A Warm Reception for Minority Prospects
Chancellor Heads Delegation to Southern California
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Carlos Almendarez, equally stumped, had five UC campuses to choose from, plus a "school of second choice" that was bending over backwards to woo him with a near full scholarship.
A fine offer. But Lisa King, whose daughter La Shonda faces a May 1 deadline to submit her registration to Cal, still worries. "Are they gonna give you a lot of money one year and drop you the next?" she asked. And what about all those things she'd heard about Berkeley, like "students running naked across the campus?"
With only a few weeks left to choose a college, Johnson, Almendarez and the Kings -- armed with many questions and considerable pride -- attended an evening reception in downtown Los Angeles April 13 for underrepresented minority students who have been accepted to Berkeley's class of 2003.
"We're sure about you," Bob Laird, director of undergraduate admissions, told more than 40 admitted students and their families. "We want to give you as much information as possible to help you be sure about us."
The reception, one of dozens Berkeley has hosted throughout California this month, was part of the campus' ambitious effort to make personal contact with all students admitted for fall 1999.
The aim was also to let African Americans, Latinos, Filipinos and American Indians know that despite anything they may have heard to the contrary in the wake of Proposition 209, Berkeley welcomes their presence on the campus.
"We believe in diversity," NBA Allstar Kevin Johnson, '98, told the guests. Johnson said he grew up in a poor Sacramento neighborhood and "my ticket out was athletics." In 1983 he was recruited by a number of colleges. He chose Berkeley because of "three Ps": the Pac 10 athletics conference, proximity to home, and a prestigious academic reputation.
Later during the reception, a well-dressed father and son wearing matching name tags looked surprised as a tall man extended his hand: "Hello, Patrick and Patrick," he said. "I'm Chancellor Berdahl."
"He was a nice man, very personable," commented senior Scott Nichol, who also got to chat with the Chancellor. "He didn't think he was higher."
Berkeley faculty, staff, students and alumni were also on hand to give a personal face to a big institution, dispel myths and answer questions.
Associate professor of nutritional sciences and native Los Angeleno Greg Aponte emphasized the vitality that the guests, many of whom were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, would bring to the student body.
"I have a dream that before I retire" the Berkeley faculty will also be diverse, said Aponte. "We have to get there. There is no choice. And it starts right here in this room."
A panel of Berkeley students candidly fielded questions about everything from graduation rates to how to deal with separation from one's family.
"Leaving your family is a big deal in the Latino community," commented Ruben Duenas, '92, a middle school teacher in East L.A. "When I told my parents I was going to Berkeley, they didn't speak to me the entire summer. I was the youngest and [they wondered] why did I want to leave them?
"My father still roots for UCLA," Duenas added, "but he realizes what Cal did. It made me blossom."
The Cal alum said he was concerned about the impact of Prop. 209 on minority enrollment at Berkeley, and was hopeful that a number of similar events to be held in the homes of Southern California alums would attract more students of color.
While parents questioned campus housing and financial aid staff about shelter and college costs, their sons and daughters mingled with Berkeley undergrads.
"They need personal testimony that they're wanted," ASUC Senator Josh Diosomito said of his one-to-one conversations with prospective Berkeley students. One group listened intently as pre-law student Orquidia Contreras described the Chicano/Latino co-op where she rooms. She also praised the consistent support of Berkeley financial aid officials throughout her undergraduate career.
Sean Hubbard, a tall, thoughtful high school senior interested in psychology, was looking forward to a weekend on campus sponsored by Cal's Black Recruitment and Retention Center. He hoped to learn "what it's like to be a black student" at Berkeley.
Hubbard's mother, Mamie, graduated from UCLA. "When I went to UCLA, there were 200 black students out of 25,000," she said. The absence of a critical mass of African Americans "mattered," she recalled.
Three of her children attended UCLA. One attended Berkeley, which has now become the choice of her youngest. "We already have the check filled out," she said. "We're deciding on housing now. I've heard Foothill is a long, hard hike."