‘On equal terms:’ Erin Skelly, assistant director for student services

erin skelly smiles at the camera with her hands on her hips

Erin Skelly is the assistant director for student services at Berkeley’s International Office. (Photo courtesy Erin Skelly)

Each day until Aug. 18  Berkeley News will host a series of Q&As featuring 18 unsung heroines on staff from all corners of the campus. The series will culminate on Aug. 18 with a special edition of Berkeley Campus Conversations, featuring four remarkable female staffers:

  • Cruz Grimaldo, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office
  • Sunny Lee, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students
  • Mia Settles-Tidwell, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Equity and Inclusion
  • Charmin Smith, head coach of Cal women’s basketball

The third woman honored as part of this series is Erin Skelly, assistant director for student services at Berkeley’s International Office.

You were nominated by several colleagues for “handling the insane climate of international education as amazingly as can be expected.” Not only have you been ensuring that your staff are all on the same page with the rapidly changing international student regulations, you’ve also been great at making time for even little things. How have you done this? (and if you faced any obstacles, how did you overcome them?)

To be honest, I don’t even know how I’ve done this! The last months are a blur. I’ve been doing my best to take each new day and new change as it comes. I think what’s been most critical for me has been to let go. Letting go has meant many things – to let go of perfectionism and to accept when things are good enough. To allow those emails to be unread, to deprioritize tasks, to try to focus on the most important tasks and information in front of me right now. To be OK with myself and kind to myself when I make a mistake. I am a planner, and I am forward thinking, and this ongoing crisis has forced me into a rapid-response mode that is way outside of my comfort zone. Part of dealing with this has been to figure out how to take better care of myself and to share that with my team. To make sure I am taking some time to eat, sleep, meditate, move and feel emotions. It’s been important for me to recognize those things in my team as well. Each person I work with has been struggling with their own lives, on top of the relentless pace of work.

What obstacles have you faced based on your identities (if any) and how did you overcome them?

I’m a white, college educated, queer, cis woman of a middle-class family raised by therapists. Much of my journey has been to recognize the privileges that come with much of that background and to better understand how that experience impacts how I move through the world while I try to see my blindspots and assumptions.

I also identify (proudly) as a woman in recovery from alcohol, anxiety and trauma. (Honestly, I think everyone is recovering from some things in their lives that hinder or hold them back from being who they truly wish to be.) These are not obstacles to be overcome, as recovery is a lifelong journey made up of a multitude of choices and actions each day. The path of facing these things piece by piece and digging up the roots of those sources of suffering has provided me tools that I use every day. My primary recovery tools have been regular mindful movement and yoga and meditation practices, as well as finding community to support me in difficult times. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from each of these experiences is that nothing in life is permanent – suffering or happiness – and that there are things I can’t change, but I do have control over how I respond and how I treat myself and those around me. My daily practices have helped me learn to find small moments of stillness and to sit with things that are difficult. This has helped me to be more fully present in all areas of my life.

What future aspirations do you have at UC Berkeley?

To survive 2020 with my mind intact.