Forging a New Diversity

Daniel Hernandez is a Daily Cal editor and staff writer. Send comments to [email protected]

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Starting tomorrow, hundreds of high school students will be bringing pillows and sleeping bags to dozens of UC Berkeley students' dorm and co-op rooms. These students, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups, will be driving or flying in - at the administration's expense - to "get to know Berkeley" as best they can in a few days. The officials in Sproul Fortress are crossing their fingers: please let them come. Pretty please.

What makes this weekend so critical for UC administrators is the presence and happiness of black and Latino admits. They will be receiving classy invitations to attend classy receptions at vice chancellors' and professors' homes. They will mingle with alumni at receptions in hotel conference rooms and backyards across the state. They will receive phone calls from current students encouraging them to enroll at Berkeley. And they will come to see the campus as it opens up the boxes of pomp and regalia for Cal Day.

Berkeley's vigorous outreach efforts are indicative of one important thing: in the absence of an institutional - blind, even - affirmative action, a new affirmative action has evolved. This is an affirmative action that takes hundreds of thousands of university dollars and funnels them to aggressive and expansive outreach and recruitment efforts (largely disjointed) specifically geared toward attracting African American, Chicano/Latino and Native American students to this campus. In truth, the recruiting of underrepresented minority students has reached levels that rival that of the recruitment of Cal athletes.

Think of it: paid travel, hosted accommodations, meetings with seductively enthusiastic professors and top-tier administrators, promises of special tutoring and help, competitive scholarship offers. What on earth could make these students such a commodity? The answer lies in the greatest buzzword ever known to this university: diversity.

Somehow, the concept of ethnic diversity - of creating an academic environment where the state's diverse population is reflected in the student body of the state's most prized resource, the University of California - is so vital that such amounts of money and efforts are being fed to the recruitment of black and Latino students. What a challenge. What an ambitious campaign. What a tragedy.

I find it tragic that such measures must still be taken at all. California's public schools, especially those in the state's urban centers, are violent and crumbling places that do anything but foster an environment conducive to learning and success. Add to that the undeniables of discrimination and prejudices often faced by these communities and you have a formula for failure. But few, very few, end up with an admission letter from Berkeley in their mailboxes in spite of these obstacles.

It is those students who are the target; the university is ready to zero in.

The truth is, an almost militantly aggressive attitude is taken towards the recruitment of underrepresented students because of a series of severe obstacles facing the university. Not only are admissions officers charged with upholding a race-blind process, but minority admits in recent years have grown more and more competitive (the rest are mercilessly dropped upon the "lower tier" of UC campuses, which mainstream media seems to think is a fine and dandy thing). Hence, more and more admits meet students and faculty who are stunned and a bit intimidated to learn that these prized minority students are also hearing offers from powerhouses such as Columbia, Georgetown, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Penn, Brown and the list goes on. What, then, can Berkeley offer that such schools cannot?

In the times that I have been involved with recruitment efforts outside of my Daily Cal work (for the Raza Recruitment and Retention Center and the university Office of Scholarships and Prizes), this is the question that I am forced to answer. A reply, I think, lies in a form of diversity that is not defined by the confines with which catalogues seem to define it, but with a form of diversity, a new diversity, that in spite of all tragedies is fighting to stay alive at Berkeley.

The fight to "defend" affirmative action, first of all, is futile because there is nothing left to actually defend; the university knows this. Liberalism took too long to account for its successes, e.g. the relative "success" of Asian Americans (another issue entirely, given that the "model minority" myth is easily disputed), and the wave of neoconservatism took affirmative action out from under its feet. Our new diversity, then, seeks to attract students as we can and currently must - based upon diversity of backgrounds, of the overcoming of hardship, or the diversity of experiences; so we can create a student body where a 50-year-old woman can be called a freshman, and where a student with a severe disability can walk the academic walk like anybody else. This is the diversity that Berkeley must foster.

But still, I cannot seem to shake the notion that diversity of ethnicity is another thing entirely. For who can deny that the racial graffiti that is scrawled in our bathrooms is not rooted in severe cases of ignorance? Who can say that a black hand shaking a white hand has the same impact as a poor one shaking a rich hand?

We are color-seeking animals - color still matters. It matters to me, coming from a high school that was 30 percent black to a university - a public one at that - that is less than six percent black. I find it horrific to know that some of my peers come from environments even less diverse than Berkeley - these are the future leaders of our immensely diverse world? For Berkeley, forging a variety of color that builds upon that new variety is our greatest challenge.

With that in mind, early-birders and their parents, welcome to Berkeley!


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