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An Outsider’s View
“The government is using your money to kill people! Our tax dollars are being used to pay for war! Of course, you all don’t care. Just keep looking at your iPhones. Do you know that those phones are killing our environment?”
Every weekday, without fail, there is man that stands atop the central bollard at the intersection between Telegraph and Bancroft. Students are bustling past during most of the day, and he yells at everyone walking by about the government conspiracy and global warming crisis. He is gone on weekends though, and I wonder what he does on his days off.
Berkeley is famous for its politically active atmosphere. UC Berkeley is perhaps even more so, given the many opportunities available to students for collaborating and uniting. In the few months since I started studying at UC Berkeley, I have seen the power behind students raising their voices and advocating for what they believe in.
Don’t Mess With The ASUC
The Associated Students of University of California (ASUC) is UC Berkeley’s student government. The first time I noticed the ASUC was when the university suddenly imposed a new “cancel for non-payment policy”.
Under this new rule, students must pay at least twenty percent of tuition within a week after classes start, or else be dropped from all their courses. No one knew about the policy before the university suddenly released it in a mass email to all students. Soon Facebook was flooded with posts by panicked students who were still waiting on money from financial aid and scholarships but were ignored by the administration.
Almost immediately, the ASUC and various student groups began to mobilize. The ASUC released a statement condemning the policy and expressing their opposition, given that it places an even greater burden on financially insecure students. They planned a protest, and after the university got wind that thousands of people were planning on going, the policy was promptly cancelled.
Run As Fast As You Can
At the time, I had just moved into my dorm and was still wandering around campus feeling completely lost. I made the mistake of walking to Sproul Plaza through Sather Gate looking…well, like a freshman. Immediately, I was approached by several students, who were all shoving flyers in my face. After I hastily took them and tried to run off, one of them grabbed me by the shoulder and started to walk with me, asking me about my day and my childhood memories and my future goals and aspirations.
She was flyering for a Christian group on campus, and I later learned that those groups were the most persistent in convincing people to attend their free Korean BBQ events. While other clubs would start to set up tables a week or so after the term starts, the religious groups would camp out on Sproul from dawn until dusk the moment people begin arriving on campus.
After I managed to shake her off, I saw a group of people chanting and holding signs in front of the administration building. One of them was in a steel cage and moving around as if in agony. “They feel pain! They have feelings! They’re our family!” The girl in the middle shouted through her megaphone. They were the animal rights activist group, and staging a mini-protest against animal testing.
Extracurricular Involvement Opportunities
Every day, Sproul Plaza buzzes with movement and people speaking up about causes or organizations that they care about. After seeing the incredible energy and the possibilities of implementing change on campus, I made a decision to explore as many things as possible.
I applied to the ASUC and became an intern for the Chief Financial Officer. As part of my internship program, I also took a 2-unit class about the history of the ASUC and its role at Cal. I joined CalSERVE, a major progressive party on campus, and learned about the elections process and party politics.
As part of my internship program class assignment, I went “dorm storming”, and went door-to-door at Stern Hall to register people to vote. The midnight before the election, I slid voter guidelines under every door in my dorm. Just a few days ago, students bussed to the UC Regents meeting and protested tuition hikes. Though I wanted to participate, I had a test and assignments due during the scheduled protest time.
In addition to the political activities that I participated in, I became involved in the food justice community, something that I had never been exposed to previously. Besides volunteering at the Berkeley Food Pantry and the Berkeley Student Food Collective, a nonprofit student-run grocery store, I also joined the Executive Board for a food justice consulting group.
Looking Back: Then and Now
You would’ve never guessed, but in high school I was a band geek, who devoted all of her time to the school band program and to an outside music nonprofit. I participated in a lot of competitions at my Chinese School, and worked as a Camp Counselor during holiday breaks.
Oddly enough, I’ve done nothing even remotely similar to the activities I was familiar with when I came to Cal. I had no interest in student government in high school because it seemed to be based on popularity, and the only time I heard about food justice was when we watched a documentary in APES.
Berkeley encourages students to get involved in as many things as possible. Everywhere I go, there are new people to meet, new causes to learn about, and new activities to join. There is never a shortage of things to do. Despite the terrible administration, the never-ending line at the financial aid and academic advising offices, the difficulty in signing up for classes that you want, student life is always abuzz with energy.
Future Goals and Aspirations
Though I have had the opportunity to explore all these different clubs and learn about political activism at Berkeley, I still somewhat feel like an outsider looking in. There’s still so much to learn and so much to do, and I know I’ve only skimmed the surface so far. There’s also this inescapable pressure that exists to be the best at what you do, and I often worry if I’ll be able to achieve something tangible by the time I graduate.
Sometimes when I’m alone in my room and low-key crying about my inability to use my time wisely, I wonder to myself, “Can I really succeed at Berkeley? Can I be like the people I hear about all the time who created their own successful startups and were featured on SharkTank, who are triple majoring yet have perfect transcripts, who are publishing their own research papers in acclaimed journals?”
What Berkeley has taught me is that there will always people who are better than me, whether it be in academics, creativity, endurance, or sociability. But what I have come to realize is that means there’s a never ending list of qualities that I can hope to learn from these people.
Now, as my first semester is ending, I am feeling optimistic about what I can do to improve myself in the semesters to come. It may be an uphill battle from here on out, but I’m confident that as long as I stay humble, stay hungry, and stay upbeat, eventually I too can make a name for myself here at Cal.
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