Campus was packed on Saturday for Berkeley’s open house, Cal Day. While numerous student groups around the University welcomed community members and prospective students, the American Indian Graduate Student Association (AIGSA) had a special mission: attracting Native American students not only to Berkeley, but to college in general.
Students, their families, and community supporters spent a full day on campus, exploring, learning, and enjoying the events! AIGSA chair and Ethnic Studies PhD student Olivia Chilcote described the group’s Cal Day events as an important opportunity for Native American students ranging from elementary through high school, primarily from California, to “experience higher education…to see what college can be like and what types of careers they can pursue through a college education.”The day began with a tour of Law School from David Moakley, a second year law student and member of the Karuk-Berkeley Collaborative. David describes the collaborative as “a new student-initiated legal service project” that conducts legal research and “provides students an opportunity to apply classroom lessons to issues facing the Karuk Tribe…under the direction of the Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources and its attorneys.”
Berkeley Native American Student Development Coordinator Phenocia Bauerle then led the group over to a dorm to see how college students live and to learn about the Residence Hall Native American Theme Program from junior Nekia Woods.
Over boxed lunches under the Campanile, students and families spoke about why AIGSA’s Cal Day is important, and reacted to the experiences of the day so far. On The Berkeley Graduate‘s youtube page, you can hear from a student, Kavan; a parent, Rhonda Medicine Crow; and a community supporter, Jeremy Bill.
After lunch, Karuk-Berkeley Collaborative member Sibyl Diver took the group across campus to a fire science lab where she and three other graduate students, Stella Cousins, Anu Kramer, and Kate Wilkin, conducted exciting small group demonstrations. The range of academic exposure over the day was inspiring. According to Ethnic Studies Graduate Student Tasha Hauff, was also involved in organizing the day, AIGSA seeks to “tailor the students’ Cal Day experience to include explorations of those disciplines that are of great interest and importance to Native communities such as environmental science and law, dance and performance, as well as Native American Studies / Ethnic Studies.”
Then at the Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues, participants heard from the center’s namesake and a panel of current undergraduate students who spoke about their experiences at Berkeley.
The climax of the Cal Day programming before students had time to explore campus then discuss the experiences of the day over a buffet dinner in Ishi Court, was a spectacularly moving Dance Workshop with Jack Gray. The dancer described the workshop as exploring “life force and empowering strengthening movement…from Maori warrior dance forms. I believe it unified them and reminded us that dancing is for all community in the traditional sense and that it is not exclusive.”
The group learned a Maori haka, a greeting practice, and ended by circling to sing a chant. Grey reflected on the difficulty of sharing these expressions “when indigenous people are often made to feel bad about practicing ritual.” His goal with the program was “to show that our ceremonies are all about honouring nature and a way to appreciate other people was to share and show respect. I am aware that there are very few Native students in the UC system and I am pleased to be able to contribute what I can to support native people’s to find a place of learning and healing.”
As Hauff explained, the importance of AIGSA’s Cal Day event extends beyond sharing the beauty of Berkeley’s campus with the community:
“As a systematically marginalized population, Native youth are often not exposed to educational opportunities such as four-year institutions. It is important to get more Native students into college so that they can gain the skills and knowledge to reach their goals. Many Native students hope to influence society in a way that helps out their own communities, and higher education can help them do just that.”