Univ. of California at Berkeley: Cliques and Student Alienation

Several years ago a University of California humor magazine published a map which charts the meeting place of every fraternity and sorority on the Berkeley campus. Around the "Sally tree" gather the Tri-Delts and across Dwinelle Plaza mingle the Dekes. This burlesque tour of the "ins and outs" of the Plaza was not only a surprisingly accurate joke, but an ironic comment on life at the Berkeley school.

To uninitiated Easterners the University of California at Berkeley usually glows with the promise of incessant sunshine and 17,000 tanned, wildly social collegiates. When compared to the slush of a Cambridge winter and the frequent dearth of "available" 'Cliffies, the Cal student does indeed lead a glamorous life. Yet it is the unfortunate plight of Berkeley students that intense social pressure deprives many of them of a full share of the advantages which are so glaringly available.

The prime feature of Berkeley is its size and diversity. Students from the 50 states and 97 foreign countries throng through Sather Gate every morning not only with tans but with beards, sandals, and briefcases. Combined with the academic strength of one of the country's ablest faculties are vast athletic and recreational facilities.

Important as well is the freedom and independence which every student enjoys. An undergraduate may live in dorms, fraternities and sororities, small approved rooming houses, apartments, or at home. Despite this wide choice, over 80 percent of the student body lives within ten blocks of the campus.

To service this vast congregation of students, a sprawling and strikingly modern student union was constructed about five years ago. Administration officials are very pleased with the success the Union has had. Three separate cafeterias are packed during lunch, the pool hall and bowling alley are in constant use, and the lounges are crowded at all hours.


To the Harvard freshman, perplexed by his failure to meet girls, the student union provides a frustrating contrast to Cambridge. Not only are all the Union cafeterias completely co-educational, but the many lounges provide a perfect meeting place that widener will never equal. At least once a month, the student government (the Associated Students of the University of California, or more commonly the ASUC) sponsors dances attended by as many as 1500-2000 students. Every Friday night, a cabaret features night-club entertainment and "soft beer" for 25*; capacity crowds of 500 are quite common.

The two sexes are thrown together even more blatantly in the University residence halls, in which about 5000 students live. In each complex, two women's and two men's dorms are clustered around a common dining hall. At every meal, the entire melange of 880 undergraduates eats together. To supporters of giving 'Cliffies interhouse dining privileges at Harvard, no situation could be more ideal.

The ideal deteriorates, however, when we examine student groupings within these dorms. One sophomore, now living in a fraternity, noted that during his freshman year in a dorm he met very few people. He had come to Cal with several friends from high-school, and had been so overwhelmed by the size of his dorm that he rarely moved outside his small group.

Many Cal students experience the same problem. One begins to realize that size is not only Cal's major feature but also its major problem. In addition to presenting a vast opportunity, the large, polymorphous student body can pose a frightful prospect of insecurity and alienation.

Berkeley students, many of somewhat questionable academic ability and uncertain ambitions, face from the very beginning of their college careers an implicitly hostile environment. Confronted by a splintered student body, many students are forced more deeply into whatever group affiliations they can salvage.

The initial experience of "smallness" is even more acute than at Harvard. One girl, wandering aimlessly through the Bear's Lair, one of the Union cafeterias, complained, "I never see anyone I know here anymore." To overcome this loneliness, the high school friend becomes a powerful crutch.

Since over half of the undergraduates from California live in the San Francisco area, and more than 4000 come from one county alone, many students find it easy to stay within their knot of previous acquaintances.

Eventually, though, students cannot help joining specifically campus groups. More than half of the 30 per cent of the freshman living in dorms soon move out, most frequently to fraternities, sororities, or apartments.

It is at this juncture that severe group pressures begin to attack the student. Specific cafes and plazas are the very definite hangouts of various groups. On the Terrace, another of the Union lunch spots, a large foreign and graduate student block congregates. Both the Bear's Lair and Jules', an off-campus restaurant, are the sanctums of the fraternity-sorority crowd. One sorority girl commented that she "never saw any of her friends on the Terrace," but always found them at Jules'.

As well, the infamous soap box orations which are a Berkeley institution are regularly atended by a distinctly "Beatnik" and semi-intellectual crowd. Several espresso cafes also serve as forums for this group.