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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cosmopolitan Berkeley and the Concept of Cultural Diversity in an American University


The argument that cultural and other forms of diversity enhance the educational experience of all students is generally associated with post-1960 efforts to expand the presence of disadvantaged groups on the campuses of America’s universities and colleges. In the case of the University of California-Berkeley, arguments on the merits of cultural diversity have much earlier roots in the historical enrollment of international students. Debates in the late 1800s and early twentieth century revolved around the appropriateness of enrolling foreign students, particularly those from Asia. The result was an important intellectual discussion on the merits of diversity and the ideals of a cosmopolitan university that was eventually reframed to focus largely on underrepresented domestic students. In this essay, I discuss how the notion of diversity, and its educational benefits, first emerged as a value at Berkeley. I then briefly discuss the significant increase of international students at Berkeley and other public universities. Thus far, the primary impetus of this increase has been mostly financial—Berkeley has faced significant public disinvestment, seeks new revenue sources, and can charge international students tuition rates similar to elite private colleges and universities. By targeting 20 percent of all undergraduates as international or out-of-state (US-resident non-Californians)—the majority international—the Berkeley campus is essentially diversifying its student body. How does having a more globally inclusive enrollment fit into our contemporary ideas of diversity? I attempt a brief discussion of this question and the policy challenges generated by the dramatic increase in international students at the undergraduate level at Berkeley and other UC campuses.

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