I cannot reflect upon my four years at UC
Berkeley without mentioning the word "Diversity." When one's college
experience is oversaturated by incessant lessons in racial and ethnic
awareness, the word becomes unavoidable in any mention of Berkeley.
Berkeley's particular concept of diversity seemed to avoid the basic
goal of fostering cultural tolerance and understanding. Instead, it
appeared to encourage a divisive culture of victimhood and entitlement.
Housing students by race seemed to me an odd approach to ending
racial division. During my freshman year, I lived two floors below the
African American Theme Program floor. Other such floors included the
Asian Pacific American Theme Program, the latino-centered Casa
Magdalena Mora, and the Unity House, a gay-themed housing unit that
allows you to have a roommate of the opposite sex. From what I
remember, black students were the only ones participating in the
African American Theme Program. Though students of all races and
ethnicities are allowed to live in any of the available themed housing
units, rarely did I see students living in housing centered on a
culture different from their own.
According to the UC
Berkeley housing website, the benefits of living in a racially themed
housing unit include field trips, retreats, and dinner with faculty.
The special perks of being a minority did not end in the
dormitories. The Berkeley Student Life Advising Service offers academic
guidance for underrepresented students. At Berkeley,
underrepresentation is measured solely in terms of race, so a
conservative student that is noticeably underrepresented in an
overwhelmingly liberal campus need not apply. Meanwhile, minority
students can turn to Summer Research Opportunities for Underserved
Undergraduates for more academic resources
students pursuing a biology-related major are given priority membership
into the Biology Scholars Program, a program that offers special study
groups, internships, and mentoring.
It is fascinating that these separate resources exists at a college
that produced Earl Warren, the Chief Justice who famously ruled that
separate was not equal in Brown v. Board of Education.
These resources and many others exist because UC Berkeley insists
that it is simply tough to be a minority. According to the student
resource website, "Many students feel isolated when they go to college
and this experience can be intensified if you find yourself to be the
only person of color in a classroom, department, or residential unit."
For the most part, however, the university's exaggerated concern is a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Minority students detect racial hostility
where there is usually none after facing interminable insistence that
such hostility is real.
Over the past few years By Any Means Necessary, a pro-Affirmative
Action student group on campus, has organized several public hearings
to expose racial hostility. Minority students testified about their
experiences with prejudice and discrimination, but their testimonies
hardly painted a picture of Jim Crow conditions. One student swore he
was a victim of discrimination simply because his professor did not
call on him when his hand was raised. Another cried "racism" after her
student group was asked to move their event to a different part of
campus due to scheduling conflict. The solutions to these problems, the
students declared, were more special programs for minorities, greater
funding for the Ethnic Studies department, and of course the
resurrection of racial preferences in college admissions. Entitlement
seemed to be the only way these minority students knew how to combat
The abundance of resources aimed at dealing with the problem of race
mistakenly provides confirmation that a problem exists to begin with.
But maintaining the special perks for minority students may invite
bigger problems than the ones the university currently perceives.
Allocating resources based on race and ethnicity can create resentment
toward minority beneficiaries, generating the very problem that the
University believes exists. It also leads to the same negative
perception inherent in affirmative action that minorities cannot
succeed unless they are helped.
In challenging these
special benefits for minority students, one must be prepared to face a
barrage of nonsensical pejoratives. Those who question these sacred
programs are called racist, hateful, or in my case a "self-hating
minority." But nothing could be more self-hating than embracing
perpetual victim status.
If UC Berkeley wants to empower minorities, it must emphasize
individual merit over group victimization. Minority students cannot be
empowered if they are constantly told they are helpless. Specialized
programs and assistance reinforces the message of helplessness under
the benevolent guise of diversity. After four years at UC Berkeley, the
word that students should instead be remembering from their college
experience is "self-confidence."