This I’m A Berkeleyan feature was written as a first-person narrative from an interview with Lucy Andrews. Have someone you think we should write about? Contact email@example.com.
I’d like to believe that we all want to live in a world where there’s no violence. No violence to each other, and no violence to our ecosystems and environment. A lot of people would call that a pipe dream, but even if it is, I’d rather work toward that ideal than do anything else.
This comes from how I have chosen to respond to my own personal experiences with violence and healing. I believe that people cause harm when they themselves have experienced harm, whether that is interpersonal violence, state violence or domestic violence. And to end cycles of violence, we need to really dig at the roots of the systems that perpetuate them.
As UC Berkeley’s Graduate Assembly president, and as a student co-chair of the Chancellor’s Independent Advisory Board (IAB) on Police Accountability and Community Safety, I hope to be able to humbly collaborate and contribute from my site within the university to many projects of liberation, projects that repair histories of violence, dispossession, domination and extraction.
While that must be done collectively, I also think it is important to look inward as individuals to understand our own personal journeys and how we relate to others. I think that allows us to develop empathy for others that we may not have had.
Empathy that becomes love and understanding.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. My dad is a pediatrician, and my mom is a pediatric nurse. While I was a kid, we moved a few times. When I was 8, we actually moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where my dad got a position at a local hospital.
I was really privileged to live in and learn about Kiwi culture, which was different from a lot of what I observe in the United States. I gained a deep and almost spiritual love of wild landscapes. There’s a strong relationship in New Zealand between people and land. And of course, that’s complicated, uneven and has a history of colonialism. But I learned through my school community and my own childhood explorations that our job in this world is to take care of and stay in the right relationship with our natural places.
That’s something I continue to take with me in everything I do.
I lived in New Zealand for most of elementary school before we ended up moving back to the United States, landing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I went to most of middle school and high school in the Twin Cities.
I was active in sports, student government and community service. Some of that was inherited from my mother, who has a pretty Catholic idea of service, where you show up in an embodied sense. You live out your values not only by donating money, though that’s a fine thing to do, but by trying to be physically and emotionally present in attending to whatever challenges are facing your community. So, that was part of my family culture.
After high school, I attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I learned a lot about racial justice work because the student body had a significant community of activists. Pushing for radical change was a normal occurrence. It was in the air that many of my peers and I breathed.
I majored in geology because I thought the science was fascinating, and that manifested in my study of hydrology and geomorphology — the study of water and landscape surface processes, respectively. I was interested in how rivers, snow, ice and erosion shape what we see at the surface of the earth.
I was intrigued by the connections between science and politics that show up in hydrology, because water in dry places is contentious. And I thought that questions of scarcity were interesting in how science can be brought to bear on social questions and in how we build systems of management and sharing.
We see this in California. The hydrological engineering that people have done in the American West is mind-blowing and the source of a lot of vitality, but also conflict. When we don’t have enough water, how do we decide who gets it?
So, that all interested me. When I graduated from Macalester, California was deep in drought. I moved to San Francisco to work a job in drinking water management, to try to remediate some of the impacts of the drought. I was working a lot with city drinking water systems, pipes, treatment plants and the financial budgeting around drinking water supply. And it was interesting, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do.
I was more excited about the interface between natural systems and human systems, which motivated me to join Berkeley’s Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Ph.D. program in fall 2018. I also wanted to stay in the Bay and was able to move to Oakland. Being queer, I had found such a home and community here that allowed me to be myself on the surface, and I didn’t want to leave that.
Coming to Berkeley, I was blown away by the degree of expertise of my student colleagues. My scientific background before grad school was pretty light. But a lot of my peers were already superstar researchers and knew the literature.
I felt totally out to sea, but I was excited to be around this type of scholarly community. And the student organizing and activism on campus was and is impressive, but it’s also frustrating in that a lot of it is born out of necessity.
I have always had a strong commitment to social justice and anti-racism work. Building a beloved community, particularly through nonviolent practice, has been core to my moral alignment and commitment to the world. But two years into my graduate studies, I experienced an incident that really put me on the spot to live out those values that until that point had often been a bit abstract.
Walking home from campus, I was randomly assaulted by a stranger who had a gun. He ended up beating me with that gun, and I suffered a brain injury and temporary hearing loss.
In the aftermath of that incident, as I was being treated by a medical worker — and visibly injured in a state of trauma — a police officer asked me whether, if they caught the person, I would like to press charges. In retrospect, I think it was inappropriate to ask that of someone experiencing such apparent distress.
If they find this person, do I want them to go to prison?… and the answer for me is, no.”
In that moment, what I needed was trauma care. I needed medical care and psychological first aid. And instead, the officer was interested in quotas and trying to produce the results that our policing and prison system incentivizes.
It took me a very long time to feel OK moving in the world again and to not fear being in a public space; for a while, commuting to campus was hard. And even though I wouldn’t wish this type of experience on anyone, that moment has been transformative for me. It has really shaped my worldview.
I have a beautiful network of friends on and off campus who supported me through that process to turn it into a productive introspection of myself and my values. I posed questions to myself like: How does this change the way that I move in the world? What do I believe would truly heal me? How can we prevent harm and move through restorative processes?
