By Nishan Jones, UC Berkeley |
I recently joined an Economics Club at Cal and I felt completely different as a member compared to being in a similar club at my community college. I went to Chabot College in Hayward and there were all types of people in the club. Everyone seemed to have a mutual understanding and we related to one another- we all love Economics, we all have unique stories and we’re excited to collectively make the club successful. I thought the same feeling would translate to my experience in an Economics Club at Berkeley. I was wrong. The vibe was entirely different. I immediately felt older and detached from the people around me. I am a Black female transfer student, who worked and was involved on campus while commuting around 3 hours each day to and from school. I wasn’t sure if anyone could relate to these experiences or understand a life without an abundance of privilege.
Community college students often have multiple responsibilities besides being a student, whether it’s working multiple jobs to support their family or simply working to support themselves each day. Usually students who enter Cal right after high school, move from one sheltered environment to another. According to a report done by the UC Berkeley Office of Planning and Analysis of Fall 2016 transfer and freshman admits, 49% of freshman come from household incomes of more than $125,000 or more. On the contrary, 51% of transfers come from household incomes of $50,000 or less. This data strongly suggests that on average, transfer students come from slightly harsher financial environments which often means they must take on that burden along with their studies. Existing as a transfer student is to navigate constant streams of adversity and prejudice, especially for underrepresented students.. So as I sat with a group of UC Berkeley undergraduates, listening to all the familiar club introductions, I could not help but feel the privilege in the room. Being one of two people Black people in the room only perpetuated the feeling that the color of my skin and the life I had lived separated me from everyone in that room.
Everyone who I spoke with seemed so comfortable with what they know, which are the invisible stereotypes that build walls around specific fields of study. In this case, no one questioned the image of a White, Asian or Indian person with career aspirations in Finance. I keep wondering why? Why do I feel as if I need to be majoring in Ethnic Studies or African American studies to feel like I belong? I don’t want to do either of those majors. I have my mindset on Economics yet why do I feel as if I shouldn’t be in any Economics spaces. I know that people in Ethnic Studies and African American studies departments understand racism.They study, dissect, and analyze it. Why are the minds that develop the crucial understanding of racial injustices flourish so far away from most of the worlds in Berkeley?
Because there has been this separation for so long, people within majors that are not Ethnic Studies or African American Studies develop a certain image of others, usually people of color, who have managed to enter into their spaces. I am not saying that we have to talk about race issues in a Physics class instead of solving physics problems. What I am asking is that why is there such a lack of representation within higher education to the point where I feel as if I shouldn’t be a part of a discipline I enjoy. I believe that if there was increased representation within a Physics class or Computer Science class for example, these racial inequities would begin to break down. These needed conversations about confronting and solving social, economic, and racial injustices would happen on their own and gradually reconstruct the campus environment into an inclusive space.
“What I am asking is that why is there such a lack of representation within higher education to the point where I feel as if I shouldn’t be a part of a discipline I enjoy.”
I understand the power of being with people who have been through similar struggles, who you can relate to, and are of the same race. There is unity within those environments but how does that fight any of the problems that are present in society when no one else, except your racial group, is exposed to them. We are only re-segregating ourselves and hardly working to deconstruct the racial divides that have been built up for centuries. I do believe that providing a space for minority groups is essential as much of the world still doesn’t accept people of different identities, races and backgrounds and there are not enough safe spaces. We need to also centralize efforts in integrating people into different environments, sharing the knowledge and experiences of underrepresented students so everyone can understand and be cooperative towards one another. I know it is naive to think of a world where everyone is mingling and everyone understands, affirms and recognizes the struggles of the next group. It is really naive. But, I hope that can change.
I guess for now Berkeley will be ‘diverse’. ‘Diverse’ but divided. One pocket of people will be in one corner and another pocket of people in another corner. Occasionally, somebody will attempt to move into another corner but has to slowly make their way back to where they came from.