The most stressful moments were borne out of comparison between myself and my peers who seemed to be faring remarkably better. In reality, I was one of many who were struggling, and I realize now that there is no shame in admitting there is always room for growth and there is always time for self-exploration.

While studying sociology and political science has encouraged me to frame the progress of UC Berkeley in its historical context, I unconsciously tracked my own progress as well, comparing my past to my present. And as UC Berkeley’s history has taught me, I have found that following the norm is easy, but the tough fight for what is right is more worthwhile.

Dohee Kim writes the Friday column on UC Berkeley’s past and present. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dohee_nicole ‏.