New UC Berkeley $20 Million Program to Address Underrepresentation of Black Students



UC Berkeley officials recently announced a new initiative to attract more Black students, faculty and senior-level staff and improve the campus climate for African Americans.


Despite being six percent of the state population, Black students represent just three percent of Cal’s undergraduate student population and four percent of graduate students. The numbers of Black faculty and senior management are even more dismal at two percent.


This underrepresentation contributes to African Americans feeling unwelcome on campus. A 2013 campus climate survey found that African Americans felt the least respected of all groups.


While 90 percent of white and Asian respondents said the campus was respectful of African Americans, less than half of Black respondents felt the same.


The initiative’s goals are to achieve a “critical mass” of Black students, faculty and senior staff on campus. Critical mass being a non-specific number, but enough to make sure Black people feel “comfortable” on campus, according to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele.


Additional goals include improving campus climate and messaging that “Berkeley is a welcome place for African Americans,” according to the Initiative’s web page.


About six of ten Black students accepted into UC Berkeley decline to attend. With declining state funding, the UC has difficulty competing with other universities where Black students may be accepted, officials said.


“For too long, African Americans on our campus have faced obstacles to feeling fully included in the life of our university,” says Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, explaining the impetus behind the just-announced UC Berkeley African American Initiative.


While the initiative is “predicated on our collective determination to engage and improve the campus climate for African Americans across every sector of our community,” progress “cannot and will not happen solely as the result of administrative dictate,” Dirks said.


The initiative aims to establish a $20 million permanent undergraduate scholarship fund for Black undergraduates; improve recruitment and enrollment of Black students; boost support services for current and future students; improve classroom climate through training of faculty and teaching assistants, and increasing faculty diversity as well as racial and gender diversity of Berkeley’s senior-level staff.


University Relations and the Black Alumni club will partner with the university and private non-profits to raise the $20 million scholarship, which would be privately administered in order to comply with state law.


The Initiative incorporated many of the demands made by Cal’s Black Student Union (Cal BSU) this past spring.


According to Gibor Basri, outgoing vice-chancellor for equity and inclusion, officials worked on a plan for two years. After meeting with students and others, the initiative adopted many of the proposed solutions to what the BSU deemed a “racially hostile campus.”


The university plans to partner with existing groups to improve recruitment, including the student-run Black Recruitment and Retention Center (BRRC), which has led much of the campus’ Black recruitment and retention efforts.


The LEAD Center–the campus’ student leadership development office–will designate a full-time coordinator position for “bridges,” the consortium of student-lead recruitment and retention centers.


The university also pledged to work with student government (ASUC) to identify financing and a location for a Black Student Resource Center, hire psychologists trained in culturally specific counseling, and will explore ways to increase the diversity of faculty and senior management over the next 10 years.



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