Raven Gatson has been living with her sorority sisters near the UC Berkeley campus since January 2021. It’s the first time she’s been on campus. The buildings are still closed, but she’s able to walk around and imagine a bustling Sproul Plaza at noon. At last, after years of planning for college, she was at the school for her.
“It was really interesting to commit to a school that I had never gone to and couldn’t go to because of COVID-19 restrictions,” Gatson recalls. When she chose Cal, she knew COVID-19 wasn’t going to go away before the first day of classes. Campus tours and move-in days were all shunted, and her college experience was contained to a computer screen. She worked hard for years to make it to a prestigious university like Cal, but in the wake of the pandemic, Gatson had to learn how to adapt quickly. This is a very unique experience,” Gatson reflects. “It was a great way to test my mettle because it was a transition from my senior year to now.”
Since elementary school, Gatson had college on her mind. Her mother, a school counselor, had instilled in her the importance of education. Before she knew how to drive, Gatson knew she wanted to leave her home state of Texas for college. She even considered going to school to be an anesthesiologist. “It was always at the forefront of my mind,” Gatson says. “I was thinking about just mainly going to a good college.”
She had high school all planned out. She was part of different clubs, on student council, and a sports editor for the school newspaper. When it came time to apply to school, Gatson had no apprehensions. “Because I worked so hard throughout high school and had planned so meticulously, I did feel very comfortable during the application process,” she reflects. She applied to a bunch of schools, but the universe seemed to keep pointing her to UC Berkeley. “For some reason, I just started seeing Berkeley pop up more, whether it was a professor on CNN or it was just kind of in my radar subconsciously,” she remembers.
All her applications were submitted and she had done all that she could to get into a great university. All she could do was wait. Then, the first letter came in. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t an acceptance.” Upon receiving her acceptance letter from Cal, she was shocked and emotional.
“I don’t expect things to be perfect, but I do expect
More signs kept telling Gatson that Cal was the place for her; namely, the African American Initiative (AAI) Scholarship. “Out of all my options, it just felt right,” she says. Each year, the scholarship, totaling $8,000 per year, is awarded to Black incoming first-year students. Beyond the financial aid, a cornerstone of the scholarship is mentorship. Current students and alumni regularly meet to discuss their experiences at Cal. “The transparency is refreshing and eases up the tension,” Gatson says. “I don’t expect things to be perfect, but I do expect transparency.”
While Gatson has been working most her life to get to this point, she acknowledges that studying at Cal isn’t the end. It’s just the jump-off point for the work she wants to do in her community. “I think going to college is a privilege, and being a Black woman, I know that it’s a privilege to be at Berkeley.” As a high schooler, Gatson says she was fortunate to have a mother who knew how to guide her through the college application, but recognizes that others don’t have the same resources. In a place that is “information overload,” Gatson wants to help demystify not only the college application process, but any sector of life that has traditionally not been welcoming of underserved Black communities. “With the knowledge I now have, I want to help liberate the Black community.”