‘A definite boundary’: UC Berkeley and BHS relationship leaves room for growth

Berkeley High School and the University of California, Berkeley’s campuses are only two blocks away, each filled with large and changing student populations.


Berkeley High School and the University of California, Berkeley’s campuses are only two blocks away, each filled with large and changing student populations. This leads to the odds being low that the two would not interact. 

“I have seen lots of interaction between the BHS and the Cal campus,” said Dr. Juana María Rodríguez, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley who specializes in the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality and whose son is an alumnus of BHS. 

The connection is deepest in the rate of informal exchange, driven by the schools’ shared interests in walkout culture. “I vividly remember seeing the campus fill up with BHS students during the Occupy Protests and after Trump got elected because I saw my own son … at those protests,” Rodríguez said. However, with a much larger population from around the world, though, UC Berkeley’s manner of approaching social issues often ends up being less cohesive than BHS’s. “(BHS) activism is a full school culture thing, whereas at UC Berkeley, if you’re participating in activism, you’re definitely in a minority,” said Loulou Ziegler, a UC Berkeley freshman who graduated from BHS in 2022. The confluence between the two schools happens naturally as a result of independent decisions. For most protests, neither side is in contact with the other beforehand. “I would like to see more cooperation or organizing between the students,” Rodríguez said.

Even if the campuses unite around topics, under normal circumstances, some feel that they are separated more than physically. “Despite the proximity between the two campuses, there’s a definite boundary that is rarely crossed between the two groups of students,” Ziegler said. She described being comfortable eating lunch on the grass at UC Berkeley when she was in high school, but nothing past that. Now, as a college student, she feels that her peers feel similarly. 

“College students are the ones in control over whether or not they interact with the ‘lowly’ high schoolers,” she said, and many choose simply not to.

In the official, sanctioned sphere, this boundary persists. UC Berkeley hosts special events that open its campus up to high schoolers, like Campus Shadow Day, where high school students looking to attend the college can follow around students for a day. However, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student from Berkeley High in a classroom,” Rodríguez said. She has seen many students from other local high schools shadow an undergrad, but none from BHS. 

Another program losing its ties to BHS is Cal Day. The event was an initiative that used to usher groups of BHS students to UC Berkeley’s campus, and was billed by UC Berkeley in 2018 as “the university’s free annual public open house … (with) more than 40,000 people.” Following the COVID-19 pandemic though, celebration slimmed down. In 2022, the campus changed their description; now it is an opportunity for only “registered new students and their families to experience the Berkeley campus.” 

UC Berkeley professors with children are likely to see their kids go through the Berkeley Unified School District, making the connection between college and high school more personal, but even with an overlap between professors and BHS students, the college remains seperated from the academic life of BUSD. 

“In terms of academics and curriculum, I have not really seen that much (overlap),” Rodriguez said. She has done a workshop on Gender Beyond Binaries for her son’s middle school social studies class, but that was an exception that proves the rule. “It was a terrific day, but it only came about because his teacher asked,” she said. As for UC Berkeley’s activism, this too could benefit from closer communication. “I’m sure that there are people that would do it, (but) I think it may require a level of organization that hasn’t really happened.”

This divide also plays out in college applications, where BHS students consider whether or not they should apply to UC Berkeley. “I had many hesitations and for a long time,” said Ziegler, “I did not think that I would consider going here because I was so sure that I wanted an experience far from home.” However, the new perspective of adulthood brought her just a couple blocks up the street for her college life. 

Although UC Berkeley’s interaction with BUSD students may be limited, its Berkeley School of Education (BSE) is involved in a number of research partnerships with the district’s teachers. BSE’s team of professors uses BUSD as an on-the-ground sort of laboratory, testing new approaches to learning, according to their website. There is also a funnel between their team and BHS faculty. “The BSE is home to programs that prepare elementary and secondary school teachers, school and system-level leaders, and school psychologists,” says their website. A number of graduates from the program currently teach at BHS. 

The relationship between UC Berkeley and BHS might not be fully-formed, but future cooperation between the campuses could be mutually beneficial. “One idea might be a database of Berkeley professors who are willing to talk to classes or student groups … some of us are totally willing,” Rodriguez said. On the students’ side, Ziegler envisions a similar type of ideological exchange. “I think UC Berkeley could honestly learn quite a bit from (the BHS community),” she said.