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Grad pupil Caleb Dawson: Do the stuff you love, in a group that loves you

Illustration of Caleb Dawson

Graduate pupil Caleb Dawson is main Black Lives at Cal, an initiative to protect the historical past of Black folks at UC Berkeley. (Illustration by Neil Freese)

This I’m a Berkeleyan was written as a first-person narrative from an interview with, and writings from, PhD. candidate in training, and chief of Black Lives At Cal, Caleb Dawson.

I’m a Black feminist sociologist who brings essential theories of race, class and gender to bear on the research of universities and social motion. As a Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s training faculty, what I like about my analysis is that I’m in a position to delve into a few of these sorts of challenges Black of us expertise in larger training.

However I additionally give attention to what our group does to point out up for one another — to be nicely.

Caleb Dawson posing with undergrad students from BLAC

Caleb Dawson with Berkeley undergrads and members of Black Lives at Cal on the Pacific Sociological Affiliation assembly final 12 months. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

And that’s why being lead investigator of Berkeley’s Black Lives at Cal (BLAC) has been such a rewarding expertise. I launched the multi-year initiative, in fall 2021, to analysis, protect and publicize the legacy of Black folks at UC Berkeley. We began with simply me and three undergraduate college students, and three semesters later now we have grown to fund 4 graduate college students who mentor 18 undergraduate analysis assistants for course credit score via the Undergraduate Analysis Apprenticeship Program.

Our initiative emerges from a partnership between the African American Scholar Improvement Workplace and the Institute for the Examine of Societal Points, and now we have been lucky to have the assist of the Division of African American Research, Black Research Collaboratory, Cal Black Alumni Affiliation, Division of Fairness and Inclusion, Huge C Fund, Chancellor’s Workplace and extra.

For us, Black historical past at Berkeley is not only a month to have a good time. It’s our lived expertise.

And our histories are worthy of cautious and rigorous analysis. BLAC has given us a possibility to verify our group is aware of our historical past and that it’s not hidden, minimized or misrepresented on this campus.

Childhood photo of Caleb Dawson

An elementary faculty picture of Caleb Dawson. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

I used to be born in Seattle, Washington, the center little one of three brothers. My dad is a self-employed monetary adviser from the Bay Space. My mother is an immigrant from Ethiopia who got here to America to review biology at Sterling Faculty in Kansas and is a social employee in public housing. They met in Washington, the place our household would calm down.

Rising up in South King County, I used to be raised to understand my Black group. My grandmother was a group well being nurse educated at UCSF who continues to mentor Black college students with pursuits within the medical subject, and my mom has been closely concerned in native authorities. I used to be inspired to be civically-minded from a younger age.

To pay it ahead.

My mother and father additionally made certain that I knew being Black meant you needed to have as many playing cards to play as attainable with the intention to navigate and be taken critically in a white supremacist society. So, having a top quality training was pressured in our family.

My father made it clear to me that it wasn’t simply the training you bought, however the image that these levels from well-known establishments have in society — particularly for Black folks, as a result of our blackness works like a destructive credential.

Our mother and father sacrificed lots to ship us to a non-public Christian faculty via elementary and center colleges, decided for us to know we’re created with divine goal. As a teen, I went to Federal Method Excessive Faculty, a public faculty in Washington named after town we lived in.

Caleb Dawson on a news broadcast

Dawson was featured on a neighborhood information broadcast in Seattle for his marketing campaign to rebuild Federal Method Excessive Faculty in his hometown. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

As a pupil, I excelled in most every little thing my academics valued. Getting good grades and performing nicely in class was an expectation in our family. My mother, like a variety of immigrant moms, at all times enthusiastically instilled in us that we needed to get the best diploma attainable. It didn’t matter what topic space, however it needed to be some type of doctorate.

And when it got here to highschool, my mother and father actually advocated to verify we received the assist in something we would have liked whether or not that was mentors, after-school actions and/or volunteer alternatives.

I used to be at all times towards the highest of my courses academically. And as president of the scholar physique, I efficiently campaigned for my faculty to be rebuilt, and I led main meals drives to assist our native meals banks and a meals pantry at my highschool. And since I used to be seen as a “good” pupil/citizen, I felt like I used to be handled in another way than different college students of shade.


For some authority figures, I used to be the “good” and “exemplary” Black pupil who acted in a suitable manner. Black college students weren’t seen as academically viable, in order that they noticed me as much less Black, and so they put me on a pedestal that was truly very alienating.

I wasn’t interrogated for strolling via the halls with no corridor go like my Black friends, and I used to be given tutorial alternatives and assist that they didn’t have entry to. The basic micro-aggression was the shock and spectacle that was made at occasions once I spoke. “Oh, wow, you’re so articulate,” they’d say to me. As if Black folks can’t be articulate?

It received to a degree the place I used to be uninterested in being their Black articulate pupil.

Photo of Caleb Dawson in high school

As a highschool pupil Dawson stated: “For some authority figures, I used to be the ‘good’ and ‘exemplary’ Black pupil who acted in a suitable manner.” (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

Trying again, I really feel as if I used to be utilized in racist methods to disparage blackness and normalize whiteness. In some circumstances, I used to be construed as a “good Black” that might be held as much as self-discipline and dehumanize different college students because the “unhealthy Blacks.” In different circumstances, I used to be considered not Black and even white as a result of I used to be “good.” It was complicated and really uncomfortable to be handled as each the “good Black” and never Black.

