UC Berkeley must continue working toward a community that’s welcoming for all

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Recent feedback from students, faculty makes clear that past efforts to improve equity, inclusion have been slow to address urgent issues on campus

Illustration of a person contrasting a deserted UC Berkeley campus with the diverse group of students pictured on a brochure
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Last week, the UC Berkeley administration sent a campuswide email with results of the 2019 My Experience Survey, which had asked students and faculty to share their perceptions of personal, social and academic climates on campus.

In relaying the findings, however, administration was not entirely forthcoming, failing to capture just how deeply disparities run across affinity groups when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

About one in four survey respondents said they regularly experience exclusion on campus. But that number doubles for underrepresented minorities and nearly triples for Black undergraduate students.

While about 90% of respondents felt their group was respected on campus, just 65% of the underrepresented minority population — and 43% of the Black population — could say the same. Gender non-conforming folks also reported markedly low levels of comfort on campus.

These results are troubling but unsurprising as, among other DEI-related challenges, UC Berkeley has held a reputation for being one of the poorest campus climates for Black students in the UC system.

But UC Berkeley shouldn’t reflect the pervasive exclusion and disrespect that marks much of our world today. Campus should be a community where students of all backgrounds feel they can belong and thrive.

Last spring, UC Berkeley admitted its most ethnically diverse freshman class in more than 30 years. And according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, campus is actively pursuing multiple DEI initiatives, including the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force, the SB 179 Committee and a variety of anti-racism programs in the Graduate division.

But many statistics regarding inclusion of underrepresented minorities have seen little improvement since the previous survey was conducted in 2013. This demonstrates an urgent need for campus to improve an unwelcoming culture that has been slow to change. It also shows how campus initiatives, often tasked with unwieldy and challenging goals to improve DEI, require broader support from, and awareness in, the campus community.

Notably, the survey found that, among undergraduate and graduate student respondents, the most commonly reported source of exclusionary behavior was other students.

Campus is only as inclusive as students make it to be. We must all become more cognizant of how our interactions and conduct have indelible impacts on others. That means being transparent and unbiased in student organization admissions, as well as furthering DEI initiatives for acting members. It means not singling out individuals to serve as spokespeople for their underrepresented groups and it means always being aware of the space we take up.

The survey findings have made clear the chasms that exist between the versions of UC Berkeley that different students experience on a daily basis. Now, the question is what the entire campus community — students, faculty and administrators alike — will do to bridge them.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.