Confessions of a campus ambassador

Off the Beat

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I became a tour guide, officially known as a campus ambassador, by pretending I’m not clumsy, soft-spoken and bad at public speaking. More than two years of bruises from walking backward into an amalgamation of stationary objects later, and I’m not sure how much of that has changed.

Slowly, I mastered all the classic tour jokes, one of my favorite being that you can rearrange Nobel laureate Glenn T. Seaborg’s last name to spell “Go Bears.” Yet there’s one joke that appears nearly every tour that isn’t funny, one that isn’t made by a tour guide at all.

“Don’t come here!”

It’s often yelled by some student on their way to class. Sometimes they’re with friends. Sometimes they’re on their own. Sometimes they even run up to the group to yell it. In every circumstance, my blood boils.

I don’t know when it was first heckled at me. Maybe it was a semi-successful meme or a somehow poignant “overheard” on Overheard at UC Berkeley, but once the mimicry began, it happened every other tour.

When I lead visitors around the campus, I try to make them laugh. I share stories and poke fun at myself, describing the school’s notable accomplishments as we pass each landmark. I help them imagine the best of Berkeley if they come here — the classes they’d take, the people they’d meet, the clubs they’d join.

While the majority of my tours are given to high schoolers, there are also middle school tours, where I’m often told by group leaders that many of their young students would be the first in their families to go to college. Middle schoolers may be more likely to ask questions such as “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” rather than “What’s it like to study chemistry here?” But these are still the best tours I give. They’re not about selling Berkeley — they’re about presenting college as a possible option, as an exciting future that may be more accessible than the students think.

Middle school tours are meant to share that college should be for everyone, especially those historically discriminated against in the university admission process within this country.

On one middle school tour, I was sharing what I believe is the crux of any tour — that there’s no singular “right” way to go to college. People come into this school with a variety of experiences: Some come in immediately after high school; some transfer from community college; some are international; some are first-generation. I’d just stated that we have resources specifically for students who would be the first in their families to go to college when a girl in the front row of my tour nudged her friend and said excitedly, “That’d be you!”

As they shared that happy moment, I most feared the common jeer’s occurrence.

“Don’t come here” isn’t just a tired joke; it’s toxic. Sure, you may argue that Berkeley itself is toxic, and that by yelling, you’re trying to give a realistic portrayal of the campus. But sometimes your voice drowns out all of the positive things that this school has to offer.

Your joke demolishes all that I’d built up over the past 90 minutes of walking backward and projecting my voice, trying my best to hide how terrible I am at those two acts. Your joke might kill with your friends, but it worries prospective students and outright discourages those who are already not considering attending university.

Your outbursts aren’t impacting any real change. You’re not sharing information or facts about underrepresentation, financial aid difficulties or impacted classes. You don’t realize that the people you’re speaking to might not have the same opportunities that you have as a student from a highly esteemed university.  

So knock it off.

I know this job is dorky — we’re walking backward in head-to-toe Cal gear, yelling about how we’re the No. 1 public university in the world. But we’re not robots. We’ve also bombed midterms, broken down in Moffitt and fought with our roommates. But then we get up and give a campus tour. Because, in the face of all of this, we see the best in this university and try to show others the same.

So if you see me giving a campus tour, yell instead that you’ve read this article, so I can talk about the merits of our independent college newspaper. Yell “Happy birthday!” so I have to discourage the students in my group from singing the “Happy Birthday” song to me, which they’ll do no matter what.

Yell “Go Bears,” because we’re lucky to be here — and prospective students should know that when they go on a 90-minute campus tour.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.