Investment in Diversity: Preserving Language Programs at UC Berkeley

Walking through Level B of Dwinelle Hall, I listen to the agglomeration of sounds emanating from each room, phrases and exclamations in diverse dialects resonating throughout the hallway. I recognize conversations exchanged in Japanese, German and Chinese, although there are still other languages I cannot identify. I make my way towards the sound of rolled R’s and round vowels, eventually taking a seat in my class and finding myself quickly immersed in the Spanish language.

Like many other UC Berkeley students, this routine has formed an integral part of my college experience. Unfortunately, funding for the language departments at UC Berkeley has been significantly reduced and the program continues to face severe cuts to its budget. As a result, the number of classes next year are supposed to be heavily reduced, according to Spanish lecturer Amelia Barili. A petition was recently circulated to restore funding for these language programs and has received over 1,500 signatures as of press time from impassioned students and faculty members.

Language courses, especially those taught at UC Berkeley, provide far more than rudimentary knowledge of words and grammar. These classes allow students to submerge themselves in another culture and to actively communicate with others in a way that digital language programs, like Rosetta Stone, cannot replicate. They broaden students’ perspectives and promote cultural awareness. At a campus that emphasizes diversity, diminishing the availability of these courses seems counterintuitive and it would work against UC Berkeley’s resolved efforts to foster an inclusive environment on this campus.

For me, studying Spanish in this setting is not only an opportunity to expand my perspective and sense of global awareness, but also to engage in a bit of self-discovery. I often receive looks of incredulity when I say I speak Spanish fluently, largely because I am not a native speaker nor does my appearance suggest I am of Hispanic descent. The majority of my family is of Irish and European origin, but my grandmother is Mexican-American. Therefore, I often wonder if my affinity for the Spanish language is somehow in my blood, or if my decision to study the language merely stemmed from a desire to expand my communicative capabilities.

My grandmother rarely talks about her childhood. As a child growing up in a rural farming community in Colorado at the end of the Great Depression, she once described to me how she became aware of the pervasive discrimination that continues to affect Hispanic immigrants. Her father got a job running a gas station in Fort Lupton, where she remembers seeing grocery store windows display signs that read, “Only English Spoken Here.” She said this was the first time she became truly aware of her Hispanic ethnicity.

“For me, studying Spanish in this setting is not only an opportunity to expand my perspective and sense of global awareness, but also to engage in a bit of…

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