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
Minority 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 racism.
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.”