By Valeria Moran, UC Berkeley |
Two years ago I started studying at Imperial Valley College with one goal in mind: transfer to UC Berkeley. Even though I knew that the odds were against me with only 24% acceptance rate as a transfer, there was nothing more I wanted. I beat the odds.
Like many transfer students here at UC Berkeley, I’ve overcome multiple obstacles. I feel that I’ve learned and grown stronger over the years and although I might sometimes doubt myself, UC Berkeley is the place for me. What I didn’t expect however was how many more obstacles I would encounter once I transferred to UCB.
First thing I didn’t expect was to be almost homeless. With Berkeley being my dream school, I couldn’t help but have a romanticized idea of campus and the Bay Area. I knew the housing situation was bad, but I never thought it would affect me. My admission letter was like my golden ticket, that mesmerized me enough to forget the logistics of finances and housing. I expected Berkeley to provide guaranteed housing for their Transfer students, like other schools do, but no. I decided to desperately seek for off-campus housing going to Berkeley’s own trusted Cal Rentals. The prices for rent seemed ridiculous. 1,800 a month? In what world could I ever afford that?
I was lucky to have found a place to stay, however I didn’t stay there for long. I thought I was going to share a triple with two other girls, but instead my landlord made me live in a kitchen. He turned a one person studio into a triple, and while my other roommates shared the bedroom, I was left to sleep on a sectioned off kitchenette with no stove or a real bed. I slept on a hospital gurney with no mattress. The place was not like the pictures at all. The building housed over 20 people; a man even chose to live in a tent in the backyard. It was quickly dilapidating, full of mold, and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. To make matters worse, I was supposed to clean out my “room” space because the landlord had previously used it as storage room. It was $500 per month, wifi and utilities included, 20 minutes from campus and right next Trader Joe’s. How could I refuse such a bargain? But after two weeks, as much as it pained me to leave my roommate, who was the only other girl that had transferred from my community college, I decided to leave.
Thanks to a Facebook post, I managed to find a room nicer than any room I’ve ever lived in, with my own bed and mattress, desk and closet. Let me remind you that all of this happened during my first weeks of orientation at Berkeley. I couldn’t enjoy the welcoming events because I was miserable living in horrible conditions. My unfortunate housing horror story is that of many students, especially transfer students. It just goes to show how UC Berkeley fails at fulfilling their promise of student inclusion and their commitment of helping their minority population of transfer students access sustainable living conditions.
This year, UC Berkeley and UCLA have been jostling for the top spot in rankings of public universities. I would rank UC Berkeley down a few pegs for not guaranteeing transfer housing unlike their rival public university, UCLA. In fact when factoring my decision to come to Cal I was tempted to choose UCLA or UCSD because they not only offered a great financial aid package, but guaranteed housing as well. In the end I decided that I would take a gamble and follow my dream. I know now that the housing inequality is a big problem in itself all across the Bay. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, ”Alameda County’s biennial homeless count showed a staggering 39 percent increase from 2015 in the number of unhoused people — 5,629 people. In Oakland, the increase was 25 percent.” These numbers are depressing, which is the reason I sympathize with the homeless who sleep outside my street.
However not all hope is lost. Through new transfer inclusion initiatives, UC Berkeley has made a commitment to ensure housing. The sixth floor of Maximino Martinez Commons is now exclusively reserved to house transfers, including a transfer specialist RA. There are various co-op housing opportunities that accept applications for first generation and low income minority students like myself. Rochdale Village is well known and offers a very affordable housing deal with rent costs as low as 250 dollars. It is 1 of the 17 houses the Berkeley Student Cooperative runs. Casa Joaquin Murrieta is an independent non profit organization who has a long history since the 1970’s to house predominantly Chicano students. They do not only offer affordable housing but include a leadership enriched experience with workshops for students to polish their professional skills. They also provide basic food supplies.
Looking back to the period between my admission letter and the start of school, I mainly focused on fundraising my expected cost of attendance. I prayed the odds would be on my favor and I would be lucky enough to win the lottery and obtain a spot on campus. Once I was denied on-campus housing, I got lost looking through the many housing listings on CalRental but not once knew the existence of these various affordable housing opportunities. Unlike freshmen admits, I feel UC Berkeley does not prioritize outreach to transfer students. While freshmen students have an open invitation to Cal Day in April, transfer students suffer in the uncertainty of admission limbo, anxiously waiting for that email carrying the news whether we were admitted or not. Having to get our admissions much later than other students is also a factor into our late start in looking for housing.
It is not secret that while UC Berkeley aims to accept more transfer students, it has not increased their budget to facilitate the resources this demographic specifically needs. One look at the small underfunded Transfer Center and it is clear to me transfer students are an afterthought. While I am critical of my campus I am also hopeful by knowing that this year there are 3 out of 20 transfer student senators in the ASUC. In past years, there were no transfer leaders. These students have been my direct access to resource information this semester, proving their commitment to the transfer community by advocating for us and extending their outreach. They are an example that although transfers have less time here than freshmen, they have the opportunity to make a difference. I am hopeful that our collective advocacy as transfer students can make UC Berkeley understand our journey and move quickly to better address the challenges we face.