Forging an institution that is anti-racist in both words and deeds
Berkeley is blessed with a unique set of aspirations and responsibilities. We are the product of Abraham Lincoln’s vision for “people’s colleges”—an accessible system of public higher education for all, without regard to inherited privilege. We are an engine of socioeconomic mobility, a center of resistance to the status quo, an institution animated by a determination to make the world a better place. We strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Yet we cannot fully inhabit that institutional identity, we cannot be who we collectively aspire to be, if there is not justice for each of us individually. Achieving that goal requires us to define and embody what it means to be a truly anti-racist institution.
After the horrific incidents of anti-Black violence last summer, I sent a message to our Black alumni expressing my solidarity and sharing my conviction that “We are overdue for profound self-examination of our institutions and structures—including our university—and a commitment to national and campus cultures that support and embrace justice, equity, inclusiveness, and a true sense of belonging.”
That is a promise we are keeping by doing all that we can to address racism wherever it may be found on our campus and in our community. Anchored by our core values and historic mission to transform lives and the world around us, Berkeley has an important role to play in terms of what we teach, learn, embody, and model in our words and deeds. We will and should be judged by how we recruit, welcome, include, protect, and support the most marginalized members of our campus community. I agree with what Ibram X. Kendi wrote in his book How to Be an Anti-Racist: We must actively choose to be anti-racist and act accordingly every day to expose and eradicate racist ideas and attitudes, policies, and practices. And, so we shall, with the knowledge that for too many Black members of our community the campus has, for too long, been an unwelcoming and difficult environment.
I place enormous importance on a set of values that are, at once, both inherently anti-racist and essential to our educational mission: diversity, inclusion, and equity of experience. To this list I have added another aspiration—a true sense of belonging for all—because of what I have learned from Professor john a. powell, who says that belonging is “a vision of a large ‘we’ or many ‘we’s’ to come together to make it this large ‘we’. It extends to people who may not look like you, to people who may not talk like you … it claims and it demands that we recognize, despite our differences, our shared humanity.”
These ideals and aspirations are at the heart of a wide range of initiatives we have launched. We are organizing events to help us reflect on the way in which racism has shaped the world and our campus. These programs add intellectual heft to our ongoing work that aims to foster and sustain a sense of belonging and equity of experience for every member of Cal’s community.
While I regret that Proposition 16 was not approved by California voters, we will continue to do everything in our power, and within the law, to increase the diversity of our campus community. The most recent cohort of faculty hired is one of our most diverse ever. Our Undergraduate Student Diversity Project is beginning to bear fruit. This fall we admitted our most diverse undergraduate class in 30 years. Similar initiatives aimed at other parts of the campus community, including steps to better support Black graduate students, are underway. We also owe a special debt of gratitude to the many alumni who are generously donating to scholarship programs targeting underrepresented students, and to the Cal Alumni Association for supporting the African American Initiative Scholarship.
In terms of policing and community safety, we are implementing a range of new initiatives that will help ensure every aspect of campus operations is consistent with our commitment to racial justice. I am also pleased to share that as I write this column in early November, we have received permission to remove the names from three campus buildings—Boalt, Barrows, and LeConte—that were named for men with indisputably racist views.
The details of the aforementioned initiatives can be found on the relevant campus websites.
While our democracy and our university were founded on the principles of equal rights, justice, and opportunity, those ideals have not been realized for all. We have clearly failed to destroy the plagues of racism and anti-Blackness in the present day. The combination of Berkeley’s academic resources and our community’s long-standing dedication to social justice means we are uniquely positioned—and motivated—to propel change on our campus, in our community, and across our country. It is an opportunity that must not be squandered.