No one is surprised by the fact that there is a dramatic gender imbalance in electrical engineering and computer sciences. We all seem to have accepted this imbalance as an inevitability, but we have been complacent for far too long. Eleven percent female graduates with an EECS degree in the 2015-16 academic year is abysmal on such a progressive campus.
The problem did not begin on our campus, and in large part, it is not UC Berkeley specific. Societal and cultural norms usher men toward fields in technology, engineering and business, and women toward the social sciences and humanities, starting at an early age. As a result, only 19 percent of EECS applicants were female this past year. But that doesn’t change the fact that such a male-dominated field can prove a hostile environment for the women who do pursue EECS.
The department does have plans in place to combat this imbalance, but structural change only goes so far. It’s incumbent on the students in the department to actively promote a cultural shift that ensures EECS doesn’t remain an uncomfortable space for nonmales. Every man in the EECS department needs to recognize the detrimental implications of the vast gender imbalance.
But the shameful elitism so prevalent among men in the EECS department is not unique to them. Many UC Berkeley students take pride in their denouncement of discrimination, but in every corner of campus, students turn around and relentlessly compare themselves to others in what becomes a hierarchy of academic influence and prestige.
The clichés abound: EECS majors will make more money than integrative biology majors. Business majors are sellouts. English majors will work as baristas. Geography majors — wait, what, we have a geography department?
These harmful stereotypes, built on assumptions that academic importance directly correlates with postgraduation financial security and the number of hours spent on classwork, create an unhealthy culture at UC Berkeley. And then they are preserved by degrading jokes and memes that target just about every major, even though many students harbor a quiet resentment for this rhetoric.
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that no student can fully comprehend or empathize with others’ academic hardships and insecurities. By comparing ourselves to and laughing at one another, we perpetuate a spirit of toxic competition entirely antithetical to the mission of a renowned public university.
Regardless of the department in which a student takes classes, admission to and attendance of UC Berkeley are no easy feats. Across the board, students participate in rigorous, groundbreaking study with the world’s leading scholars. A $150,000 starting salary doesn’t make a certain type of work — while indispensable — the ultimate signifier of a productive and cohesive society.
Students in any major merit appreciation for the wealth of knowledge and experience they contribute to UC Berkeley, not humiliation and disrespect based on a perceived lack of material displays of “value.” And gratitude must prompt vehement rejection of any form of hierarchical elitism, particularly when it is gendered.