In a Class by Themselves

by Julia Sommer

Cal's millenium-bearers face pressures their predecessors never even imagined.

As the 3,717 members of the Class of 2000 entered Cal this fall, the impending millennium suddenly became much more real. This class, like it or not, is seen as the stepping-stone to the 21st century.

"There's a lot of hype on it," says one freshman. "We're supposed to be the class of the future," says another. "We've got a lot of expectations to live up to," says a third.

Cal's Class of 1900 also sensed its importance, if worded more formally.

"The dawn of the new century presages mighty events in which the University of California is destined to participate," reads the introduction to the 1900 Blue and Gold yearbook. "The newest of the nations has been summoned to mingle in the affairs of the oldest. California, upon the Pacific shore, suddenly confronts the Orient. Upon her, as upon the nation, new duties devolve, and to her University falls the task of educating those who are to shape her policy and her destiny."

Reference to the Orient was prescient. While the Class of 1900, numbering 282, was entirely Anglo-Saxon (with a smattering of Jewish names), the Class of 2000 is 40 percent Asian/Asian American. Caucasians make up 30 percent of the class, Hispanics/Latinos 15 percent, African-Americans 7 percent, Native Americans 1 percent, and "other/unknown" 7 percent.

The president of the University in 1900 was Benjamin Ide Wheeler, a professor of comparative philology and Greek recruited from Cornell. He rode around the sparsely populated campus on a white horse at a time when a classical education, stressing Greek, Latin, and Philosophy, still reigned supreme.

Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, a Chinese immigrant and professor of mechanical engineering, leads Cal today.

When asked what they plan to major in, it seems most freshmen today say molecular and cell biology in preparation for med school. Many plan on a double major to increase their competitive edge, mentioning economics and computer science.

Both centennial classes include many students representing the first generation in their families to attend college. UC continues to play a major democratizing role in the state and the nation - a leg up in an ever-more competitive world.

Many of today's freshmen point out how much greater their opportunities are than those of their immigrant parents because of the education they will get at Berkeley. As one Asian-American student put it: "We're the transitional generation. Our parents are immigrants, so we get both cultures. That won't be possible with future generations. We grasp both standards and can choose which way to go."

"Gender equity" not a new concept at Cal

"It is to be noted that co-education was introduced into the University as early as the autumn of 1870, without opposition, by a very conservative Board of Regents. It seemed the only sensible course to take, in a state so far removed from eastern institutions established for young women. The next Constitutional Convention took care to make this privilege secure to the daughters of the State." - from the Blue and Gold yearbook of 1900.

Setting a precedent for inclusiveness that continues to this day, UC in 1900 was very unusual in its almost equal numbers of men and women students (even though all the faculty were men). Reflecting social mores of the times, "coeds" were not treated equally, but probably more so than anywhere else in the nation, especially when it came to academics.

In 1976, Cal became one of the first schools in the country to establish a Program in Women's Studies, which graduated to departmental status in 1991.

In 1900, there was only one Blue and Gold basketball team - the women's - but the only competition they could find was local high schools, Mills College, and the University of Nevada.

Women students met and flirted with campus men at dances and parties, class and sporting events, receptions at Phoebe Hearst's house nearby, in class and at the library, and on unchaperoned sunset walks up Strawberry Canyon. Most of the Class of 1900 married people they met on campus.

Today's students still flirt and fall in love, of course, but in very different ways and with very different outcomes. Birth control, sexually-transmitted diseases, and gay/lesbian/bisexual relations are a major focus of the University Health Service. "Finding Relationships in the 90s" is one of the many workshops it offers.

Social life: more freedom, less certainty

"The fraternity system obtains largely at Berkeley, perhaps more largely than in any other college of its size in America. All the more desirable and popular men are gathered together into clubs - "Greek letter societies." - from The Wave (a San Francisco periodical), Aug. 21, 1897

Because there were no dorms in 1900, and none of the student services of today, fraternities became the focus of social life for the Class of 1900. Fraternity connections, as today, often translated into good jobs after graduation and lifelong friendships.

Today only 10 percent of Berkeley students belong to a Greek society, but they are still a focal point for socializing, most notably - and noisily - at weekend parties. Just as the Class of 1900 managed to get around the "one-mile limit" for alcohol sales (men only, that is), today's freshmen don't seem to have much trouble getting a drink or two at a frat house party.

But today's students also have the daily option of socializing at coed residence halls, where 90 percent of freshmen live. What would the Class of 1900 think of today's residence hall coed bathrooms? It boggles the mind.

