UC Berkeley Unveils Initiative to Improve Campus Climate for African Americans

Realizing the challenges African American students, faculty, and staff face on a campus where they comprise the minority, the University of California (UC) Berkeley announced a plan to increase their representation and improve the campus climate for these students.

According to the university, an analysis of University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) data found that African American students reported feeling disrespected on campus more often than any other minority group.

The goals of the comprehensive new plan are to “achieve and sustain a critical mass of African American students, faculty, and senior staff at Berkeley; ensure that the African Americans who are [there] now feel welcome, supported, and respected; and achieve the reality and deliver the message that Berkeley is a welcoming place for African Americans.”

UC Berkeley faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends collaborated over the past year to develop the initiative; the administration also took into consideration a set of demands for improving the campus climate brought to them last February by members of the Black Student Union. Na’ilah Nasir, who takes over as vice chancellor for equity and inclusion for the university on Nov. 1, will direct the initiative.

“It is evident that African Americans have faced challenges at Berkeley in terms of their representation and the climate with which they must contend. The share of African Americans among our students and faculty has been hovering at disproportionately low levels for many years, posing a challenge for us all,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele said in a press release.

According to Gibor Basri, outgoing vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, the UCUES data also show that on campuses with larger African American student populations, these students were much happier than the students at Berkeley. Currently, African Americans make up around 3 percent of the university’s student population.

“Although the initiative we are undertaking is predicated on our collective determination to engage and improve the campus climate for African Americans across every sector of our community, we also know that progress and improvement cannot and will not happen solely as the result of administrative dictate,” Dirks and Steele said. “The success of this initiative will depend on effective and ongoing collaboration among all of us here on the campus.”

The initiative aims to improve recruitment and retention of African American students, faculty, and staff; boost social, personal, and academic support for students; improve classroom climate; and increase racial and gender diversity of Berkeley’s senior management. However, the initiative’s most ambitious objective is raising a $20 million endowed scholarship for African American undergraduates from partnerships with private, nonprofit organizations.

According to Inside Higher Ed, allocating funds from private donors for a scholarship to attract African American students allows the university to circumvent California’s ban on consideration of race in admissions.