UC Berkeley is not as liberal as its stereotype would have you believe

Illustration of Sather Gate with memory of protests
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Related Posts

UC Berkeley has nothing short of a national reputation that seems to be foremost defined by its history of political activism.

In the national media, UC Berkeley is frequently defined by its political activities or ideologies. Campus’s present-day reality, however, is something nearly separated from its national and worldwide reputation as a liberal hub of activity.

Political science doctoral candidate Sean Freeder, who has been at UC Berkeley for seven years, felt the political reputation of the school often superseded its academic reputation.

“At least in the U.S., when people first hear the name ‘Berkeley,’ despite its sterling reputation as an academic powerhouse, the first linkage … is the political impact during the ’60s and the Vietnam War,” Freeder said. “(Its) political reputation is … both a boon and a draw for the university.”

Freeder explained the differences in generational perception of the school in which individuals under 30 years old often associate campus with its academic reputation, whereas people over 50 or 60 remember events such as the Free Speech Movement. Despite this, Freeder said UC Berkeley, while certainly left-leaning, was not especially exceptional in terms of national trends.

“Millennials and Gen Z as a broad group has trended to the left,” Freeder said. “I don’t think Berkeley necessarily stands out in this regard.”

Campus political science doctoral candidate Brad Kent agreed that UC Berkeley was not necessarily exceptional as a college in terms of its present-day activism.

Kent noted that the school has two identities: the identity it has to people around the country — a campus “full of hippies” — and the identity of the campus itself, where day-to-day student life has more to do with getting a degree or a job.

“(That) is not to say there are not activist students today,” Kent said. “Its identity internally …  is not that different from any big, great public university.”

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof similarly said in an email that the campus’s identity is “far more diverse” than “the stereotype” many believe it to be.

Kent said based on his own observations, the campus is mostly inhabited by people who thought of themselves as students first — a deviation from the view that students are at UC Berkeley to be activists first and students second.

Indeed, many students around campus said the political identity of the school was not a major draw nor drawback for them as they applied to colleges.

“I wouldn’t have gone to a school that was notedly conservative, but I wouldn’t have gone to Berkeley solely because it was liberal,” said campus sophomore Cooper Bedin.

While campus politics seem to be decidedly less important to liberal members of the community, external vice president of Berkeley College Republicans and former Daily Californian columnist Rudra Reddy said in an email that he felt conservative people on campus had additional pressures to “fit in” at UC Berkeley, which he referred to as a “good school with strange political leanings.”

“Aside to the regular fitting in process … every freshman has to undergo, college conservatives need to ensure that their politics don’t influence how people perceive them,” Reddy said in an email.

Campus sophomore Grace Davert agreed, calling UC Berkeley’s reputation as a “liberal” school “something (she) was aware of” but didn’t take into consideration on a daily basis.

Bedin further said though he personally leaned liberal, the campus was large enough to engage with many different groups of people of different ideas. People are more likely to be “yelled at” for being uninformed than for any political ideology, according to Bedin.

Campus freshman Shinji Lin said he thought it possible to avoid political activity entirely at UC Berkeley, despite the institution’s history.

“You could ignore (it),” Lin said. “It’s possible to do your studies and ignore it, and not in an ‘anti’ way. But it is possible to be neutral.”

Campus sophomore Nina Didkovsky said she came to UC Berkeley expecting it to be “hyperliberal” and that some of her family members felt concerned that she would be “brainwashed” or “fed ideas” that were not her own.

Since Didkovsky arrived on campus, however, she said UC Berkeley functions as a regular school that parallels other schools in the nation.

“Something that’s also exaggerated is that (UC Berkeley students) are always striking and we never go to class,” Didkovsky said. “But if we never went to class, we wouldn’t be doing this well in school.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.