Campus & community, People, Campus news

For UC Berkeley, Inauguration Day means celebration at an otherwise dark time

By Ivan Natividad, Anne Brice

several American flags blow in the wind in the sun
A worker installs flags in front of the While House on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in preparation for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C. (AP Photo by David Phillip)
several American flags blow in the wind in the sun

A worker installs flags in front of the While House on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in preparation for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C. (AP Photo by David Phillip)

Throughout American history, Inauguration Day typically has celebrated our democracy’s peaceful transfer of presidential power. But the recent violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters — along with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice protests and political turmoil — has people across the nation feeling very differently as we approach this week’s induction of President-elect Joe Biden.

UC Berkeley, which once hosted Barack Obama’s inauguration on a Jumbotron on Sproul Plaza for a crowd of 10,000 people, is offering virtual experiences this Wednesday for the greater community to view the inauguration together.

Several students, staff and faculty also offer below their plans for and perspectives on Inauguration Day, from new traditions they hope to create to a mix of emotions — excitement about the change of guard, fear of right-wing extremists’ threats, and concern over how the new administration will impact them and their families.

Man with white beard smiling.

john powell (UC Berkeley photo)

john powell, African American studies professor and director of Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute

Nina Simone sings a song titled, “There is a New Day Coming.” This song keeps playing in my head. It will soon be on my speakers. I approach Inauguration Day with elation, relief and dread. It is too warm in the bay: When can we get our (COVID-19 vaccine) shot? Will it work? Will we have January wildfires? White supremacists are emboldened and spread across the country. They have Trump. We have Stacey (Abrams) calling for healing, justice and love. California’s daughter will soon be the vice president. We have each other.

There is cause for celebration and more. My neighbors and I will likely go for a walk with flags, American flags, (Black Lives Matter) flags, rainbow flags and a song. There is much to celebrate, there are grave concerns, there is much work to do. But for now, let’s sing our song and enjoy.

portrait of liliana iglesias smiling

Liliana Iglesias (UC Berkeley photo)

Liliana Iglesias, director of the Undocumented Student Program

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic and a bit scared about inauguration. On one hand, I am excited about the positive changes that Biden has shared are his priorities. I am happy for our students and look forward to undocumented people not being a constant target — I feel this will bring some relief to our students and their families. The hope is that comprehensive immigration reform is reached, but it may not be easy or quick. On the other hand, what happened during the first week of January makes me scared about what could happen tomorrow or once Biden is officially the president.

Sandra Bass smiling

Sandra Bass (UC Berkeley photo)

Sandra Bass, associate dean of students and director of Berkeley’s Public Service Center

Since its inception, our country has taken great pride in how power has transferred peacefully from one administration to the next. This is the first year in my lifetime where there is some question as to how this process will unfold, and I wanted to bear witness to this transition from a divisive and damaging presidential administration to one that will hopefully turn the page on these last four years and lead the country in accountability, restoration and healing work that needs to be done.

So much of what I felt during this inauguration echoed how I felt watching the first time Barack Obama was sworn in. Vice President Kamala Harris, a hometown girl on so many dimensions, being sworn in by another glass ceiling breaking legend — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer — made me pause the shot for just a moment to truly let that historic moment sink in. But the truly memorable moment for me was the incandescent poem gifted to us by Amanda Gorman. Her words reflected what lay on my heart and made me teary thinking about the precipice upon which we stand, and the courage of those who see the breadth of that danger and still choose to serve and act.

Miyako Iwata smiling

Miyako Iwata

Miyako Iwata, fourth-year student, ASUC Vote Coalition director

Personally, I have never attended an inauguration before, and this is my first time watching one (albeit through a laptop screen). Given the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, I am concerned for the safety of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. However, I believe it to be important that the inauguration go on as planned — despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Capitol riot — because without a peaceful transition of presidential power, we cannot remain a democracy.

Laura Hassner smiling

Laura Hassner (UC Berkeley photo)

Laura Paxton Hassner, strategic adviser to Rich Lyons, Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer

Growing up in a house with a former high school government teacher meant that my family has always taken its civic duty very seriously. Now that our kids are older, we watched the presidential debates, election returns coverage and recent events in the U.S. Capitol together quite closely. We are also watching the swearing-in on Inauguration Day as a family.

Inauguration Day feels really different this year. As the recent surveys suggest, our students are struggling with so many issues right now. Recognizing how full their plates are, I’m holding a special drop-in community hour on Inauguration Day for our Berkeley Changemaker course alumni. Our courses emphasize critical thinking, effective communication and collaboration — all of which feel like particularly important lenses to help us process current events. It’s also an opportunity for our community to share updates and cheer on our students’ successes.

portrait of Irene Yi smiling

Irene Yi (Photo by Kira Farnham)

Irene Yi, third-year student, linguistics major

I did Model U.N. in high school, which got me really interested in politics. It just got me caring about what’s happening in the world. I’ve gotten more invested in politics over the years, but I’ve also developed better habits of not doom scrolling — you know, not just putting my head in the news all day. I care about politics, and I’m involved and engaged and active in it, but I also have to prioritize my mental health.

I think the last year has forced people to become more invested in politics. I’ve seen a lot of people who are like, ‘Oh, you know, politics isn’t really my thing. I have never been that interested in politics.’ Now, they actually care about politics and go out and learn stuff about the candidates. It’s been really cool to see. And I think it’s fundamentally changed how the younger generation views politics. I think it’ll create a set of young voters who are going to be voting in the future. I feel like now is the time to be involved in politics.

I’m not going to leave my apartment during the inauguration, but I plan on watching the presidential address. I’m really hoping it’s the most boring, uneventful inauguration ever. I hope nothing happens out of the ordinary.