UC Berkley, originally located in Oakland, was established in 1868 as the first of ten campuses in the University of California system. The Board of Regents was ahead of its time in requiring that women be admitted on an equal basis with men. The school’s early years are steeped in local mythology. For example, the building known as Dwinelle was designed by two brothers who were unable to get along and built two entirely separate structures and then connected them in the middle.
During first few decades of the 20th century, the school’s reputation grew, and as it started to attract renowned faculty, UC Berkeley soon established itself as a premiere research facility. During World War II, UC Berkeley was contracted to help develop the atom bomb, and Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer was selected to head the Manhattan Project. UC Berkeley also witnessed the Free Speech Movement, which established student freedom of expression during the 1960s and cemented the school’s activist reputation. While the university is not as radical as it once was, its legacy is commemorated by the Free Speech Movement Café on campus.
UC Berkeley’s central campus occupies 178 acres in the heart of Berkeley. At the high-traffic southern entrance stands Sather Gate, and the middle of campus is home to 307-foot Sather Tower, nicknamed “the Campanile.” The most architecturally distinguished structures on campus were built in the Beaux-Arts Classic style and include Hearst Greek Theatre, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Doe Memorial Library, and Wheel Hall. Coming down from the Berkeley Hills, Strawberry Creek cuts straight through campus. Earthquake-minded Californians may also know that Berkeley sits atop Hayward Fault.
As for campus hangouts, many students can be found studying at Free Speech Movement Café. With its proximity to the library, FSM gets incredibly busy around finals season. Eccentrics and activists flock to Sproul Plaza to promote the latest cause or to share their religious beliefs with fellow Bears. Because it is rather difficult to get through Sproul without being badgered, some undergraduates prefer to take the “scenic” route and avoid the headache.
While UC Berkeley is a 25-minute subway ride from San Francisco and ten minutes by bus from Oakland, the city of Berkeley is a pretty diverse place in its own right. It’s the kind of town where the environmentally conscious can frequent farmers markets for organic produce or even grow their own in a communal field. The lives of workaday people, homeless people, city administrators, and assorted Oakland wash-overs is mixed in with the student body, contributing significantly to the feeling among Berkeley undergrads that the real world is at their door every day.
The neighborhoods around UC Berkeley are each unique. To the north, near the engineering buildings, the houses are nicer and generally a bit more expensive, and things are usually quieter. On Southside, the scene tends to be louder and more energetic. Apartments can be a bit dingier and it feels a bit more like an urban center, with its homeless population, restaurants, and bookstores. West Berkeley is a rather eclectic area, containing the City of Berkeley Administration and several businesses; this area is rarely visited by students.
Any large college campus has its share of unofficial traditions. At Berkeley, these include student activism, annual parties, and random acts of wild behavior.
“The most memorable unofficial campus tradition is the Finals Naked Run. On the Tuesday night of finals week each semester, a group of students gather in front of the main stacks of Doe Library, strip down to their birthday suits, and run through the library. Most of the participants are residents of the co-ops, but anyone with
a desire to get naked and turn some heads can join in. The Naked Run provides a moment of levity during the most stressful week of the semester, and seems to embody the students of UC Berkeley at their best: they can be a little out there and they love to get a little crazy, but they still pick the most studious place on campus in which to run naked.
Every April marks Berkeley’s more apolitical students’ least favorite part of the school year. I’m not talking about midterms; no, this is the time of year for ASUC elections. The Associated Students of the University of California is the student government of UC Berkeley. In early April, campaigning becomes the central activity in densely populated areas like Sproul Plaza and the Moffitt Undergraduate Library. Students who are running for office enlist their friends to carry huge signs, hand out flyers, and pester anyone who walks by to vote for their candidate. For a few weeks, the campus is covered with sidewalk chalk endorsing one of the campus political parties like CalSERVE or Student Action.
For freshmen living in the dorms, a favorite annual tradition is the dorm-wide game of assassin, which is usually organized by the Resident Assistants. For those unfamiliar with the game, assassin is played by a large group of people who discreetly try to ‘kill’ the other players by flashing a hand sign or whispering code words. The object of the game is to remain the last person alive.
Cal’s most prominent rival is Stanford University. With their close proximity (roughly one hour by car) and nearly inverted color schemes (blue and gold vs. red and black), the potential for rivalry is undeniable. Students at Cal make hissing noises at the mere mention of the Cardinals. What becomes obvious over time is that the rivalry isn’t really based on ill will. The Stanford rivalry gives Cal plenty of opportunities to participate in exciting events in which everything is “Big.” The “Big Game” is football, and Cal vs. Stanford is one of oldest and most famous sports rivalries. But the competition extends far beyond the football stadium (for example, the “Big Freeze,” for example, goes down on the hockey rink). Cal students who spend some time with Stanford undergrads usually discover that the level of energy is much smaller there, where the rivalry can seem to be more of a joke than anything else. The other practical aspect of the Cal/Stanford rivalry is that it provides a major financial opportunity for T-shirt companies, as well as a whole set of rituals and chants.
