UC Berkeley cultural student service groups continue to support academic success

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At a college with tens of thousands of students, it can often seem difficult for UC Berkeley students to find the sense of community they need. However, communities on campus have often coalesced to form groups offering more specific support to certain groups of students, helping them create the healthy mindset necessary to succeed.

The Centers for Educational Justice and Community Engagement comprises six different groups aimed at supporting students from diverse backgrounds: African American Student Development, Asian Pacific American Student Development, or APASD,  Chicanx Latinx Student Development, Gender Equity Resource Center, Multicultural Community Center and Native American Student Development. Other groups on campus also seek to provide services in more specific areas, such as the Pilipinx Academic Student Services, or PASS.

These groups typically provide a sense of community and access to resources students need in order to succeed in college. APASD, for example, hosts seminars, workshops and fellowship programs seeking to connect students to peers with similar backgrounds, according to APASD director Eunice Kwon.

In addition, Kwon said APASD aims to help students “explore their identities and histories” and “develop community organizing skills.”

Other basic needs services can also be accessed through these cultural groups; Kwon noted APASD also partners with Counseling and Psychological Services and the College of Letters and Science to provide relevant services.

Organizations such as PASS provide services to help students fulfill basic needs so that they can better pursue their academic goals.

“We offer a lot of different opportunities, like scholarships, workshops, and more with the intention of demystifying higher education for first-gen, low-income students of color,” said Lauren Dela Rosa, the group’s community and alumni relations coordinator, in an email.

Student panels, typically featuring upperclassmen, discuss financial aid, courses, student resources and other topics attendees would want to know about, according to PASS intern Reva Loquinario.

These groups can often provide better support to students by encouraging a stronger sense of community, Dela Rosa noted.

“It is a lot easier to combat things like imposter syndrome and to find a sense of community when you are surrounded by people with similar experiences and upbringings,” Dela Rosa said in the email. “When you’re so far away from home, culture-specific groups can really provide a sense of belonging that is so hard to come by on this campus, especially when you come from an underrepresented group and culture.”

Dela Rosa and Kwon both acknowledged that while cultures are not monolithic and students have vastly different lived experiences, campus data demonstrates race and ethnicity do heavily influence student experience.

Bao Vang, a campus junior studying political science and Asian American studies, agreed, adding that the Hmong Student Association at Berkeley, or HSAB, has been “instrumental” in helping her feel welcomed and supported on campus.

Other students stated the community provided by these groups helped encourage personal growth during their time in Berkeley. Nikita Kumar, a campus sophomore who serves as the political education and APASD community engagement chair, discussed biweekly seminars held by APASD.

“One of the other APASD interns mentioned how some children of immigrants have a hard time asking for help due to shame, especially when their parents had to make their own way,” Kumar said in an email. “That insight really stuck with me and allowed me to reflect on how my life has been impacted by those implicit messages. I think this further speaks to the need of groups like APASD: to create a support system where there previously had been none, and to show that there is value in accessing support systems and resources.”

Throughout the pandemic, these groups continued to provide students with the community they needed to feel supported during a time of uncertainty. Some groups found it even easier to do outreach and recruitment virtually due to the wider scope Zoom made possible, Dela Rosa said in the email.

Much of the programming PASS holds remains remote to this day, though Dela Rosa noted virtual programming can make retention difficult.

As groups transition into hybrid models and keep an eye on the future, many feel there is also room for expansion within these groups. For example, while APASD continues doing valuable work on campus, its offices can only accommodate nine people, even though there are 22 people on staff, according to Vang.

“If we were able to obtain more space, we would be able to hold physical space for our communities and work more efficiently to support them,” Vang said in an email.

Contact Riya Chopra at [email protected].