Demystifying UC Berkeley for Minorities, Veterans, Disabled, Women, LGBTQ and Formerly Incarcerated

UC Berkeley campus.

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By Troy Williams

African Americans represent approximately 20 percent of the men and women in the Army and Marines, and 17 percent of the Air Force and Navy, according to the Military Times. However, as of April 2014, African Americans only represent 3.4 percent of the population at the UC Berkeley.

The mission of Cal Armed Forces Alumni (CAFA) is to reflect the diversity of the military at UC Berkeley. To do so, Raymond Banks, CAFA President, employs a variety of strategies and programs so that members of CAFA can help all veterans, women, the disabled, the socioeconomically disadvantaged, LGBTQ, formerly incarcerated, and communities of color gain admission into the university.

Banks, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, in collaboration with Dr. Tony Mirabelli, a professor in the School of Education at UC Berkeley, has piloted a concurrent enrollment cohort of two students: a formerly incarcerated veteran and myself. Banks also acknowledges the support of Fabrizio Mejia, ED of Centers for Educational Equity & Excellence.

The program is intended to provide academic support based on the tutoring model of the Athletic Study Center.

As students, we support each other. If and when we encounter difficulties, we have the assistance of a program tutor. Just as important, this program is demystifying Cal. I have been able to network, access resources, and acclimate to a very challenging academic environment.

Banks offered me the invitation while attending an Open Gate function, which works with formerly incarcerated men and women pursuing higher education at the College of Alameda.

The class I am enrolled in is “Academic Support Services for Student Athletes.” It explores the historical development of academic support services specifically tailored for student athletes, and examines the role of college sports at universities.

“The role of colleges is to ensure that student athletes graduate academically prepared,” said Professor Mirabelli.

Personally, I have found a lot of similarities between the monitoring of student-athletes and the monitoring of parolees, but this is cause for another story.

On March 31, CAFA will host a special event to honor and celebrate the success of women veterans and current women service members, as well as raise awareness of the challenges they face.

Laura Westphal, vice president of External Affairs for CAFA, talked about some of the challenges women veterans face.

She said, “We as women tend to go unsung at times being that our societal norm is to acknowledge and focus on the large population of men veterans and soldiers. We’ve had to work harder to show that we were tough enough, strong enough and were as resilient as our male counter parts.”

For more information on the Cal Armed Forces Alumni, visit

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