"The social roles of male and female have changed tremendously," says a male freshman of today. "There's more equality. Now women can approach men. There's more freedom in friendships and relationships."

Whereas the Class of 1900 adored dances (to the tunes of live, unamplified bands and orchestras) and putting on their own plays, skits, and farces, this year's frosh mention movies and computer games as major diversions.

Churches and the YW/YMCA were important venues for socializing and sources of cohesion in 1900. A third of all male students belonged to the YMCA, which was also an all-important source of part-time jobs and boarding house accommodations.

In contrast, as one 1996 freshman points out: "There's no firm anchor anymore, no clear-cut way of living - knowing what's right and what's wrong." That was not a problem in the simpler world of 1900.

"U.C. Century! Rah! Rah! Rah! Nineteen hundred! California!!"

If anything, sports were even more important, though much more limited, in 1900 than they are today. Competition was limited to men (except for basketball), and the Golden Bears' sole serious foe was Stanford. Thus, rivalry with The Farm was far more ferocious and consuming than today. The Stanford Axe was first stolen in 1899 after Cal beat Stanford at baseball.

Spirited pep rallies preceded competition and everyone got involved, from faculty on down. "It was a democratic way of coalescing the student body," notes history professor Paula Fass. "There was minimal national identity at the time, so people placed more emphasis on local allegiances."

The 1900 yearbook notes: "Of the four athletic contests of the year, California won three by such scores that even the most ardent Stanford enthusiast must hang his head in silence at the mention of tennis, track and football. In regard to baseball - well they won. . . . On Christmas day, our team, without any practice since Thanksgiving, demonstrated by the score of 27 to 0 to the people of the Northwest that California possesses the best football team ever produced on the coast."

Today, thanks to gender equity mandates by the federal government, Cal has an equal number (13 each) of intercollegiate men's and women's teams (see page 27). New football coach Steve Mariucci has reinvigorated pep rallies.

Academics: from Greek to pc's

".... I think we may safely affirm that our University ranks among the first eight or ten in the United States." - from Blue and Gold yearbook, 1900

UC has always been concerned (some might say obsessed) with competing favorably in every way with the best East Coast private schools. As a latecomer to the fold of elite universities, it recruited most of its early faculty from them.

Graduation requirements in 1900 included Greek, Latin, French, German, Philosophy, and, for men, Military Science. Today's requirements include American Cultures, biological science, and international studies.

Sample course from 1900: "Railroad Field Practice and Mapping." Sample course from 1996: "Integrated Circuit Devices."

"There's more to learn now," says one of today's freshmen. "Especially when it comes to computers and technology. It's much harder to get into Cal, and the competition is greater when you get here."

All true, but few would dispute the evidence that the Class of 1900 wrote and spoke better when, before the days of radio and TV, writing, debating and oratory were all-important.

"The English language has deteriorated horribly," says a 1996 freshman. "It's more scaled down and there's too much casual profanity."

Who am I and where am I going?

While today's students identify themselves primarily by their ethnic group, home town, and interests, students circa 1900 identified most strongly with their college class.

"Freshies" were put upon, "Sophs" took it out on the poor Freshies, while Juniors and Seniors reigned supreme.

"The juniors and seniors are the privileged classes of the college," wrote The Wave. "They have fewer hours, infinitely more leisure, are granted more indulgences by the faculty, are eligible for membership in the Skull and Keys Society, and, more glorious than all, can wear the 'plug.'"

Today's juniors and seniors feel anything but leisurely. Trying to finish up coursework, the fight for a job or slot in graduate school looms near.

Asked in September to list some of the challenges they face, Cal freshmen most often mentioned competition - for jobs, for education, to maintain cutting edge skills in computers and technology. They feel a Cal education will help keep them competitive.

Other concerns voiced by the Class of 2000: pollution, downsizing and economic stress, the growing gap between rich and poor, both at home and world-wide, debt, crime, disposal of nuclear wastes, overpopulation, balancing work and motherhood.

"It's up to us to fix all the problems of the world - so much is expected of us," says one member of Cal's Class of 2000.

Another freshman says, "We're open-minded, willing to experience new things, smarter than previous generations."

A third stresses the need for optimism. "It's the turn of the century and there's lots of opportunities. There have been great advances in the computer field, space exploration, technology, medicine. We have a greater sense of freedom than the Class of 1900. Pessimism doesn't solve anything."

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