If they find this person, do I want them to go to prison? I chewed on that question a lot, and the answer for me is, no.
I would not find any resolution or healing in that. Human caging doesn’t heal people who cause harm. Since that incident, I’ve also observed that our criminal-legal system doesn’t center victims or survivors and doesn’t do a good job of taking care of people who have experienced harm.
The policing is the focus, and the community and its individuals have become secondary. If we focus on incarcerating people, we lose out on victim-centered care and on the possibility for real restoration of community safety and relationships. And I would like to find ways for incarceration to not be “the answer.”
As a member of the IAB on campus, I come at this work from a desire to make our communities deeply safe in ways that don’t involve punishment, surveillance and policing. Instead, we need to really invest in people, because I think the person who harmed me was a lost teenager who needed more than he was being given.
I am excited that the IAB is working in partnership with some campus offices to change mental health care and crisis response, basic needs security resources, narratives about what safety is, and campus support for people who have been harmed by violence, whether that is at the hands of police or others.
Right now, the police investigate themselves, and I think that’s ridiculous. We will be moving that process out of the police’s jurisdiction into a different office so that people get a degree of accountability and follow-up for the complaints that they may file for police conduct.
I also hope that we can take care of students who have found that campus is an unsafe place for them. So, I’m excited that we’re doing that work.
I also take these perspectives and experiences with me serving as Berkeley’s Graduate Assembly president. I appreciate that Berkeley, being the state’s flagship public university, has this mission of cultivating students who participate in democracy and contribute to building a more equitable society. But it has been my observation that the university falls short of that, at times.
There are students at Cal that are living in such economic insecurity that it interferes with their education. There has been a lot of impactful student organizing work tackling these student issues. And I would say the Graduate Assembly is a great venue for this — it facilitates graduate student cooperation, advocacy and community across departments, colleges and even universities. The Graduate Assembly is a collective, and any successes we have are due to the involvement of many students. These days, we’re working to create more disabled student access throughout the entire graduate program, improving graduate student basic needs security and responding to campus crises as they arise.
I’ve stuck around in the Graduate Assembly because I enjoy the colleagues I work with, the conversations I’m invited into, and the political education that graduate students offer each other. I’ve seen the Graduate Assembly be a useful complement to our graduate worker unions, which I also appreciate as great venues for pushing for better working conditions.
While graduate students cycle in and out of the university, having a coalitional, interdepartmental space like the Graduate Assembly, we can share wisdom, long-term visions, histories and projects with each other to build solidarity and avoid having to reinvent the wheel.
While we are still working on our 2022-2023 advocacy agenda, I’m particularly concerned about advancing an abolitionist vision of public safety, pushing for conditions of greater access and equity across graduate programs, and supporting unionized graduate students through the contract negotiation process (as a rank and file member). I also hope we can create structures that support neurodivergent graduate students and reinvigorate interdepartmental organizing and relationships that have suffered so much during the pandemic.
Parallel to what the IAB also advocates for, in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd, the Graduate Assembly also pushed to reduce campus investment in policing. This is important to me because I myself have seen Black and brown students on campus profiled and harassed by police in ways that have interfered with their well-being and their education.
I say all this as someone who benefits from whiteness. In professional contexts, people read me as white (which I am), and that means that I’m often taken seriously and viewed as non-threatening. I recognize that walking around in the city of Oakland, I’m not the person being policed.
So, I do benefit from these systems, but I think I benefit from them at the expense of my own humanity and other people’s humanity. And I would rather see a world where everyone enjoys the privileges that I enjoy, rather than just me.
I don’t operate from a position of guilt, because guilt is not a productive emotion. But I’m very aware of what I’ve inherited, and I’m ready to help change those systems. I think I’m not unique, in that a lot of my empathy for people comes from personal relationships I’ve had with people who are different from me. Having friends who are undocumented or who come from communities that are heavily policed and surveilled, for example, has made me want to make life better for them — because I love them, and I care about them.
And that’s really mutual; we are all interdependent.
So, knowing that there are very specific people in my life who don’t have the conditions that I have to flourish — and I wish that they would — motivates me in my work. And that entry point has opened my eyes and my heart to these bigger systems that are all interconnected.
We have built a culture of extraction and domination about how we relate to each other and the natural world. The way we strip mine, clear forests, dam rivers and tap into new oil reserves, often at the expense of Indigenous and poor communities, is extremely violent. These systems of wealth accumulation have mortal consequences for a lot of people and are a huge problem for climate change, too.
Those ideas of domination also trickle into the prison-industrial complex, where the sort of violence that we inflict on our natural world we also inflict on each other in order to maintain a social hierarchy that I think needs to go.
So, through my position on campus, I want to help push Berkeley toward a decolonial, abolitionist future where all people, non-human beings and our broader environment can flourish. I really think this is possible, though the road will be long, winding, uncertain and imperfect. The Graduate Assembly is a place where I have found other people working toward that vision — so I show up there!
I hold deeply to the belief that a different world is possible, and working that way is not easy. But how else is a person supposed to be?