Close Mobile Menu

Intentional Community Is the Key to Success

August 8, 2019

“TAAP offered a space where you could be who you were as a person, not just a student.”

Jarvis Givens ’10, M.A. ’12, Ph.D. ’16, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, credits the small communities he joined at Cal for successfully supporting him through his academic journey. One of the most significant communities, he says, was his cohort of students at The Achievement Award Program (TAAP).

Jarvis, who grew up in a low-income community in Los Angeles, chose UC Berkeley because of the reputation of its undergraduate business program. Another factor was the personal recruiting pitch by high-level administrators, including then-chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who came to his high school to sell its top students on UC Berkeley.

Jarvis visited the Cal campus and was hosted by a number of African American students. He was so taken by the camaraderie and supportive environment that he decided that Cal was the right place for him. The offer of the TAAP scholarship through the Cal Alumni Association’s Alumni Scholars Program made the decision even easier. Jarvis didn’t know it at the time, but he was soon to discover what an integral role the program would play in his Cal career.

“TAAP was very helpful in my transition from high school to college,” he shares. “The community I come from was worlds apart from UC Berkeley. Most of my TAAP cohort members were first-generation college students like I was, and TAAP provided a community where we could talk freely about the process and the transition.”

Black Wednesday
Black Wednesday during Jarvis’s freshman year. Image courtesy of Jarvis Givens

He also valued the intentionality of the TAAP programming. “I remember the program brought in speakers and set up retreats and workshops that allowed us to process how we were acclimating, and it also gave us the opportunity to be social and foster community with one another,” he says.

Like many TAAP scholars and alumni, Jarvis says that the open, collaborative environment that TAAP built over the years was as important to his success as was the financial support.

“TAAP offered a space where you could be who you were as a person, not just a student,” Jarvis explains. “The financial support and the laptop we received as freshmen were great, but what I remember most was how the community it fostered gave us the opportunity to share openly what we were dealing with as first-generation students. It also provided a space that took seriously who we were as emotional and spiritual people, as well as scholars and students.”

Jarvis credits former TAAP program director Joani Carpenter and other TAAP staff for setting that inviting tone. “Leaders like Joani always greeted you with a smile and asked how are you doing as a person—not just, ‘Did you submit your grades for semester?’”

Jarvis came to Cal intending to become an entertainment lawyer. He earned his bachelor’s from the Haas School of Business, but early in his Cal journey he was piqued by several classes he took in the African American Studies department and decided to pursue postgraduate degrees in the humanities. He went on to earn his M.A. and a Ph.D. in African American studies at UC Berkeley. He began teaching at Harvard in 2018. Givens’s areas of expertise are 19th- and 20th-century American education, focused on black students, and critical theories of race and schooling.

Photo of Jarvis with friends
Jarvis, with friends from high school, graduates from Cal. Image courtesy of Jarvis Givens

He says that some of his work, including a 2016 paper, “The Invisible Tax: Exploring Black Student Engagement at Historically White Institutions,” was informed by his UC Berkeley experience.

“In the paper I was trying to conceptualize and think through the additional work that I and other black students had to put in at Cal to succeed,” he says. “Intentional communities, like the Haas Black Business Association and TAAP were critical to my success. For example, the demographics of TAAP looked very different than the demographics of Cal as a whole. These communities were necessary because the culture of the school was not always conducive to who we were as people.”

Today, Jarvis says TAAP is more critical for underrepresented students than it was even 10 years ago, when he was a student.

“It is becoming increasingly more challenging, especially at a place like Berkeley, for working class students and students from underrepresented families to afford a college degree, because of the increase in cost of living and tuition,” he says. “Whatever TAAP can do to mitigate some of the challenges and stressors for these students will continue to be important.”