Celebrating Women at Cal

Celebrating women’s accomplishments was a very unfamiliar concept to me, even as someone who attended an all girls’ high school. It was so common to see every campus project, milestone, and contribution done by my female peers that I often forgot every single thing was achieved by women. Living in such a bubble was an absolute privilege, I’ve learned after graduating. The world beyond the bricks of my high school was nearly as optimistic and sure of women getting the job done, no matter what it may be. This difference was demonstrated after my admission into Cal.

Attending such a large school such as Cal with nearly 40,00 students means that there will be people to learn from and people who will learn from you. I’ve had difficult conversations with my male counterparts about the everyday struggles that women may face, such as being called “emotional” rather than “passionate” when debating a contested issue in class or minimizing the issue of “catcalling” to a mere dress code.  But their lack of experience makes sympathy arduous. I often felt defeated that I couldn’t do more for women in my life, women around campus, and women around the world — I couldn’t even change my peers’ minds about how women are perceived. How was I supposed to change that of men around the world? The same place that made me question my contribution and my role turned out to be the same place that lifted me up and gave me hope. 

On October 3rd of 2020, UC Berkeley celebrated our 150th anniversary of women’s admission at Cal, 50 years more than the time that women have had the right to vote. Women have had the ability to attend this prestigious university much sooner than they have been able to fill out a ballot to vote for their leaders. For 50 years longer, I repeat. I always think about the major steps that women took right below Sather Gate to start their education and pursue innovations and ideas that some men can’t even fathom. As I began to appreciate this campus’ progressive mindset,  on October 7th of 2020, Jennifer Doudna became the first woman at Cal to receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, is the first woman at Cal to have a reserved Nobel Laureate parking spot on campus. In her interviews, she credited UC Berkeley’s “academic environment and leadership for allowing its faculty to thrive” (read more about it here: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/10/07/jennifer-doudna-wins-2020-nobel-prize-in-chemistry/).  Almost to answer my concerns about women thriving in the fields they love at Cal, Jennifer Doudna swooped in and gave me hope. Her accomplishment of being the first woman at Cal to win a Nobel Prize in the field of STEM, an underrepresented field for women, gave me the confidence that women at Cal have the chance to accomplish whatever they wish to. I questioned my place in this university but this new Nobel Laureate gave me the perspective to take advantage of the wide variety of resources that Cal offers. She thanked our campus for giving her the opportunity to pursue such research and I want to thank it too. For teaching me how to be perseverant and hopeful for my generation of students to make even greater strides. I’m confident that one of my classmates will be the second, third, fourth female Nobel Laureate at Cal in the future.