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 Stories for April 15, 1998

Minority Admissions and Me

by Tamara Keith, Student Reporter
posted Apr. 15, 1998

Ever since the announcement of the freshman admissions statistics for fall of 1998, I have heard a lot of people talking about numbers and percentages. Underrepresented minorities only comprise 10.4 percent of those students admitted for next year. That’s a 54.7 percent drop from last year’s numbers. Although these figures are staggering, they can’t fully illustrate how different it will be next year (and if this pattern continues, many years from now). Debates over affirmative action can be waged until every Californian is blue in the face, but the importance of a diverse student body cannot be denied.

My hometown is unofficially segregated (people of color live on the south side of the freeway, while everyone else lives to the north). I spent most of my educational career in the white upper-middle class honors track in California’s Central Valley, where the curriculum was about as nourishing as Wonderbread. When I found out about the American Cultures requirement here, I was pleased to hear that I could finally learn about someone other than my ancestors.

The first semester of my freshman year I enrolled in History 16 (because it killed two birds with one stone: history and American Cultures). In lecture, I learned about more massacres, genocides and imperialist scum than I could fathom, but the real American cultures lesson took place at my dining room table.

When mid-term time rolled around, a few girls from my discussion section and I put together a study group. As we took a snack break, our topic of discussion moved from the class to our own personal experiences. I was surprised to discover that the people across the table from me had actually lived many of the things we were studying in the class text.

I was the only person in the group whose family had spent more than two generations in America. The fact that I didn’t have a cultural identity shocked them, while their strong cultural ties came as a surprise and a lesson to me. One girl was in the middle of a major battle with her parents because she didn’t want them to force her into an arranged marriage. I didn’t even know that arranged marriages were still a reality in this “modern world,” much less in America.

Since then I have had numerous other learning experiences. My awareness level has increased dramatically because of Berkeley’s diverse environment. Some of my most valuable lessons have come in dorm rooms and coffee shops. Everyone comes to the Berkeley campus with his or her own unique experiences. It is the people – students, faculty and staff – who give this university its greatness.

What bothers me most about the drop in underrepresented minorities admitted to Berkeley is the extra-curricular learning experience on which future freshmen will miss out. If 54.7 percent fewer minorities were in my History 16 class, it is highly unlikely that any of those girls would have been sitting around my dining room table that night teaching each other lessons far more valuable than the second-hand information we could find in lecture halls and libraries.

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