UC Berkeley has seen an increase in Latine student enrollment and representation in several academic disciplines following the establishment of initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion.
While most of these initiatives serve first-generation, low-income and historically underrepresented groups as a whole, they have seen increasing Latine participation, especially over the last five years, according to Fabrizio Mejia, the assistant vice chancellor of campus’s division of equity and inclusion.
“There are a significant number of equity and diversity initiatives all over campus, some in academic units, some in administrative units,” Mejia said. “There aren’t really many that are specific to one group, except for where you talk about some of the cultural centers.”
Mejia said while services aren’t specific to a community, certain communities use them in larger numbers compared to others. He also noted that overall Latine student enrollment, as well as their use of these programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels, has been growing over the past several years, such as in the Disabled Students’ Program and Student Learning Center.
Campus data corroborates this claim, with Hispanic/Latinx student enrollment on campus growing from 10% in 2011 to 17% in 2021, according to Cal Answers data. In the same time period, the proportion of Hispanic/Latinx people in California increased from 38% to 40%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, Mejia said this positive trend does not put the campus on track to meet Chancellor Carol Christ’s goal of making UC Berkeley a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2027. A Hispanic-Serving Institution is a school where 25% or more of the undergraduate student population is Hispanic/Latinx, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
He added that Latine students were still underrepresented in some disciplines compared to others, particularly STEM disciplines such as the College of Chemistry. Mejia noted engineering had been particularly successful in increasing Latine student enrollment in the last two years, crediting their investment in advising and transition programs.
Cal Answers data shows that while the colleges of Chemistry and Engineering have similar Hispanic/Latinx enrollment today, Engineering has made significant improvements since 2019. The data shows that Hispanic/Latino students made up 13% of students in the College of Chemistry in 2021, up from 11% in 2019 and 4% in 2011. The data also shows the College of Engineering with 12% Latinx/Hispanic enrollment in 2021, up from just 8% in 2019 and 4% in 2011.
“I’m excited to see what happens with Data Science,” Mejia said. “There’s an opportunity there with a newer discipline to build it up differently from the ground up.”
Mejia said campus may have to compete for some top Latine students with universities that offer them better financial aid, but noted progress has been made in this area at Berkeley, with this year’s STEM Excellence through Equity and Diversity, or SEED, Scholars cohort consisting of almost 50% Latine students.
The continued underrepresentation of Latine students in STEM fields is partly due to a large number of Latine students coming from first-generation or lower-income backgrounds and not having access to AP and honors courses that would prepare them for such fields of study, according to Mejia.
“You have to prepare your learning environment to be student ready,” Mejia said. “For many decades, our campus has thought the other way around, that students have to be college ready, and in a place like Berkeley even more so.”
He added that students seeing themselves represented in certain fields would encourage them to apply more, and that the higher representation of Latine students in fields like the humanities, education and law leads them to enroll in those disciplines more often.
Indeed, Cal Answers data shows a 2021 enrollment of 22% Hispanic/Latinx students in the College of Education, up from 10% in 2011. However, there is just an 11% enrollment of Hispanic/Latinx students in the School of Law, a small rise from the 10% enrollment in 2011.
Mejia said improvements to the Latine student experience on campus could be made by coordinating resources more and making it easier for students to navigate what’s available “when and how.” The newly opened Latinx Student Resource and Community Center is a hub for such resources.
“Too often we expect students to just navigate everything themselves,” Mejia said. “It shouldn’t have to be that way.”