Berkeley offers college credit to ‘fight the new Jim Crow’

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Back in the day, if students wanted easy credits, they signed up for underwater basket-weaving. Now they just need a political cause.

The University of California, Berkeley is offering students college credit to work for an expressly political organization fighting for affirmative action and immigrant rights.

This semester, the African Studies department at Berkeley is offering a two-credit class called “Fighting to Learn, Learning to Fight: Building the Movement for Public Education and Equality.”

The class is sponsored by BAMN — The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrants Rights And Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary — and advertises itself to students who want “to increase underrepresented minority enrollment, restore affirmative action and overturn Prop. 209 and pass CA DREAM Act 131 and a UC-Wide DREAM Act.”

According to its website, the class will focus on four main tenants of BAMN’s program: “the promise of public education and its role in American society, the centrality of fighting racism and the ‘New Jim Crow,’ the importance of building an independent, youth-led movement and our responsibility to fight for our own liberation as leaders.”

The class is part of Berkeley’s DeCal program, “a student-run democratic education program.” Students design and teach their own accredited pass/no-pass courses. However, the courses must be approved by a department and the Academic Senate.

The course is led by two student instructors. The faculty sponsor is Robert Allen, an adjunct professor of African American studies & ethnic studies, as well as a graduate adviser for the department. He has been actively involved with BAMN. (RELATED: SC college enacts mandatory fitness assessment program for freshmen)

According to the class syllabus, the coursework includes a weekly choice between a 1-2 page “reflection” paper or a “field organizing assignment.” Two of the three choices for the class’ final project are “producing a documentary video about a BAMN action” and “delivering a speech at a BAMN event.”

The course’s reading list contains BAMN material such as “The Character and Aims of BAMN” and “The BAMN Pledge.”

The political nature of the class has drawn the ire of some, especially groups opposed to affirmative action efforts.

“These institutions are funded by the taxpayers who passed Prop. 209 by 55 percent,” said Ward Connerly, President of the American Civil Rights Institute. “Even if this is not one of the official classes, the resources of the university are being used. The class will be conducted on university property. the campus is not supposed to do this.”

The class, and Connerly’s objections, are but another salvo in a long, bitter war between Connerly and BAMN.

Connerly, a former UC regent, spearheaded the campaign for Proposition 209, a California ballot referendum that banned all affirmative action programs in 1996. BAMN has been working tirelessly to overturn it ever since. It has organized student political parties on state university campuses since 1999.

Connerly calls BAMN a “terrible organization” whose “objectives are truly foul.” BAMN has a whole section of its website dedicated to what it calls Connerly’s “campaign to resegregate America.”

BAMN executive director Donna Stern said the student instructors are volunteers, and that the course is no different than an internship or joining a club.

“These are issues of educational equity and access that are part of the foundation of the question of public education,” Stern said. “Professors all have their opinions. We are simply being more upfront about being upfront about what we’re doing. This is kind of an alternative curriculum.”

According to Berkeley, the DeCal courses are funded by student fees managed by the student government, not by the university itself.

“We treat our students like adults, and this is a student-run program,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “They have the freedom to explore a number of issues. Our students are engaged in the world at large.”

Neither Professor Allen nor the student instructors responded to requests for comment.