‘It’s bittersweet after all’: Reflecting on how UC Berkeley has changed during time on campus

When I received my acceptance email to UC Berkeley in April 2017, the digital confetti raining over the words congratulating me on being selected out of the 24,000 transfers who applied, I was elated, to say the least. Berkeley was the UC campus with the best English department — being accepted was my No. 1 goal, which I thought I would never be able to fulfill, but I did.

In the decision-making that followed, all my friends and family pushed me in the direction of UCLA. My family wanted me near home, my best friend was at UCLA and my family claimed Berkeley was “too liberal,” teeming with radical people. In the end, I ignored their warnings and came to UC Berkeley.

During the past year and a half, the image of UC Berkeley has remained the same for me. Diverse architecture and verdant greenery that surpasses the dead suburbia of Southern California, a beauty intensified by the rain, with the spring season bringing beautiful cherry blossom blooms for us to marvel at. The entrance to Sproul Plaza still has that one guy with the bullhorn spewing nonsense none of us understand, clubs still wave flyers at my disinterested face, and I’m pretty sure the infamous “Hell Yeah” guy still sits outside Noah’s Bagels, adding a little liveliness to the everyday grunge of Telegraph Avenue. Professors continue to leave me in awe with their passionate and wholehearted insights on literature, and the glimpses of the setting sun behind the Campanile through Wheeler Hall’s windows are memories I will forever cherish.

I am grateful for these little moments that will inevitably become nostalgic flashbacks for me. I’m eager for what’s to come after I graduate, but I’m also hesitant to leave this familiar Berkeley bubble I’ve grown to love. It’s bittersweet, after all.

Bittersweetness aside, the past year and a half have also been marked by an abundance of controversies and tragedies we will never forget. Throughout it all, Berkeley has remained the same in its unity of support for the sexual violence survivors who came forward, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 union workers who rightfully demanded a living wage, and for the ballot constituents who aimed to tackle the housing cost crises, among other propositions. I stand with these causes, yet there have been instances when I have questioned the glaringly obvious “liberal” attitude I was warned about.

I have felt at times that I do not fit this supposed political mold. I watched some of my friends snub a girl for wearing a conservative elephant pin, a detail I found so insignificant and unworthy of dismissing a person for. I attended last year’s Women’s March feeling underwhelmed, as I watched the parade of women in pussy hats take photos with their handmade signs, feeling it was more for entertainment than for a political purpose. “Dump Trump” prevailed here (and still does) while back home, close friends and family of mine had voted for him.  

I have seen statements made by those outside the Berkeley-esque political norm completely dismissed, making me question the Free Speech Movement UC Berkeley created and is supposed to celebrate.

I have questioned the notion of inclusivity that was repeated time and time again during my weeklong (frankly, too long) Golden Bear Orientation. I have questioned UC Berkeley’s inattention to sexual violence as fraternities mocked sexual assault, along with the lackluster questionnaire we were all required to take in an effort to “prevent sexual violence and harassment.” As if clicking “Strongly Agree” to a statement about sexual consent can validate the school, as if it prevents the perpetuation of sexual violence.

The warnings I received about politics here are ones I initially ignored, and I would never warn people not to come to UC Berkeley for its liberalism, but all these moments have left me with the impression that the political climate of UC Berkeley is anything but inclusive. Rather, the school cherry-picks what is liberal enough and completely snubs other viewpoints simply on account of a mere difference in opinion.

I agree with some liberal stances, yet I have been afraid to voice my opinions when I don’t. This confusion I experienced as I grappled with my political viewpoints over the last three semesters has been eye-opening for me. I realize that I want to be balanced, in the middle, able to pick my opinions based on what I truly agree with, not because I’ve been influenced by peers, professors or party affiliations.

As I prepare to leave UC Berkeley in the spring, I realize that UC Berkeley hasn’t changed, but I have. I am immensely thankful for the opportunities I have received during my time here, the celebrated diversity on campus and the little moments that all add up to a bittersweet goodbye. I only hope that UC Berkeley will begin to celebrate a diversity in opinion.

Katie Lakina is an assistant night editor. Contact her at [email protected] .