Being a first-generation QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) or historically underrepresented graduate student can feel daunting. You may not know what to expect or what’s expected of you.
That’s where the DREAM (Diversity, Respect, Equity, Action, and Multiculturalism) Office at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health comes in. Directed by Yuri Hernández Osorio, the DREAM Office is committed to helping all students feel included and prioritized.
Osorio knows firsthand the struggles that can come with higher learning. As a first-generation immigrant woman of color who was the first in her family to earn a graduate degree, she is keenly aware of what can happen when campus resources aren’t targeted toward those who need them the most.
When Osorio was in graduate school, “programming, support, cultural centers, women centers, and or diversity/equity initiatives from universities were not around,” she said. This fueled her passion to work supporting diverse students in higher education making sure all students feel safe, secure, and empowered to learn.
Berkeley Public Health’s student population is made up of nearly half—46.6%—students of color, compared to UC Berkeley’s overall graduate student body which consists of 35.5% students of color. This makes it imperative that the School offers a way for these students to connect and thrive.
To offer extra community-building to those who needed it, all Berkeley public health incoming graduate students were invited by the DREAM Office to apply to the 2022 DREAM Summer Seminar, which was free to those accepted. Students who said they would benefit from a boot camp on the statistical analysis tool R bootcamp; had never attended UC Berkeley before; were first generation students; and those who were from diverse backgrounds and/or financially disenfranchised were some of the students who applied and were accepted.
“We know historically excluded students struggle with R. At Summer Seminar they are supported through this with an R bootcamp,” Osorio said.
This year, 45 students attended the seminar. Osorio said that “in the future, we hope to grow and expand this cohort program to reach even more students.”
Community comes first
The main takeaway for Summer Seminar cohort members was community. “Often in academia we see students as individuals and not a part of a community. We know from the research that school and success is deeply tied to community,” Osorio said.
The four-day Summer Seminar took place in mid-August, just before the 2022 fall semester started and included sessions on leadership, building community, campus resources, working with faculty, mentorship, and more, all with the goal of forging connection and a sense of belonging. The gathering was the first time that students had the chance to meet in-person.
“If Summer Seminar participants walk away knowing another person in the program that they can relate to or feel connected to, we have done our job,” Osorio said.
One participant, Interdisciplinary Studies DrPH student Marlena Robbins, said the seminar did just that. “As a person of color and having navigated higher education, I have witnessed barriers that come with getting education. It comes back to community,” she said.
Community-building for Summer Seminar students extends beyond the week-long program. Thuan Tang, an MPH student in Health Policy & Management, said, “We still have an ongoing Slack channel and get-togethers. We not only have that community for educational purposes but also for hanging out.”
Incoming MPH student in environment health Isaiah Barajas-Smith said that meeting other students in the leadup to the fall semester has made the school feel “smaller already. Meeting new people from different backgrounds has been pretty fun.”
The experience of talking about self-care during the four-day event “made it more of a community just knowing that we’re all human going through things together,” said Barajas-Smith
MPH student Ricardo Sarmiento said the seminar was a safe space. “[Normally], I wouldn’t feel as confident and comfortable because some of these classes are really big,” Sarmiento said. “Having this at the beginning, there were other folks like me there, other people who didn’t have an easy way to get to UC Berkeley.”
“It means the world to know we have people like us looking out for our success and wellbeing,” said another fellow, who wished to remain anonymous. “This truly affirms that Berkeley was absolutely a great choice to develop myself in these next two years.”