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Black Community on a PAWI Campus

By Lez'li Waller

Welcome, if you are reading this most likely you are a student or close to a person who is a student here at the University of California at Berkeley. We want to extend a warm greeting to the newest admits of the Fall 2021 admission cycle! Cal a prestigious university that is making efforts to diversify its student body. However, while we wait to see the results of that work, what does the black community on campus look like? How does being 4% of the overall student body translate in mental, physical, and overall wellbeing for Black students at a PA/WI (predominantly Asian/White institution)? For most stepping foot on campus can be a jarring experience. You have Black students coming from all over the world, some from very homogenous backgrounds where they were surrounded by a community who lived a shared experience. Arriving on a campus where it is the norm to be 1 of 3 black students in a class of 50 or more. For some majors being the only black student in all your classes may be the experience you have here at Cal. So how do we find our support? How do we find our community? It can seem overwhelming and impossible in the beginning. Walking the path to Sather Gate and seeing the masses of flyers being handed out but strangely none of them seem to market to you. Yeah, we’ve all been there.

Even though our numbers are small on this campus we do have a strong presence and with the increase in numbers of Black students, involvement is one of the best ways to find community and fast. Use CalLink to search out student-led organizations that align with your educational, political, and cultural views. In addition to the BSA[1], there is the BSU[2], BRRC[3], NPHC Greek Orgs[4], BESSA[5], HUBBA[6], Zawadi[7] and so many more. All of these great programs are student-led and student support-focused. They offer events like Black Wednesdays, the Welcome Black BBQ, Transfer student socials, and more geared towards bringing new and returning students of color together to make connections and bring new energy and ideas to keep the on and off-campus Cal experience a healthy and fully supported one. We are coming off of unprecedented times being fully remote a lot of the services and programs offered to make students transition to Cal life were drastically altered. Resuming in-person activities brings with it the opportunity to make lasting bonds with one another.

Another great resource we have here on campus is there’s a whole African American Studies department. Even if you may be majoring in something other than AfAm taking at least one course as an elective will put you in the presence of some of the greatest minds this university has to offer. It will also put you in a concentration of Black students where you can have some of the best discussions on the status of the Black and African diaspora experience. Utilizing the Black at Cal community newsletter where vital resources like internship and scholarship information are listed as well as community wellness programs like prayer circles, yoga, and mental health support for the black student body. Taking a Dcal or Berkeley Connect course that is offered through the AfAm department is also another way to connect with students whom you may share interest with. There are so many resources on this campus designed to aid us in our journey here, the major obstacle is knowing where to find them.

The last part in this equation is us there are so few of us on this campus 1,706[8] to be exact and that is combined undergrad and grad students. Our part in this is to be open to making a community don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, suggest being study partners, grab coffee and sit on the Glade and chop it up. We should be connecting with one another there shouldn’t be a black student on this campus who has not found a spot to belong. I look at older photos of previous years classes and I see unity, community, and support at one time in the past the black community on this campus was around 10-13%. With the combined efforts of student organizations and the university to recruit and retain students of color our duty is to utilize the resources and pass on the knowledge to future Black at Cal Bears.


[1] Black Sociological Alliance

[2] Black Student Union

[3] Black Recruitment and Retention Center

[4] National Pan-Hellenic Council aka “The Divine Nine”

[5] Black Engineering and Science Students Association

[6] Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association

[7] Zawadi: Black LGBTQ Community at Berkeley

[8] “UC Berkeley Quick Facts.” n.d. UC Berkeley Quick Facts | Office of Planning and Analysis. Accessed September 12, 2021.

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