UC Berkeley is an amazing school for a lot of reasons. Not only do we have incredible professors and groundbreaking research, but UC Berkeley has historically played an important role in many forms of social justice such as the Free Speech Movement. That being said, it’s pretty easy to ignore the protests happening on Sproul on your way to class. Many UC Berkeley students have packed schedules every semester and really only have time for major requirements, clubs that benefit their careers and paid work. But even if you read that sentence and said, “Yup, that’s me,” let this be a sign that you should make an effort to take a class about race, ethnicity, poverty, environmental racism or social justice. Not convinced? Check out these reasons why you should take an ethnic studies class!
You might discover a new interest
Though it’s certainly super valid to enter college already knowing that you want to be a doctor, politician or engineer, that doesn’t mean you can’t have other professional and personal interests. As much as you may really love coding or math, you might find that taking a humanities class for a change can be super refreshing and really click for you. You might even be inspired to pick up a minor or change your career interest entirely. At the very least, taking a class allows you to expand your interests and talk about social problems every week.
Commit to educating yourself
You know how, during the summer, you had free time to attend protests, read books about race and scroll through endless social media graphics about current events? For a lot of students, the school year means putting a pause on social justice and activism. Even when it’s not intentional, that feeling isn’t great. You may care a ton about advocacy, but school just gets in the way. Taking a class is the perfect way to continue your education about marginalized groups and social justice.
Get inspired by classmates
Some of the most inspiring activists I’ve met are students in my classes! Don’t discount activism as a major extracurricular activity. It takes a lot of time to dedicate yourself to making a difference in your community. But unlike adults who have decades of experience, the activists in your classes are also working within the confines of being a student. You might find that some of your classmates have overcome incredible barriers to get to UC Berkeley, or that they are student-parents or students with disabilities who have totally different outlooks on how to blend advocacy with being a student.
Meet a new part of campus
Though this isn’t entirely a good thing, there is a huge difference between STEM and humanities classes in terms of the kind of work, amount of work, expectations and overall vibe. If you mostly take biology, economics or computer science classes, chances are you’re used to intense competition, huge amounts of homework and curves that mean you technically fail every test you take. Taking a class in a department such as ethnic studies, African American studies, Native American studies, gender and women’s studies or social welfare (among many, many other departments) can be a huge cultural change and might be the break you need. That’s not to say classes in these departments are easy — they’re not! But smaller classes, classes in a more informal setting and classes taught by professors from a range of backgrounds mean that you get an experience catering to a totally different style of academics. Even more exciting is that the pool of students taking these classes and majoring in these subjects may be different from many of the students you’ve met through your other classes. Meet someone who has a super different background, learning style and career goal!
Learn something and improve yourself
If there’s any reason to take an ethnic studies class, it’s to learn something and improve yourself. There’s a reason that careers and academic paths in ethnic studies and social justice are seen as less competitive and, to some, less impressive. These are fields that weren’t considered important for a long time because it has taken years for society to evolve to the point where social justice initiatives are recognized as legitimate courses of action for significant change. That doesn’t mean these fields aren’t as good! You can learn so much from just taking a single class and help your community in a tangible way. If you are committed to posting graphics on social media but don’t actually have time to learn information beyond what you can read on Instagram, check your priorities. Consider making this one.
Hopefully, this article convinced you to take a class in ethnic studies or a similar subject or to get a little more involved in your activism. It’s never too late to learn something new and to take a class that is truly important but isn’t for your degree.
Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].