When UC Berkeley staffer Angel Halafihi was a prospective college student deciding among top-notch universities such as UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA, she looked for schools that had active Pacific Islander student groups.
The daughter of Tongan parents who expected her to stay at home until she was 21, Halafihi said that “having people around me who we could trust were some of the biggest elements of deciding where I would eventually go.”
UCLA was the only school with a Pacific Islander group that reached out to her family, and so she chose to attend that school. Now, just a few years after graduating from UCLA, Halafihi, 22, manages Berkeley’s Pacific Islander Initiative, which provides Berkeley students with the same type of community she found at UCLA.
“When I first got to UCLA, I was just really excited to be away from home,” Halafihi said. “I felt secure, because I was around other students, staff, faculty and people who I could relate to.”
Her program, she hopes, will help Berkeley students from Pacific Islander backgrounds feel the same way.
“(Berkeley’s) Pacific Islander Initiative is just one entity that has been established after over 20 years of Pacific Islander student advocacy,” said Halafihi. “So, it’s been a long time coming.”
Noting that just 272 students – 0.66 percent – of Berkeley’s undergraduate students identify as Pacific Islanders, Halafihi said she has focused on promoting a sense of belonging within the student body.
“The campus needs to be able, as does the university and institution, to support Pacific Islander students in different ways,” she said. “I don’t think UC Berkeley is quite there yet. I do see it transforming, and I foresee more and more Pacific Islanders applying and being admitted. It’s a work in progress.”