Lack of student diversity, racial equity policies at UC Berkeley concerns community

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Opinions on affirmative action differ within the student body, with concerns about a lack of underrepresented minority students on campus running high.

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Calls for more student diversity and campus policies that ensure racial equity continue at UC Berkeley.

Despite the surge in applications from California freshmen in underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, many say that diversity on campus is inadequate and that resources for those students are not enough. Several community members also advocate for bringing back affirmative action, which helped close the racial equity gap, according to Zachary Bleemer, a research associate at the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, or CSHE.

“Race-based affirmative action, as was practiced by the University of California from the 1970’s until 1998, substantially increased Black and Hispanic enrollment at UC,” Bleemer said in an email. “Especially at the system’s most selective Berkeley and UCLA campuses.”

In 1996, Proposition 209 banned the consideration of race in admissions at state institutions such as UC Berkeley. In 2020, a state proposition was on the ballet and would have repealed the ban on affirmative action if passed. However, the effort to repeal Prop. 209 failed by a 17-point margin, according to Bleemer.

Bleemer added Black and Hispanic students targeted by the university’s affirmative policies had actually been receiving above-average returns from UC enrollment. He noted the university’s efficiency declined after 1998 when they ceased educating a group of students who had been receiving substantial value from that education.

“My research suggests that increasing the proportion of UC students from disadvantaged backgrounds would improve both the equity and efficiency of California higher education,” Bleemer said in an email.

According to Raina Zhao, a campus senior and campaigns chair for the University of California Student Association, or UCSA,  there is currently a lack of diversity at UC Berkeley. She noted the Black student population is especially low.

Zhao said that she is in support of affirmative action and added there are other solutions that can decrease equity gaps.

“Affirmative action is just one piece of the puzzle, since there are so many things that go into creating an equitable and diverse experience on campus,” Zhao said. “A lot of it is whether the students are being supported and whether they have the adequate resources, basic needs and financial aid. All of these things impact diversity, equity, in tandem with affirmative action.”

Zainub Vellani, Business Transfer Network, or BTN, senior advisor and campus alumni, said that while there isn’t much diversity in the general student population, there is diversity within the transfer student population.

Campus senior and BTN president, Pavan Jariwala, said transfer students are diverse because they come from “different walks of life,” including community colleges, veterans and immigrants. Many are also of different age groups.

However, Vellani said she wishes there were more resources for transfer students to help them assimilate into the campus community. She noted transfer students have difficulty finding networks and communities.

Both Vellani and Jariwala said that they both advocate for policies that promote diversity.

Campus sophomore and Taiwanese American Student Association, or TASA, outreach officer Tompson Hsu added Berkeley is diverse in comparison to his hometown, Irvine.

He noted there are students from different backgrounds and perspectives on campus.

“Affirmative action is really good in theory but just from what I’ve seen, it is a little lackluster,” Hsu said. “It could use some work.”

Campus sophomore and TASA outreach intern Anastasia Yang said universities should consider applications in a holistic way, instead of just considering race or ethnicity.

She said campuses should take other measurements of marginalization, such as socioeconomic status and “general background”  into consideration.

On March 24, UC Berkeley released its admissions decisions for the class of 2026 after having received around 128,196 freshman admission applications.

The applicant pool was significantly diverse among freshman and transfer students, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“The most significant increases in UC Berkeley applications among freshman and transfer applicants combined included Native American applications, up 50%; Filipinx, up 15%, and Chicanx/Latinx, up about 14%,” Gilmore said in an email. “Regarding gender identity, there was a 134% increase in applicants who identified as genderqueer/gender non-conforming.”

However, according to former Students for Prop. 16 co-chair and alumni Maureen Simmons, UC Berkeley continues to lack diversity. The lack of diversity during her time at Berkeley was the reason why she and other students led the effort to repeal Prop. 209, she added.

Simmons noted she was one of the few students of color in her UC Berkeley classes. She said it was “disheartening” and that it would have been great to have had more diversity.

“There are many talented students that don’t have the opportunity because they don’t have the same access to the pipeline that leads into Berkeley and other prestigious universities,” Simmons said. “This will not give you a diverse pool of students.”

Contact Victor Corona at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @victorcorona__.

Clarification(s):
Online: A previous version of this article attributed a quote to only Jariwala. In fact, Vellani also said that they both advocate for policies that promote diversity.

Correction(s):
Online: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote from Vellani to Jariwala. In fact, Vellani said that while there is not much diversity in the general student population, there is diversity within the transfer student population.

Online: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote from Vellani to Jariwala. In fact, Vellani said she wishes there were more resources for transfer students to help them assimilate into the campus community and that transfer students have difficulty finding networks and communities.

Online: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Jariwala said that transfers are of different age groups. In fact Zainub Vellani said transfers are of different age groups.