YWCA pushes for racial justice in higher education

Illustration of two female students looking at map on Berkeley campus
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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As a new fall transfer at UC Berkeley, I struggled to find my sense of belonging among the 42,000 students swarming around campus. Hundreds of clubs and organizations were available, but it was easy to feel overwhelmed. Finally, I found my niche as a volunteer at the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland after seeing a flyer while walking down Bancroft Way. Here, the YWCA has a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, create leaders and advocate for social justice — a big statement for an organization with an equally big heart. 

Personally, coming to the YWCA was about belonging to an organization that is proud to serve its community and aims to be as inclusive as possible. Its goals for racial justice in education parallel my views, as every person should be allowed the opportunity to enter higher education and receive the proper resources to flourish.  

At our first meeting, I walked in weary and anxious about the members I had never met. I had no prior knowledge of who they were, where they came from or whether I would fit in. The room was filled to the brim with warmth, openness and transparency, however. Each member welcomed the next without judgment nor any pressure to exude a false persona in order to feel included. From that moment on, I knew that these next few months would pass by with ease. 

For more than 125 years, the YWCA has served our Berkeley and Oakland community by providing a safe, organizing home for anyone and everyone, including but not limited to students, immigrants, youth and unemployed members of our community. One of the major programs that we hold is our annual Shadow Day event, a one-day event that hosts 600 participants at UC Berkeley. This event pairs 300 Cal Mentors with 300 underrepresented high school mentees from neighboring communities in order to showcase that higher education is achievable, regardless of your background. Cal Mentors can choose to have their mentees join them in lecture, give their mentees a tour around campus or drop in on workshops that provide information about the college application process and financial aid. 

As Cal Mentors, Shadow Day gives us the platform to form personal relationships with those who might be struggling with their own adversities, provide insight on what it means to be in higher education and allow these students to see possible places of belonging in UC Berkeley’s culture. The long-term impact mentors can have on their mentees is immeasurable, and being able to help people in such a welcoming community is what makes the whole experience worthwhile. 

Community organizer Grace Miller reflected on how her past involvement in Shadow Day has impacted her journey as a student at UC Berkeley: “Shadow Day has become important to me because it aims to improve access and equity on campus by connecting underrepresented students to each other and to resources, as well. In the past, Shadow Day has been a wonderful experience because we have been able to build a community, not only amongst Cal students but with the greater Bay Area, as well.”

Similarly, former Shadow Day mentor and current event organizer Pearle Nwaezeigwe recalled how Shadow Day “was one of (her) best memories while being a student at UC Berkeley due to the beauty in interacting with such a warm and supportive community amongst both the mentors and mentees.” All in all, by applying to be a mentor for the YWCA’s Shadow Day, you are not only signing up to be a mentor but a leader, inspiration and friend. 

As it has for almost 131 years, the YWCA will continue to pave the way for past, present and future generations to find a real sense of belonging, and I am forever grateful to be a part of an organization that strives for a better world for all people. 

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Shadow Day or how to become a Cal Mentor, contact [email protected] or stop by the YWCA at 2600 Bancroft Way in Berkeley.

Ailinh Nguyen is a junior studying psychology at UC Berkeley.