The heart and soul of UC Berkeley culture can be found at every campus sports game — but it is not athletes on the field, students in Greek life decked out in gear or even Oski as he parades along the stands. It’s Cal Band, tirelessly bursting into song, riling up the crowd, intimidating opponents and providing the audience with some relief from a potentially embarrassing scoreboard.
Cal Band has been a backbone of UC Berkeley culture since 1891. Yet this staple remains continuously underappreciated and underfunded, to the extent that they can’t even afford new instruments or properly maintain old equipment. Cal Band should not have to rely on external fundraising when Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox’s salary per season is more than seven times the size of Cal Band’s entire annual budget.
As a student-led organization, Cal Band’s passion is too often taken for granted. Members handle all affairs on their own: repairing instruments and uniforms, learning to handle medical incidents while performing, producing their own halftime shows and fundraising. They showed up to more than 165 events on campus last Fall semester 2021 alone.
Being a member does not grant any academic credit or monetary compensation; participants are entirely driven by passion. In addition to being a substantial time commitment for full-time college students, being in Cal Band is physically demanding. Lugging a 35-pound tuba onto a sunny field and wearing a thick uniform and straw hat is practically an extreme sport in and of itself.
The lack of funding also creates and exacerbates existing financial barriers within Cal Band. Some students cannot easily afford their own instruments, especially when factoring in the cost of repair and upkeep. As students, Cal Band members also have to pay for rent and food in the Bay Area. It’s not a big ask for Cal Athletics, which only funds 3% of Cal Band’s budget, to chip in for basic, functioning instruments or at the very least instrument repair kits.
Instead of being rewarded for their dedication and contributions to campus tradition, Cal Band members unfairly rely on fundraising and performance income. While community members should still donate and support in every way they can, Cal Band’s reliance on philanthropy points to a larger underappreciation of the arts at UC Berkeley. Cal Band is a unique way for students to continue pursuing music after high school if they are not a music major or minor.
Every crowd roaring “Go Bears” at California Memorial Stadium should be accompanied by the clashing of cymbals and spontaneous renditions of “Take On Me” by A-ha. To preserve this tradition and uplift more students in the arts, UC Berkeley must provide more institutional support and funding to financially sustain Cal Band’s basic needs.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2022 opinion editor, Jessie Wu.
A previous version of this editorial incorrectly implied that campus only supports 3% of Cal Band’s budget. In fact, Cal Athletics alone funds 3% of Cal Band’s budget and another 16% comes from the Student Services Fee.
A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that Cal Band attends 165 campus event throughout one academic year. In fact, Cal Band attended 165 campus events last Fall semester 2021 alone.