Our faculty was very numerous, however I typically was one of many solely Black college students in my superior courses. I noticed many Black college students didn’t have the identical sources of going to non-public faculty and having the identical tutorial coaching that I received, regardless of having mother and father who wished the most effective for them, too. Many had been placed on a studying monitor at a really younger age that constrained their academic trajectories and didn’t take their studying critically.

Nonetheless, like our highschool mascot, we rose like eagles in opposition to the chances.

In 2013, once I graduated highschool and moved on to Gonzaga College for my undergraduate research, I took these experiences and perspective with me transferring ahead. And I recognized training as a most popular website and a instrument to mitigate struggling and enhance native circumstances for deprived communities.

Caleb Dawson wearing a graduation robe and posing with his family in front of a red brick building

Dawson celebrated with household at his commencement from Gonzaga College. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

As Gonzaga’s first Black pupil physique president in additional than twenty years, I efficiently led initiatives to reform the college’s mission assertion and create the Important Race and Ethnic Research Division. And to enhance underrepresented college students’ experiences, I hosted boards for friends, co-led skilled improvement for professors and helped discovered the college’s variety and inclusion committee.

I graduated with honors with a double main in sociology and economics, however not with out recognizing that I wanted extra from larger training. I wished to be a professor. However I additionally realized that the problems I wished and wanted to find out about weren’t at all times available in college curriculums, which had been typically Eurocentric.

And that was irritating.

Once I enrolled at UC Berkeley in fall 2017, I felt prefer it was a campus that had extra alternatives for me to delve into academia related to my analysis pursuits. It was additionally refreshing to see that there was rather more infrastructure for Black folks on campus than I had skilled up to now.

There’s the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Useful resource Middle, an African American Scholar Improvement Workplace and an African American Research Division with many Black college. And I had by no means had a Black professor in my whole undergraduate research.

Caleb Dawson smiling with mentor Prudence Carter outside wearing sungalsses

Dawson with mentor and former UC Berkeley training faculty dean Prudence Carter in San Diego for the 2022 American Instructional Analysis Affiliation annual assembly. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)

I enrolled in graduate faculty as an advisee of sociologist Prudence Carter and Black research scholar Michael Dumas within the Important Research of Race, Class, and Gender program. These mentors helped develop a number of of my analysis initiatives that deal with variety and alternative amidst structural inequality, reminiscent of how faculty entry is typically organized to prey on low-income college students for revenue.

And though I used to be devastated by my mentors’ eventual departures from campus, my present dissertation committee and Black group at Berkeley have given me the assist to proceed to prepare and delve deeper into my analysis.

As a Black Research Collaboratory fellow with the African American Research Division, I’ve obtained funding to focus extra freely on advancing my dissertation challenge about anti-blackness and the fairness work of Black folks at UC Berkeley. Extra substantiatively, the fellowship has offered the last word incubating setting for me to contend rigorously with the stakes of my analysis for Black folks inside and past the college.

On Feb. 8, with invited visitors — Docs Adia Harvey Wingfield and Bianca C. Williams — I’ll host a chat entitled, “Caught Caring: (Un)freedom and the Prices of Service Labor within the College,” as a part of the Black Research Collaboratory’s Spring Speaker Sequence. This fellowship has generously created the situations for me to dream and scheme concerning the Black futures which can be actually free.

Flyer to an event "The Upload."

I’ve each intention to work in the direction of that future and recreate the situations for extra folks to dream with us. Actually, with Black Lives at Cal on Feb. 16 we’re inviting our group to convey their digital and print memorabilia to the Multicultural Neighborhood Middle for a show-and-tell of Black historical past known as “The Add.”

Black Lives At Cal is a kind of dreamy, world-building initiatives. We’re constructing a greater future for Black folks at Berkeley and past by taking critically the historical past of those that have come earlier than us and holding file of historical past because it unfolds within the twenty first century, whether or not that’s the historical past of Black pupil activism, award-winning instructing and scholarship, trend-setting milestones of alumni, or the everydayness of cultivating pleasure and group regardless of institutional and interpersonal racism.

We wish to honor the previous, protect the current and advance Black futures. And the way we do that’s no much less important than what we do.

We now have created this initiative about Black historical past by drawing on the experience of graduate college students to assist our undergraduate college students with their analysis {and professional} expertise – college students who are sometimes missed for group initiatives, golf equipment and analysis alternatives. Plus, they get the good thing about connecting with present, former and future members of the Black group at Cal, as BLAC varieties the glue that brings varied teams and generations collectively.

I can hardly think about one thing extra lovely than creating the situations for Black folks to do the issues we love, for group, in a group that loves us.

Caleb Dawson at the BLAC launch party

Dawson with Berkeley alumni — (left to proper) Blackbook College co-founder Ibrahim Baldé, retired administrator Ben Tucker and emeritus professor Vernard Lewis — on the Black Lives at Cal launch social gathering in April 2022. “I can hardly think about one thing extra lovely than creating the situations for Black folks to do the issues we love, for group, in a group that loves us,” stated Dawson. (Photograph courtesy of Caleb Dawson)



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