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Discovering Black@Cal

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Finding community & support on campus.

As a Black undergraduate student, I’ve seen the adversities faced by those in the Black undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and staff at UC Berkeley. But these adversities also present opportunities.

Community is the fuel to keep us moving through challenges. Although we represent just two percent of the campus community, the Black@Cal serve together to develop, advance, and evolve.

Inspired by the narratives this community holds, I developed this photo essay to serve as an archive for the personal and collective endeavors, failures, and victories we have experienced at UC Berkeley. My hope is that these stories of survival and triumph capture the essence of what it means to be Black@Cal.

Getting involved at the BRRC (Black Recruitment and Retention Center)

The Black Recruitment and Retention Center (BRRC) is a community-oriented organization focused on the regeneration of the Black community at UC Berkeley.

Established in 1983, BRRC is part of bridges, a coalition of seven recruitment and retention centers. This coalition has a rich history of working to recruit underrepresented students to this campus and retaining them through various programs and resources.

Through the support of the larger Black community, BRRC facilitates college tours, PIQ/SAT workshops for high school students, wellness events, and many other occasions that serve the Black@Cal and the larger Black Bay Area communities.

Completely student-organized and student-run, BRRC acts as a pillar within the Black community through its efforts to bring new Black students onto campus as well as supporting the existing Black community.

 

“BRRC is an important organization because, as students, we are able to engage in meaningful work that directly impacts our community. My first interaction with this organization was before I had even committed to attending UC Berkeley. I was a newly admitted student and fortunate enough to attend Senior Weekend, a program offered and planned by BRRC. I was so thankful for the experience and being able to witness the support within the Black community that I accepted my admission following the program. I am grateful to be a part of this organization and excited for the work and programming that is to come.”
John S., sociology & African American studies

Meet John from BRRC

A San Diego native, John S., now a junior majoring in sociology and African American studies, initially faced one of the challenges most new Berkeley students encounter: finding where he belongs.

Volunteering for the BRRC and Senior Weekend have been pivotal in helping him shape and embrace his experiences at Berkeley.

John eventually served as the BRRC Bay Area College Tour Coordinator in fall 2019 and the Senior Weekend Coordinator in spring 2020.

John S. working on Resident Assistant material in Blackwell Hall, an on-campus res hall.

Finding BRRC

Senior Weekend, a UC Berkeley visit through bridges, is an opportunity for admitted students to explore campus and discover the communities and support systems that Berkeley has to offer. Although Senior Weekend was virtual this year, due to COVID-19, for John, finding this resource determined his path at Cal.

“During my first two years on this campus, I was an intern and volunteer for BRRC, which exposed me to the events and programming that BRRC offered. More importantly, I was able to work on some of the project hands on. Through these events and programs, BRRC introduced me to some of the most amazing people that I have met on this campus. I was truly able to find a community here because of all the work and time that the BRRC board invested.”

John S., the current spring 2020 BRRC Senior Weekend Coordinator, flashing those BRRC business cards.

 

“Being a Black student on this campus is such a complex experience. Often I am one of maybe three Black students, in a lecture hall of 300. Yes, there are times I walk through this campus and the faces of those that pass me tell me, ‘Do you even go here?’ Despite experiences like this, I would not have made a decision to go anywhere else. The community and people that I have met here have really shaped me as an individual. I have met some of the most talented, passionate, intelligent, and authentic people during my time here at Cal. I am often inspired by seeing the work, time, and energy folks invest in their dreams and aspirations. I know that, despite how hectic it can get being in Berkeley, I will always have a community and support system to welcome me with open arms.”
John S., sociology & African American studies

 

John S., hanging some inspiration in the BRRC office.

Getting involved with BSHA (Black Students in Health Association)

In addition to overarching community organizers like the BRRC, intersectional organizations provide focused support for members of the community. The Black Students in Health Association (BSHA) is one such group that fosters a tight-knit community of Black students interested in health-related careers. The students who volunteer at BSHA provide both support and resources for their members through informational sessions and peer to peer advising, while engaging them in hot topics in the healthcare field.

The BSHA Board in the Hearst Field Annex (left to right): Semhar T., Adesuwa O., Lia B., Karsyn T., Ola E., Sarah O.

Navigating as a STEM student at UC Berkeley is difficult, and adding the intersections of Blackness to the equation makes navigating the Berkeley STEM experience even harder. In STEM, curriculum based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Black students are heavily underrepresented. To combat this, BSHA creates a community for Black students on the pre-health/pre-med track, ensuring they have the support and resources to succeed in their journey on campus.

“Being involved in this organization in such capacity ensures that the work we do impacts Black lives on this campus. It is critical to foster such communities on a campus that are challenged by underrepresentation. As the board, we have definitely been more sensitized to the racial barriers that exist within the healthcare field. This organization has made our time here at UC Berkeley more purposeful and directed towards the healthcare field, which we are all pursuing.”
– Black Students in Health Association

 

BSHA Board getting it done!

Black & Pre-Health at Cal

Being an underrepresented student pursuing careers in the pre-health field can be frustrating, especially when resources for Black students can be extremely limited; however, organizations like BSHA uplift Black students going through this journey, giving them the resources and community support to succeed. Although it may be harder for Black students in pre-health to excel in an environment with such limited resources and support, BSHA is committed to supporting Black pre-health students in all of their endeavors.

BSHA Secretary Ola E. taking notes.

“As Black students, we have definitely faced imposter syndrome in our classes as well as general spaces on this campus. Our identity is very visible and often is the first thing that people notice about us. That being said, we always must work extra hard to be known for more than just our identity, which can be mentally taxing.”
– Black Students in Health Association

Meet Black@Cal

The Black@Cal community represents all the Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus, encompassing all of our different intersecting identities and backgrounds.

Friends laughing at Black Wednesday, a community gathering on Wednesdays in front of Golden Bear Cafe.

Black Wednesday is a community gathering that occurs every Wednesday in front of the Golden Bear Cafe. This community space is so vital in the goal to retain the Black community members on campus in all facets. The event enables us to celebrate all the different parts of our community — from students and student groups to staff and local community organizations.

Come join us at Black Wednesday!

As an underrepresented identity on campus, it is so important that we continue to hold space for our community to come together in the journey that is being Black@Cal. Whether you are an undergraduate student, a staff member, a student parent, introverted, outspoken, Muslim, undocumented, or any other intersecting identity, there is a place for you in the Black@Cal community. Of course, there will be some struggles ahead; however, the power that we hold as a collective will continue to propel us forward as a community that defies the odds through our academic and personal journey, individual triumphs, and collective victories.

 

Blessing James is a senior, majoring in public health, minoring in global poverty and practice. She is Black Recruitment & Retention Center President and a member of the Nigerian Students Association. Photos and text by Blessing James.