I normally don’t walk on campus at night. Unless I’m on my way to my 8 p.m. DeCal, the farthest I go from my residence hall after the sun sets is The Den. I’m a freshman at UC Berkeley, so for one more month, I can buy snacks there with precious yet dwindling meal points. Again, though, the block from said snacks to my room is about as far as I’ll usually go in the dark. I’m not a fan of frat parties, and I prefer to study in coffee shops during the day than in libraries at night. Still, I would recommend walking around Berkeley in the dark on one condition: if you’re a prospective freshman.
It’s no secret that Berkeley isn’t the safest city in the world. Like other urban areas, certain neighborhoods are vulnerable to crime, especially in the wee hours of the morning. As I weighed the pros and cons of UC Berkeley this time last year, safety was a major concern. It was just one more reason that choosing Berkeley would be a risk.
To start, I worried about my lack of options in media-related majors. Living seven hours away from my family in Southern California also concerned me. And the idea of competing with 30,000 other students for opportunities only furthered my skepticism. To ease my mind about these risks, I decided to come to Cal Day at the last minute, hoping for clarity.
When my dad brought up the idea of walking around Berkeley the night before Cal Day, I groaned. We had just finished a long BART ride from San Francisco Airport to our hotel in Walnut Creek, and I had fully intended on relaxing for the rest of the night. Thinking about walking around Berkeley in the dark made me nervous, and I didn’t want to leave our hotel room for the cold and unknown. With a little convincing, though, I agreed to go to the campus. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited to be visiting Berkeley; I think I was just scared of taking that first step toward risk and needed a little push.
An hour later, though, I wasn’t feeling scared at all. Instead, I was walking past the Campanile and trying to hide the smile from my face. To me, the campus was (and still is) beautiful. I was infatuated with the Bay Area, so the thought of being far from home faded as I considered the potential opportunities at my fingertips. I stood between South Hall and Bancroft Library to watch the sunset, and I experienced that feeling that “this was where I belong.”
Amazingly, I felt that way in spite of all the dangers I anticipated from Berkeley’s nightlife. My dad and I walked through the Southside neighborhood before seeing the campus, and just as I suspected, I didn’t feel particularly safe. I avoided eye contact with strangers like it was my job, and I cringed at the obscenities being yelled from nearby frat houses. The incoherency and vulnerability of Southside made me uncomfortable. It still does.
However, I am just one student with one set of experiences. Others may love the vibrant party scene south of campus or the endless activities in Downtown Berkeley. Some people may be turned off by the risks of nightlife and not consider UC Berkeley because of it. Personally, I’m glad I got to see a different side of Berkeley before committing. Yes, I would be exposed to a more dangerous environment than what I was used to, but now I knew what to expect. I knew I could handle it, too.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the slew of clubs and organizations at Cal Day that helped me decide to attend Berkeley. Nor was it the panel on service-based AC courses that left me excited for classes. While blue balloons and the Cal Band added to the enthusiasm of the event, I didn’t really need them. I had made my decision the night before.
Even though Cal Day provides fairs, panels and all kinds of activities to show students the best of what Berkeley has to offer, I don’t think prospective freshmen should base their decision solely on their Cal Day experience. Sure, talking to a research adviser about the project you’ve you’ve been dreaming about since the ninth grade is important. So is finding clubs you didn’t even know existed and being excited to join them next fall. But if you’re a prospective freshman, go outside of your comfort zone this Cal Day. Don’t take Oski’s enthusiasm at face value, and don’t be afraid to see the UC Berkeley campus at night. How else will you know if UC Berkeley is actually right for you? Just remember, there’s always BearWalk if you need it.