History of UC Berkeley

Students: The student body's evolving profile

A "tiny band of scholars" — 10 faculty members and nearly 40 students — made up the new University of California when it opened in Oakland in 1869. Eight women registered for classes the next year, following a regental resolution stating that females would be admitted to the University.

The campus's first graduating class, of 1873, was known as "The Twelve Apostles." From their ranks came a U.S. Congressman and California governor, a mayor, a bank president, two UC regents, a businessman, an attorney, an engineer, a math professor, a clergyman, and a rancher.

Student enrollment reached 10,000 by the second decade of the 20th century, making Berkeley one of the largest universities in the country. Most campus students came from California, but by the 1930s UC Berkeley also accommodated about 10 percent of all international students in the country. In part because of this, it was chosen as the site of the second of four international student centers established through the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller.

Women's physical education, 1921
Physical education, 1921

Berkeley's International House officially opened in August 1930 (despite objection from some to the housing of foreigners and of men and women, people of color and whites all under one roof). It was, at the time, the largest student housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and the first coeducational residence west of the Mississippi.

As in the rest of the nation, women at Berkeley enjoyed greater opportunities to assume positions of leadership during WWII, when large numbers of their male counterparts were deployed as troops overseas. Among students, for example, both The Daily Californian (the campus's independently-run student newspaper) and Blue and Gold (the student yearbook) had their first female editors during these years, while women headed the ASUC student government for the first time (though it would not be until the late 1960s that women or students of color began to regularly win ASUC elections).

Returning GIs, hippie peaceniks, growing diversity

Thousands of veterans, with the help of the federal GI Bill, poured into the campus at the end of the Second World War, doubling enrollment to more than 20,000 in a few years time (and reaching 30,000 by 1973)

peace sign

By the late 1960s and early '70s — as San Francisco became a magnet for the burgeoning hippie movement — Berkeley's growing student body ran the spectrum from hippie peaceniks to what were known as the "Freddies and Sallies" of the Greek system. Tie-dye was popular garb, but as student yearbooks of the era reveal, so were ties and jackets.

The campus underwent a sea change in the 1980s. Under the leadership of Chancellor Michael Heyman, the decade saw a dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students of color at Berkeley (to 57 percent in 1990 from just 21 percent a decade earlier) — in part due to the establishment on campus of the Educational Opportunity Program, one of the nation's first student affirmative-action initiatives.

The campus underwent a sea change in the 1980s, when enrollment of undergraduates of color rose dramatically.

Chang-Lin Tien, a longtime member of the mechanical engineering faculty, became chancellor in 1990. The first Asian American to head a major U.S. research university, Tien was an outspoken advocate of equal opportunity in higher education. Yet affirmative-action tools that UC had used to recruit students from diverse backgrounds were weakened during his tenure — through two regental measures, later unanimously rescinded, and by Proposition 209, an amendment to the state Constitution approved by California voters in 1996.

Soon after Prop 209 took effect, admission of Chicano/Latino, African American, and Native American students declined. Under the leadership of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the campus continues to grapple with how to ensure that talented students of all backgrounds and means have the opportunity to attend and thrive at Berkeley.

The Berkeley student body today

4 student mug shots

Campus statistics help fill out the picture of the Berkeley student body today. Since 1997, the majority of entering freshmen has been female, and since 2005, nearly a third of incoming freshmen have been the first in their families to attend college. Today, slightly more than a quarter of campus undergrads are born outside the United States; for another 40 percent, one or both parents are foreign-born.

In the 2007 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey — administered each spring, at Berkeley, to all undergraduates including transfer students — 51 percent responded. Those who did reported more than 70 languages were spoken at home.

According to the same survey, Berkeley students lean left politically but run the gamut: 63 percent called themselves at least slightly liberal, 22 percent considered themselves "middle of the road," 16 percent identified as conservative. Fifty-five percent said they voted in the November 2006 election.

Timeline: Discoveries and contributions by UC Berkeley scholars