Campus & community, Campus news

Campus announces the Undergraduate Student Diversity Project

Chancellor Christ announces the launch of the new, accelerated efforts to improve diversity on campus, starting with undergraduates and later involving grad students, staff and faculty

crowd of students, Sather Gate

crowd of students, Sather Gate

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent this message to the campus community late yesterday:

Dear Students, Staff and Faculty,

One of my most important goals for Berkeley is to advance and expand diversity on this campus, in its broadest sense and in every form.

Today, I am writing to announce our launch of the first wave of new, accelerated efforts in this arena. Work is now underway on a comprehensive Undergraduate Student Diversity Project, and we soon will present funding proposals for new programs to potential donors who share our values and objectives. After the new year begins, I expect to share information about similar plans to support and expand diversity among our faculty, staff and graduate student populations.

As these critical and exciting initiatives begin, I want to provide you with my perspective on the values, commitments and objectives that will guide our efforts, preview our proposals and plans for the road ahead and invite the campus community to weigh in about this essential work and to join the effort.

The Case for Diversity

I believe that the excellence of our university depends on diversity of thought and perspective, both of which are the result of, and profoundly enhanced by, the diversity of our campus community. Our mission and institutional character — in research, teaching and public service —demand that we embrace, embody and protect diversity of every kind, including, but not limited to, race and ethnicity, disability, intellectual interest, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, geographical origin and religious and ideological beliefs.

Diversity advances our educational goals, prepares our students to thrive in a multicultural world and ensures we meet our representative responsibilities as a leading public institution in California — one of the most diverse states in the country. For these reasons, much of our present and future effort must focus on the campus’s demographic makeup.

Yet, having a truly diverse campus community is insufficient and unsustainable absent a supportive, welcoming and respectful campus culture that creates and sustains a sense of belonging and connection for all. Inclusion, and what I call “equity of experience,” ensure that we each have  — regardless of our origins, abilities, beliefs or identities — the support and freedom necessary to achieve our academic and professional goals. We must strengthen our existing efforts to improve campus climate for historically underrepresented and marginalized students, staff and faculty and implement new initiatives so that Berkeley will be a place where all can thrive and realize their full potential.

I know that some members of our community feel we talk a good game about improving diversity, but haven’t backed up our words with appropriate actions. I agree that we have work to do, and that time is relatively short.

I also believe that meaningful, lasting cultural and organizational change cannot and will not be achieved solely through the campus administration’s initiatives, ideas and policies. We must tap into the wisdom, experience and creativity of our community. Just as the university’s excellence depends upon the diversity of its community members’ origins, lived experiences and perspectives, our efforts to advance diversity itself rely upon the same.

The Undergraduate Student Body/Admissions

I began my career here when Berkeley was mostly white and the faculty almost entirely male. And I watched the campus transform into a place where students of every color and background were accepted and succeeded, where women joined the faculty ranks in growing numbers. At one point, Berkeley had the most diverse student body in the University of California system, and this diversity was an enormous part of our excellence and of the vibrancy of our campus environment.

For the past 25 years, however, we have struggled to make progress, and today have the lowest proportion of underrepresented minority students among the undergraduate UC campuses. We have a lower proportion of African Americans than we did in the 1990s. The proportion of Latinx students here has grown, but it isn’t keeping pace with the significant growth of Latinx high school graduates in California. Barely 1 percent of our students are Native American. To be sure, the dictates of Proposition 209, passed in 1996, have affected the demographics of our student population. But even as we observe Proposition 209’s prohibition against race-, ethnicity- or gender-based decisions in admissions, hiring or contracting, we cannot and will not use that as an excuse. During this same period, the proportion of underrepresented minority students grew on every UC campus and in the state as a whole.

When it comes to building and supporting a more diverse student body, I see five distinct, but deeply interconnected elements. First, there are the university programs and services designed to improve the K-12 “pipeline” and to increase the number of UC-qualified students from under-represented populations. Next, there are campus outreach efforts to prospective students that can, by virtue of their content and focus, profoundly impact the demographics of our student applicant pool. Third, while race and ethnicity cannot play a role in our admissions process, we must ensure that this process is free from discriminatory elements that lead to inequitable admission rates across various population groups. After letters of admission are sent out, our attention turns to yield activities, a fourth element, which offer opportunities for us to interact with and increase the number of academically qualified students from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations who have received offers of admission. In this same realm, we also must expand and improve our collaboration with independent, external groups that can target these same students with financial aid offers. Finally, there is our campus climate. All of our efforts in the other four areas will be wasted if we cannot support equity of experience, an inclusive culture, and become a campus where members of historically marginalized communities are sufficiently large in number so that no one experiences debilitating and damaging isolation.

Racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity has a clear impact on our educational mission and student outcomes. Our students’ exposure to peers of diverse backgrounds enhances their learning. Numerous studies have shown that diversity fosters improvements in students’ cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving, because experiences with individuals different from ourselves challenge our thinking and lead to cognitive growth. Employers seek students who can work with diverse colleagues and across cultural lines. Learning in a diverse community helps train future leaders to be creative and collaborative and to thrive in multicultural environments. Research also indicates that, in a place where a race or ethnicity is severely underrepresented, those who are underrepresented may experience isolation that can severely undermine their educational outcomes, not to mention their sense of belonging and well-being.

The Undergraduate Student Body: Next Steps

Our new comprehensive Undergraduate Student Diversity Project will provide the analysis and recommendations necessary to expand diversity within the undergraduate student body and to improve the campus experience for students from groups and communities that have historically been underrepresented or marginalized in higher education. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to read more about the details and process in this project outline. We also recently completed a complementary set of project proposals that will soon be given to potential donors who share our values and commitments. Those proposals support our goal of expanding and improving upon existing models like the UC Berkeley African American Initiative, which provides targeted financial aid and scholarships to increase yield among admitted, qualified students from that community. With philanthropic support, we also can expand and enhance outreach programs; advising services; support for transfer and non-traditional students; the mobilization of student ambassadors; on-campus navigational assistance for first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color; and initiatives designed to ensure that every Berkeley student’s basic needs are being met.

Closing Thoughts

On December 12 at noon in the Pauley Ballroom, I will be joined by Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Paul Alivisatos for the last of this semester’s “Campus Conversations.” While we will, as always, be ready to field a broad range of questions, we hope to focus this particular conversation on our quest for a diverse campus community and culture that will help safeguard and sustain our excellence in teaching, research and public service for many years to come. This event is just the first in a series of opportunities to pose hard questions about our values, plans and commitments, to share innovative ideas and to challenge the status quo — to do, in short, what Berkeley does best.


Carol T. Christ