As a doctoral student at Berkeley committed to addressing issues affecting minorities on our campus and in the broader community, I recently participated in the “I, Too, Am Berkeley” campaign. The campaign was a fragment of a nationwide “I, Too, Am” campaign, which has been widely discussed for its unique approach to acknowledging, challenging, and combating racial bias that occurs on predominately white campuses and for its innovative strategies for empowering minority students. The campaign attracted passionate students at schools including Harvard, NYU, Princeton, and UW-Madison.
In summary, the students who participated in the campaign shared the sentiment that as minorities, our voices often go unheard, our experiences are devalued, and our presence on predominately white campuses is questioned. In particular, students mentioned feeling isolated from their peers, being reduced to negative stereotypes, feeling criminalized by campus police, faculty, and administrators, and being seen as unworthy benefactors of affirmative action.
My personal story stems from my experiences as a former undergraduate African American Studies major and current doctoral student in an African American Studies Department. I find that I am frequently faced with characterization of the discipline as “illegitimate” and “lacking rigor,” – and asked far too often, “How are you going to get a job with an African American Studies degree?” I have and continue to face many challenges ranging from the absence of institutional commitment to inadequate and inconsistent funding of the discipline.
Though skepticism over the value of a college degree, especially one in the liberal arts, is common these days, the pressure to prove the utility of my African American Studies degree has felt particularly daunting. I thus joined the campaign to contest the assumption that my degree is worthless and to combat the notion that the discipline is ill-equipped to offer its students a rigorous education.
The extent to which the campaign has changed the Berkeley campus is not easily quantifiable, but I have noticed that it has drawn the attention of my peers and the Berkeley administration. It has also been cited to facilitate meaningful dialogue about race and the campus climate. On other campuses, students have used findings from their campaigns to take concrete steps towards improving conditions for minorities. At NYU, for example, students offered the administration recommendations in the form of a written proposal about how to foster a more diverse and inclusive educational institution.
What is your experience as a minority on a predominately white college or university? Do you think the “I, Too, Am” campaign photo campaign will lead to positive change?