UC Berkeley student clubs must address excessive barriers to entry

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Campus organizations often advertise themselves as “open to all,” but application processes make this unrealistic.

Illustration of noninclusive flyering
Aishwarya Jayadeep/File

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For UC Berkeley and its students, prestige is practically currency. The problem is when prestige is a product of inaccessibility. Forbes recently ranked UC Berkeley as America’s top college, referencing campus’s commitment to educating a diverse student body. Campus clubs and organizations, however, don’t always reflect this principle. As students return to campus and club recruitment wraps up, it’s time to re-invent club culture for coming semesters.

Many campus organizations are highly competitive, with some boasting acceptance rates allegedly under 10%. Students have claimed that these same organizations have a distinct lack of diversity.

While selectivity may be difficult to combat given the size of campus and the number of  students an organization can realistically manage, barriers to entry must be addressed.

When GPAs, test scores and multiple interview rounds are required of club applicants, transfer students and those from marginalized communities are often disadvantaged. In addition, many students either have jobs, must care for family members or have other obligations that make it difficult to attend multiple mandatory events for one or more organizations.

Transfer students, a population that includes a higher percentage of low-income students and people from marginalized communities, often don’t arrive with the same on-campus experiences junior and senior applicants are expected to have. In addition, student organizations offer an essential community to new students but often prioritize accepting freshmen to maintain club longevity.

Kyra Abrams, ASUC Office of Academic Affairs vice president chief of staff, said that the practice of prioritizing people who are a “great fit” can be coded language that ultimately excludes marginalized students. Hiring practices are already affected by implicit biases, but when mandatory or invite-only socials are involved in the hiring process, this issue is likely exacerbated.

While many clubs do not have barriers to entry or have made efforts to increase diversity — including holding information sessions targeted toward women, hosting case workshops and instituting diversity, equity and inclusion hiring officers — there is far more that needs to be done.

The Daily Californian is not exempt in its lack of inclusivity. In spring 2021, the Daily Cal received zero Black-identifying applicants. The paper has since made steps in the right direction, including instituting a diversity, equity and inclusion panel as part of its information sessions, but must do more.

Student organizations provide valuable professional growth, resume building and connections. These opportunities must be made available to everyone.

It is unlikely substantial change will be made unless it is enforced. As the elected voice for students and the institution in charge of club funding allocations, the ASUC must step in. Whether it’s auditing club accessibility or requiring transparent application processes and evaluations, the ASUC must pry open the doors of organizations that are gatekeeping learning opportunities.

College is a microcosm of the real world, and if we don’t prioritize inclusion on campus, how will we expect to enact change after graduation? Increasing diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process and many students are making strides toward this goal, but everyone on campus needs to be taking these steps.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.