Photograph by Allyn Suzuki
University of California (UC) schools are supposed to represent the demographics of the state, but while the Chicanx Latinx (CL) population is reaching fifty percent in California, the community is a minority at UC Berkeley. Two years ago, the Chicanx Latinx Student Development Office, a committee of 15 Chicanx Latinx identifying faculty at UC Berkeley, was launched with the aim of strengthening the CL presence within the university.
As UC Berkeley professor and author Genaro Padilla said in the Cover Letter of the Chicanx Latinx Taskforce, there is a “lingering sense of marginality and dislocation our community of students, both graduate and undergraduate, our staff across job families, our faculty from lecturer to senior professors continue to experience here at Berkeley.” All across UC Berkeley’s staff and student body, needs of CL students are not being met. With a fierce dedication to addressing these needs and holding the school accountable to its underrepresentation, the Chicanx Latinx Taskforce, led by Padilla, has compiled thorough and systematic plans for how to resolve such issues and concerns.
A predominant concern among undergraduates, staff, faculty, and graduate students is that Chicanx Latinx representation is minimal not only among professors, but within the school’s administration, significantly limiting the influence and power of the Chicanx Latinx community within the school. Historically, this has always been an issue at UC Berkeley, so the effects of this underrepresentation are deep-seated. The Chicanx Latinx Student Development’s mission is to fully include the CL population on campus.
For undergraduate students, lack of affordable housing is a leading issue. It makes the university more exclusive, although it is a land grant and public institution. To address the lack of housing, the Chicanx Latinx Taskforce imagines expanding the Casa Magdalena Living Learning community, providing floors for different CL groups such as undocumented students and student parents, and plans to designate a CL themed house with the Berkeley Student Cooperative.
Appointing people who identify as CL to empty chair positions would allow CL faculty to advocate for their own community. The committee hopes Berkeley will prove its dedication to equality and diversity by investing in these recommendations, along with others.
So why is there such a small percentage of CL students at UC Berkeley? CL alumni were asked this question. As one graduate said, according to the Chicanx Latinx Taskforce, “I was the first to attend a university in my family, so I didn’t know how anything worked at first … For a first generation student, access to information is everything. I didn’t know opportunities existed until it was too late.” This applies to many CL students, since 61 percent of graduates within this community are the first in their families to earn a college degree. “As an undergraduate, I found that I had to navigate the classes that I needed to graduate on my own and felt there was insufficient advising outreach,” said the graduate.
The fact that UC Berkeley’s CL population is so small discourages other CL students from applying, keeping this ethnic group a minority within the school. It is not an environment where CL students can easily develop a sense of belonging, and the community being stretched so thin lends itself to further discouragement. Additionally, students may find it difficult to see themselves in CL scholars, as the lack of CL staff leaves minimal examples for the students to emulate.
“Our faculty numbers are bleak on campus, for people of color and Latinos. It’s unquestionable.” Lupe Gallero Diaz, director of the Chicanx Latinx Student Development Office, said, “What do you mean, Latinos cannot become scholars? No! We need to look at institutions.” Institutional and structural inequity keeps the CL community a minority at UC Berkeley.
Going to college can be an enormous culture shock, and the school has to figure out how to not only attract and accept more CL students, but how to retain this community within the school. To CL students, strong friendships with other CL students are important. As one graduate said, “My peers were my biggest supporters and cheerleaders.” The Chicanx Latinx Student Development bolsters a sense of community and is an apparatus for communication that helps CL students navigate their years at UC Berkeley and the start of their careers.
With recent laws and regulations around DACA, immigration, and documentation, on-campus support is especially important for undocumented students. Gallegos Diaz said, “The morale is pretty sad, because we live right now in a very political, highly charged, anti-immigrant sentiment in our country. So that is, what they call on campus here, climate impact. You’re hearing all this nationwide against immigrants – we don’t want you here, you should go back, all that has really emotional impact, and you’re trying to study.”
Throughout the month of October, CL students at UC Berkeley are organizing events to celebrate Chicanx Latinx Heritage Month. “We have a long way to go, said Gallegos Diaz, “A lot of it comes down to discussing, how does this circumstance become an advantage for some and not for others?”
Gallegos Diaz is sure to bring such discussions into her classroom. “What have we done as a country to Central and South America?” she asked her Globalization class. “What have we done as a country to under develop all these other countries, and if we’re under developing them, where are people supposed to go and work?” she asked. “We’ve basically exploited and oppressed other countries and taken their resources — so it is our own foreign policy that has created this. No wonder they’re here. Diversity and equity issues are not just for people of color. These are everybody’s issues. This is a community issue. People need to understand the complexities.”