Although Stanford is the traditional rival of UC Berkeley, more and more students can attest to a growing rivalry with the University of Southern California. The rivalry between Cal and USC most likely stems from the intense competition between the university football teams (a preseason Sports Illustrated story named the 2007 matchup as one of the ten most important games of the year). Cal students from Southern California often have friends or family members who attended USC, making the rivalry particularly bitter. Cal students like to denounce USC as the ‘University of Spoiled Children’ or ‘University of Second Choice.’ The rivalry has become somewhat ideologically-infused, highlighting the differences between a liberal and conservative school, a public and private school, Northern California and Southern California.”
Beverly Cleary (1938), a Newbery Medal-winning author of children’s books, has penned classics including Dear Mr. Henshaw and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. There is a dorm named after Cleary on campus.
Maxine Hong Kingston (1962) is the author of The Woman Warrior and recipient of the 1997 National Humanities Medal.
Robert McNamara (1937) served as the United States secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He was also president of the World Bank from 1968-1981.
Gregory Peck (1939) was an Academy Award-winning actor famous for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Earl Warren (1912) was the governor of California from 1943-1953 and served on the US Supreme Court from 1953-1969. As chief justice, Warren presided over landmark cases including Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona.
Steve Wozniak (1976) is a co-founder of Apple Computers.
In the world of sports, UC Berkeley’s teams enjoy the privilege of being known as the University of California Golden Bears (or more casually as the Cal Beas) because Berkeley was the first of the UCs. Cal is an NCAA Division I school that competes in the Pacific-10 Conference. The Golden Bears have won 66 total titles in 16 different sports.
“There is no question that Cal football has the largest following of any team on campus. The stadium is crowded on game days, when frat row becomes a circus of mid-day debauchery. The basketball team enjoys significant visibility and occasional success as well, and members of the swimming and water polo teams seem to pop up all over campus. Clearly the most successful squad is the rugby team, which has won 24 national titles over the past 29 years. While the major sports articles in the Daily Cal tend to focus on football, basketball, and tennis, the victorious rugby team quietly appears in the bottom corner adjacent to scores like 50-0.”
The campus is featured in the 1967 film The Graduate.
A number of fictional scientists in Michael Crichton novels including Jurassic Park, Prey, and The Andromeda Strain, hold degrees from UC Berkeley.
Reality television star and ironic musical icon William Hung is a UC Berkeley alum. Famous for his butchered but spirited rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on Fox’s American Idol, Hung went on to enjoy a brief stint in the American pop culture spotlight.
Thomas Pynchon’s famous novel The Crying of Lot 49 is set in Berkeley.
Berkeley’s 2008 commencement speaker was Craig Newmark of Craigslist.com fame.
UC Berkeley provides a wide range of living options, and housing is guaranteed for two years.
There are six major student dorms at UC Berkeley, all of which students generally find to be friendly, safe environments in which they can make their first friends in college. ‘The Units’ are Units 1, 2, and 3. Units 1 and 2 are composed of six high-rise buildings with a central courtyard. Each has an underground student room, conference room, computing center, and exercise room. The computing centers are a great resource for students who need fast computers with up-to-date programs, and they also contain printing and copying machines. In between Units 1 and 2 is Crossroads, the largest dining common; it is generally agreed that students in the Units have the best options for meal plans.
Unit 3 is composed of four older high-rise buildings with a central courtyard and dining hall called Café 3. Most students want to live in the Units due to their large concentration of undergrads as well as their prime location, right off campus on “Southside.” The units are near Telegraph Ave., which means they’re close to restaurants, cafés, stores, and the central areas of campus. Their main drawback is the lack of space, especially when it comes to triples, in which three students live in a room that was originally designed for two. The older buildings are a little run down, but most new students enjoy the social atmosphere.
Foothill Dorm, also known as Unit 4, is composed of two buildings called Foothill-Hillside, and Foothill-La Loma. Located on the northeast corner of campus at the base of the Berkeley Hills, Foothill is a nice option for students who enjoy a little more privacy and seclusion. Students live in singles or doubles in suites with a shared common area. This option is best for students who want to get to know their suitemates more intimately and who don’t want to share a bathroom with an entire floor of freshmen. One downside is that its dining hall is smaller and lacks some of the variety that can be found in other cafeterias.
Foothill is known as the “quiet dorm,” though it may not always deserve that title. It is closest to the side of campus where the science buildings are based, so chemistry labs, physics classrooms, and the main buildings for other science majors are all nearby.
Adjacent to Foothill-Hillside is Stern Hall, which houses only women and has a reputation for being quiet and less social than the other dorms, though it is of course a great option for female students who prefer single-sex housing. Bowles Hall is the men’s-only dorm on the other side of Stern. Its exterior has the austere look of a castle, but the inside is typically known for being unkempt. Most men living in Bowles did not choose to live there, but ended up in Bowles because they filled out their housing application past the deadline.
Clark Kerr formerly housed the State Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind. The Spanish-style residential complex is about five blocks southeast of the main campus, making it the most distant of the dorms. However, Clark Kerr is close to most of the sports teams’ practice fields, so a lot of student athletes opt to live there. On average, its rooms are larger than those in the other dorms. Students live in doubles and triples in the complex’s multiple buildings, and there are lots of grassy areas that students can visit to get some fresh air. The dining hall is known for offering more dishes made from fresh ingredients like seasonal vegetables. Still, Clark Kerr is close enough to the Units that students can eat at Crossroads, which has the widest selection of all the dining halls.