Learning College and Politics

With Berkeley being known as an extremely liberal university, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – so I attended a four-day UC Student Organizing Summit (UC Student Congress/ UCSOS) as one of various undergraduate and graduate delegates from across all ten UC campuses!

I was immediately struck by the amazing diversity of everybody present and appreciated how new everything was for me, considering the smaller and more sheltered community in which I grew up. College life and politics cannot be separated; they are essentially one entity because of the variety of bills, policies, and regulations that affect students across all affiliated schools.

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Hi I’m Melanie, a first-year at UC Berkeley! I’m from LA, and my pronouns are she/her.

To say the least, the politics in college-level student government are intense. Just sitting in the audience listening to campaign proposals, pep talks, or discussions about what to do and when to implement policies caused me to experience turbulent emotions, conflicting thoughts, and stress from attempting to take it all in stride.

While I am still uncertain as to whether these social aspects apply to all universities across the nation or not, I compiled a ten-point list of what I learned in my personal experiences about activism along with college norms in general!

  1. Gender Pronouns – During introductions, people may ask “What are your pronouns?” in terms of your personal identity. (i.e. Mine are ‘she/her,’ but I have also met others who identify as ‘he/his’ or ‘they/them’ as well)
  2. Introductions – The most typical introduction will consist of the four main questions: (1) Your name (2) Your intended/declared major or field of study (3) Your year (4) Where you lived before going to college. Pronouns are sometimes asked as well, but usually in more formal settings so as to not potentially offend others.
  3. Swearing – Because I do not swear, I found it the most amusing thing in the world listening to other people implement various cuss words into their daily language and even into professional environments! While friends and classmates in high school did use the reverse-euphemisms often, I was surprised upon discovering that nobody in college really cared when or if people used bad words at any time or any place.
  4. Two Types of People – This will be broad and vary for everybody, but everyone I’ve met in college thus far has fit perfectly into two extremities of the spectrum; they were either quite disrespectful and mean, or basically angels in disguise. It’s all about meeting new people and working out what types of people you’re most comfortable with – I definitely met a majority of angels though!
  5. Diversity – At the conference, I also encountered a variety of different people I normally would not meet in my own suburban hometown. Delegates were very well represented in my perspective, for there were numerous students of color, LGBTQA, international students, transfers, and so many more. It was so cool meeting hundreds of individuals across the UCs who were so passionate about the societal issues that affected life on campus and after college!

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    Learning about the different ‘-isms’
  6. Substances – What would college even be without the use of alcohol and substances? Therefore, there were necessary talks pertaining to consent, safety warnings, and other such notices before releasing all delegates to their own free time. Though mentally prepared, I was still uneasy from the reality of the situation – the thought that sexual violence, drinking, and other activities could be occurring all around made me feel vulnerable all of a sudden. While it was strange to get accustomed to, I’m glad that I got used to the idea there at the conference and am now more prepared for the school year to start. (Is it weird that I now think high school dances are more lit/fun than the ones in college though?)
  7. Open-Mindedness – Political correctness is consistently and profusely emphasized because some people are apparently very sensitive to certain phrases such as “Hey you guys,” “That’s so lame,” etc. In fact, we were taught the many ‘-isms’ (racism, ableism, sexism, etc) to prevent any potential offense.
  8. Finger-Snapping – This phenomenon was something I thought was quite handy (ha get it 😀) and clever in nature. Whenever somebody is speaking and says something that the audience agrees with, people snap their fingers instead of clapping their hands. I believe that this is not only an effective way to show support while reducing the level of distraction to the speaker, but also prevents the sound from overpowering the speaker’s volume so he or she can continue speaking without any hiatus. Of course, everyone still claps at the very end, so finger-snapping is reserved for those moments when people want to clap but shouldn’t.
  9. No Admin/Parents – In college, most people are legal adults, or at least considered old enough to handle themselves appropriately. It felt so liberating knowing that there weren’t any teachers around telling us what to do or where to go all the time, that no one would be forced to behave a certain way or reprimanded for not conforming – everyone respected each other, and it was a freeing and very new personal experience.
  10. Destigmatizing – A great portion of the conference was also dedicated to destigmatizing things such as food stamps and Electronic Benefit Transfer (aka EBT, an electronic method for state welfare to provide benefits), and mental health issues. This does tie in with the state of being open-minded, as most people were extremely accepting of others and encouraged the notion that such common stigmas should not be viewed with so much negativity.
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Ending conference with a gorgeously set banquet!!

I’m very grateful for the wonderful upperclassmen who helped me prior to and during my attendance of this eye-opening conference, because it allowed me the chance to gain first-hand insight into an area I wasn’t interested in previously. It was because I avoided politics in the past that I felt I should finally try getting involved, and UCSOS truly helped in furthering my understanding of UC affairs and college life as a whole.

-Melanie

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