In honor of the “150 Years of Women at Berkeley” project, each day until Aug. 18 Berkeley News is hosting 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 eighteenth woman honored as part of this series is Cat Ming Hubbard, program administrator for international and executive programs at UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources.
You were nominated for putting “a lot of time and passion into supporting LavenderCal off the clock.” While managing disabilities and seeking to support BIPOC colleagues, you’ve strived to make LavenderCal a more inclusive organization on multiple fronts. For example, you’ve handled the difficult task of facilitating meetings with widely divergent views on issues like police brutality in a way that makes everyone feel heard, increased volunteer participation and brought enthusiasm and energy to UC Berkeley’s network for LGBTQ+ staff and faculty. How have you done this?
As a person of mixed racial heritage, I have spent a lifetime examining notions of identity: how we see ourselves, and how the communities we identify with come to see us. I grew up living out a truth that wasn’t as simple as “same” or “other.” I constantly felt the tension of needing to prove myself within community spaces. It is that tension that has fueled my intersectional community organizing work for the past decade. As I learned to accept myself in my entirety, it became second nature to hold several different and seemingly contradictory perspectives at once. I am accustomed to sitting with complexity. It’s why I balk at binary thinking, and why I strive to create spaces where everyone has the opportunity to feel like they belong. This is especially true of my work as Volunteer Coordinator for LavenderCal, UC Berkeley’s organization for LGBTQ+ staff and faculty.
What can staff of all genders do to be successful at UCB?
Surround yourself with people who reflect the best of who you are back to you. Without that support and recognition, it is all too easy to forget your own value and what you have to offer. Find people who believe in you and your vision, and lift them up in return. For me, becoming involved in UC Berkeley’s staff organizations was an amazing way to do that. I have learned so much about opportunities for cross-campus collaborations and professional development, all by getting involved in staff organizations. Through my work with LavenderCal, I have met so many outstanding colleagues who have made my time at Cal so meaningful. Some of my most moving and powerful campus memories are from events held by members of the Coalition of Ethnic Staff Organizations and the Staff Alliance for Disability Access.
What obstacles have you faced based on your identities and how did you overcome them?
Finding ways to reach out and build connections has been my key survival strategy for a long time, even before I started working at UC Berkeley. In most ways, the identities that are crucial to who I am as a person are invisible. I’m queer, but married to a cisgender man. I’m a second generation Asian American, but I often pass as White. My disabilities are invisible. I realized early on that I needed to put myself out there or I would never find the people who would become my community. I speak my truth and share my process. By showing up authentically in professional spaces, I get to redefine what others expect a bisexual+, Asian, or disabled person to be. Being visible gives me the power to challenge misconceptions and reshape what it means to belong in identity-based spaces.
This is what works for me, but I don’t mean to say that this is the only approach. I think it’s important to acknowledge that as a light-skinned, cisgender woman whose appearance fits within Western cultural standards of beauty and gender presentation, my voice is more palatable to the general public than it would be if I didn’t have these advantages. There is no one right way to show up for ourselves and our communities. Publicly breaking down stigmas carries inherent risks. How dangerous it is to share our perspectives depends so much on context, and the ways in which we are privileged and oppressed. Our experiences are complex and different, and there are no easy answers. I hope that by community organizing, I can facilitate discussions that begin to break down some of the systemic and institutional barriers that prevent people from speaking their truths on campus.
What advice would you give colleagues to ensure that they aren’t creating obstacles or inequities for their peers?
I often assert the importance of intersectionality and the need to foster inclusion on campus by honoring each person’s lived experiences and multiple identities. How people from marginalized groups relate to community spaces depends so much on what our peers and people in leadership positions do to show us that our perspectives matter and that our observations are valid; that what we convey won’t be dismissed because it is uncomfortable to think about.
For folks who are new to community organizing, please don’t let guilt or uncertainty stop you from being an ally to people from other identities. Whether you’re signing petitions, donating, sharing resources, contacting politicians, active on social media, or having difficult conversations, find ways to pass on what you have learned and challenge injustice. You will probably make mistakes. You may speak up and be corrected. You might stay silent when you know you could have said something. These instances are all part of taking action, and action is inherently imperfect. Let these moments serve as learning opportunities and reflections of your growth as a co-conspirator. We will all be better off for your efforts!