James Marshall didn’t expect it would be easy, being one of just a handful of Black students at the University of California, Berkeley’s, high-ranking business school.
But his payoff came after graduation — job interviews with some of the country’s most prestigious firms.
“It’s about getting that set of rules: OK, this is how you engage an employer; this is how you get this job,” says Marshall.
This fall, preliminary figures put 129 new Black freshmen at Berkeley out of a class of about 4,000, slightly higher than last year, but still an extreme minority. About 11 percent of the class will be Hispanic, well out of step with a state where Hispanics make up about 30 percent of the population and are projected to be the largest ethnic group by 2011.
For Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, it’s a disturbing trend in diverse California.
“There are very talented people out there, I believe, who for a whole variety of reasons end up not coming to Berkeley, or to another of the flagship campuses in the UC system,” he says.
“Where are the leaders going to come from?” asks Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley’s Boalt law school, where just nine Black students are expected in the incoming class of 268. “It’s been such a short period of time in which our universities have begun producing minority graduates in substantial numbers that to let the door swing shut now would really be a calamity of historic proportions.”
Birgeneau, who took over the top job at Berkeley last year, has been outspoken in his dismay at enrollment figures and the need to change them. He questions whether voters intended these kinds of consequences when they passed Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure banning consideration of race in public hiring, contracting and education.
But Ward Connerly, the former UC regent who chaired the Proposition 209 campaign, bristles at the idea that there’s a problem with race-blind policies.
“I just don’t understand why certain people have gotten themselves all worked up about who gets to go to Berkeley and UCLA as if that’s the only path to a successful life in California, because it is not and the evidence is abundant that it is not,” he says.
Black and Hispanic enrollment is higher at California State University — there, Black students comprised about 8 percent of the freshman class last fall.
Still, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed says he’d like to see those numbers increase.
“I go out and visit public schools and talk to people and I figured out just walking around that students, parents and, frankly, a lot of teachers in the public schools really don’t know what it takes to go to college,” says Reed, whose staff has blanketed schools and libraries with a “How to Get to College” poster spelling out requirements.
Even though Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians are under-represented at Berkeley, the school is far from all-White. The expected freshman class will be about 47 percent Asian American (a huge category encompassing ethnicities from Samoa to India) and 31 percent White.
“We should all be extraordinarily proud of the achievement of Asian Americans,” says Birgeneau, “and we need to learn how to propagate that to other groups.”
— Associated Press
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