UC Berkeley African American Initiative expects to double number of scholarship recipients in 2020

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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Despite funding and campus climate challenges, the UC Berkeley African American Initiative, or AAI, expects to double its number of scholarship recipients in 2020.

Founded in 2015, the AAI was designed to address the disproportionately low number of Black students and faculty on campus as well as reported campus climate issues. Today, it provides a scholarship supporting 40 Black students since 2018, according to José Rodríguez, the campus spokesperson for the University Development and Alumni Relations department.

“The African American Initiative is a comprehensive effort to address the underrepresentation of African American students, faculty, and staff at our university, and improve the climate for those who are here now and all who will join our community in the future,” Rodríguez said in an email.

The scholarship, which is managed by the San Francisco Foundation and administered by the Cal Alumni Association, provides recipients $8,000 annually for up to five years.

According to its website, the AAI was founded to address results from the 2014 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, which found that Black students felt the least respected among all groups on campus.

In the 2014 survey, 48% of Black students on campus reported feeling disrespected on the basis of race.

The 2018 version of the survey found that the percentage has increased, with 58% of Black students saying their race or ethnicity was not respected on campus. In contrast, in the 2018 survey, 82% of all UC Berkeley students reported feeling at least somewhat respected on the basis of race.

The proportion of Black students in the survey who disagreed that UC Berkeley values diversity also rose by 10 percentage points between 2014 and 2018.

The number of Black students who worried about paying for their education was also higher compared to the general population and increased from 2014 to 2018. In 2018, Black students also reported experiencing homelessness while at UC Berkeley at a rate more than two times higher than the general population.

The Black Student Union, or BSU, responded to the 2014 survey results with a series of demands, including the foundation of a resource center for Black students and the recruitment of Black admissions staff members, development advisers and psychologists.

Since its founding, the AAI has fulfilled some of the BSU’s demands with the opening of the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center in 2017 and the recent hiring of two Black psychologists who “understand the hostile campus climate,” according to the AAI website.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, current campus efforts include implementing a director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, who will recommend and oversee changes to improve campus climate and retention for historically marginalized groups, in addition to debuting pilot programs focused on increasing the diversity of faculty hires.

Despite campus efforts, the overall percentage of freshmen who identify as Black has not increased since the AAI was created. In fall 2014, African American/Black students constituted 2.9% of freshman enrollment, compared to just 2.8% in fall 2018, according to data from the Office of Planning and Analysis at UC Berkeley.

Today, Black students still suffer from a lack of resources on campus, according to AAI scholarship recipient Timothy Henry.

“There are only two Black spaces on this campus,” Henry said. “This is a whole UC campus, and there are only two places on campus that we can go to and feel safe.”

Funding for the initiative and scholarship decreased between 2018 and 2019, according to Ruben Orduña, the San Francisco Foundation’s chief of philanthropy. While the scholarship was able to support 28 students in 2018 because of large initial contributions, donations decreased in the second year of the scholarship, with only 12 Black students receiving this financial support in the 2019 cohort of admitted students.

This is a normal part of the fundraising cycle, according to Orduña. Early contributions for a new program are often large, but funding frequently drops in the second year before the program develops name recognition and finds steady funding.

Funding for the 2020-2021 cohort of admitted students has already increased, and the San Francisco Foundation anticipates that the scholarship will be able to support between 40 and 42 new students, Orduña said. He added that he is “very optimistic” about the future of the scholarship.

“The scholarship means a lot because it allows me to continue education at a prestigious school, which not a lot of people in my community are able to do,” Henry said.

Alexandra Feldman is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.