UC Berkeley students reflect on barriers to entry for campus clubs

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For most students on campus majoring in technology, business or computer science, club recruitment is as integral to life as sleeping. For many, so are the rejections.

As the club recruitment season ramps up on campus, some students took to Reddit to express their frustration with student organizations, claiming they had been rejected despite having both strong resumes and applications.

Naz Shakur, campus junior transfer student, expected clubs to reflect UC Berkeley’s commitment to supporting marginalized students, but was disappointed with the lack of amenities following her rejection by Cal Mock Trial.

“When I first started looking around, I found that a lot of student organizations were very not transfer exclusive per se, but did not have any additional support for junior transfers to come and join,” Shakur said. “That was very off-putting.”

Shakur added by requesting GPA scores and prioritizing longevity and club loyalty, clubs discounted the experience junior transfer students had accrued prior to arriving on campus.

Despite some clubs hosting info sessions particularly for underrepresented minorities, Shakur still noted a disparity in club admissions for students who weren’t freshmen or sophomores. She added that campus transfer students include a higher number of people of color, low-income students, student-parents and reentry students.

Kyra Abrams, chair of campus’s Black Student Union and chief of staff of the ASUC Office of Academic Affairs Vice President, added rejection rates for marginalized students remained consistent through the transition back to in-person learning.

“The barriers to entry are quite arbitrary,” Abrams said. “Many of these clubs do not value diversity and their outreach processes consist of reaching out to community organizations to promote their club for them. It’s very structural in preventing marginalized students from even applying, let alone getting in.”

Campus club applications often consist of written applications, individual and group interviews and coffee chats. They also encourage applicants to attend info sessions, case workshops and networking events.

According to Abrams, clubs may say they look for “specific types of people” or “people who will be a great fit.” However, she said such language was coded and ultimately excluded marginalized students.

Campus’s Data Science Society, or DSS, has a committee application which follows the same structure, but general membership only requires a written application, according to DSS President Varun Mittal. DSS senior advisor Alleanna Clark added that DSS looks specifically for students who would benefit most from the program.

Although DSS called their approach to club recruitment “holistic,” the group acknowledged there are improvements that can be made to the club recruitment system as a whole, especially with regards to complaints of nepotism in the selection process.

“One problem with Berkeley club culture as a whole is that it prioritizes elitism over everyone working together, and that affects our entire student body and university,” said DSS senior advisor Andi Halim. “One thing we should focus on is helping create more clubs, more places to go to and not priding ourselves on being selective.”

Contact Kavya Gupta at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kavyaguptta.