Podcast transcript: Black History Month interview with Sidalia Reel

You’re listening to Fiat Vox, a podcast that brings you news from UC Berkeley by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs. I’m your host, Anne Brice.

[Music: “The Zeppelin” by Blue Dot Sessions]

For Black History Month, each week, we’re talking with an African American leader on campus. Today, we’ll hear from Sidalia Reel, who has spent the past nine years helping Berkeley’s staff feel valued and appreciated for the essential work they do on campus.

[Music: “Goddess of War” by Unicorn Heads]

Like a lot of leaders, Sidalia Reel started young.

Reel grew up in Berkeley in a big, tight-knit family. Her parents worked long hours, so by the time Sid was in fifth grade, she ran the household — cooking, cleaning and making sure her four younger siblings went to school and stayed out of too much trouble.

“I have run into people who have no idea what it’s like to try to herd the cats of a family. People used to call us a litter.”

Now, as the director of staff diversity initiatives for UC Berkeley’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, she’s responsible for keeping more than 9,000 staff feeling like a valued part of the campus.

For a lot of people, the task might seem daunting. But for Reel, it seems like a natural fit.

“It was always that thing of, you’ve got to take the reins and make sure things happen. Make sure that you’re sensitive to what other people’s needs are and that can really be a focus of what we’re doing.”

[Music: “Pressure” by Riot]

Reel first came to Berkeley in 2008. She was — and still is — the only person on campus whose job it is to be focused solely on staff diversity.

“Many staff know and feel that if they didn’t come to work, this place would shut down because we rely on staff to make the campus run. They’re sort of the underdogs on campus. A lot of people don’t think about staff.”

But Reel does.

When staff feel overlooked professionally, they go to Reel. When staff have trouble communicating with colleagues, they go to Reel. When staff feel excluded from their team, they go to Reel. And even though she might not be able to help them directly, she’ll refer them to someone on campus who can.

“In a way my position is sort of like a traffic cop, trying to do what I can to make sure that people are aware of what their options are and who they can go to.”

As part of her job, she has started several programs to help staff feel more included on campus.

She started the Next Opportunity at Work conference for staff to develop themselves professionally. And she developed the Multicultural Education Program, a three-part workshop series that employees can take to learn how to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into their work environment.

[Music: “Boardroom Theme” by Unicorn Heads]

“Everybody brings their own set of diversity layers to any situation. And the thing that we’re really trying to get people to do is suspend judgments about other people.”

Reel says that people often think diversity is related only to race, ethnicity or gender. But she says it’s about a lot more than that.

“It’s all of the ways that we’re different. People experience different things depending on who they are and where they are actually a part of the campus. I think one of the mainstays of diversity and inclusion work is for everybody to recognize all the uniqueness that you bring in a variety of ways.”

And she says it’s hard to meet different people by just sitting in a cubicle, going through the same motions day after day. Instead, she recommends getting out and exploring what the campus has to offer. 

[Music: “Everything is Fine” by Sir Cubworth]

We can all be leaders in our own way, she says.

“In any circumstance, you’re in a certain position. You just start there and keep going and see what you can do. And sometimes it means that you have to decide, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t for me, maybe I’m not the one that can make a difference here,’ but make sure that you’re talking to other people who can do that.”

Reel says she strives to continue to grow and learn as a leader, giving staff the tools they need to feel empowered and successful in their work on campus.  

For Berkeley News, I’m Anne Brice.