After Proposition 209 passed in 1996, UC Berkeley students passed a $3 semesterly fee in 1999 to support low-income students of color. But decades later, this fee hasn’t increased to match the growing need to address UC Berkeley’s diversity issues.
That’s why you should vote “yes” on the Student Transformation through Academic Recruitment and Retention, or STARR, referendum.
Beyond exacerbating the campus’s diversity problem by causing the enrollment of underrepresented students to plummet, Prop. 209 — which bans affirmative action practices — also means the UC system can’t finance recruitment and retention programs specifically to address this problem, according to the referendum.
Over the years, the bridges Multicultural Resource Center has done critical work to improve the outreach, recruitment and retention of marginalized students, but it has been struggling to stay afloat because of minimal resources and funding. The STARR referendum will give the center the money it needs to hire more professional staff members, offer 80 work-study positions to student leaders and continue offering programming and counseling to high school students of color.
The center supports about 4,500 students, according to the referendum. But the center’s impact extends beyond these students — the entire campus community will benefit from funding programs that will improve diversity.
Yes, the referendum is expensive — the existing $3 per semester fee would jump to $26.50 per semester, raising more than $1.5 million a year for the organization. But bridges frantically needs to catch up with other campuses’ level of resources. The UCLA Community Programs Office — which does work similar to UC Berkeley’s bridges — receives $4.8 million from four different referenda. The jump is big, but it needs to be big.
Still, student leaders at bridges are asking voters to entrust them to manage more than a million dollars, when they only manage roughly $180,000 right now. While the oversight enumerated in the referendum’s text seems comprehensive and thorough, students deserve regular updates and reports that demonstrate the center’s progress in achieving its mission.
The fee doesn’t have an expiration date, which is usually cause for pause given the ballooning cost of student fees. But the need for institutional support for students of color on campus isn’t going away any time soon, so the absence of an end date shouldn’t stop students from funding this important organization.
Vote “yes” on the STARR referendum.