Students have been saying it for years. And now, a comprehensive study is backing them up — UC Berkeley is not a welcoming place for students of color.
The report, released by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, ranked UC Berkeley the lowest of all UC campuses in terms of overall equity. Black students constitute a mere 1.9 percent of the campus’s total student population. In comparison, white students made up 29 percent of the campus’s total student population in spring 2013 — an egregious discrepancy that highlights UC Berkeley’s ongoing diversity struggle.
Admittedly, diversity isn’t just a UC Berkeley problem. All the UC campuses have shameful equity scores in the report. UC San Diego, while ranked the highest for overall equity, has a disturbingly low population of Black students — 1.4 percent. But UC Berkeley is still the worst of a system that is pretty appalling. And that’s largely because of poor retention rates.
According to the report, the overall undergraduate graduation rate on campus from 2013 to 2016 was nearly 16 percent higher than the rate for Black students — a greater difference than at any other UC campus. So, it’s not enough to merely increase admissions outreach. The administration must do more to make this campus a safe and welcoming place for the students of color already enrolled here.
As the next wave of students submits their applications this fall, campus officials must work toward building trust and relationships with communities of color, ensuring that all students can receive — and complete — their education on campus. Administrators need to hold themselves accountable to the image of a diverse and welcoming school that they consistently promote. Students, new and old, deserve more than empty promises.
When Chancellor Carol Christ spoke at an ASUC Senate meeting last week, she failed to provide students with a concrete plan for how the campus intends to increase diversity. Christ and other campus administrators, such as Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón, are quick to vocalize their support for increasing diversity on campus. But sending out emails celebrating diversity and making vague announcements in ASUC meetings does little apart from bolstering UC Berkeley’s reputation. Administrators need to take tangible steps toward making this campus a safe space for students of color. They need to set aside funding and advance student support systems to help these students succeed on this campus.
There have been some steps in the right direction — the campus opened the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center in February 2017, and Christ recently committed to making UC Berkeley a Hispanic Serving Institution. But considering the myriad of external elements that hinder diversity on college campuses, particularly exclusionary measures such as Proposition 209, there are still many more steps the campus needs to take.
For years now, students have been leading the fight for a more equitable and welcoming campus. Last spring, students voted to approve the Student Transformation through Academic Recruitment and Retention, or STARR, referendum. The referendum secures long-term funding for the bridges Multicultural Resource Center, or bridges, and its affiliated recruitment and retention centers. It increases the campus fee from $3 to $26.50 per semester — a high cost, but undeniably necessary.
Clearly, students are doing their part to improve and increase resources for students of color, but it’s the campus’s responsibility to meet them halfway. Although California law prohibits schools from funding programs such as bridges, there are numerous concrete actions the campus can and must take to improve diversity.
Diversity can’t just be a student movement — it needs to be a priority for the administrators who tout its importance every year.