Despite the well-known analogy of the “Melting Pot,” the sheer vastness of land mass and stark contrast in political convictions that both characterize the United States has led to pockets of conservatism and liberalism. Never mingling or melting, but merely existing alongside one another, Americans coagulate into spheres of influence that often exclude those with conflicting perspectives.
The Berkeley bubble is on one extremity. Politically correct vocabulary and liberal philosophy are the norm. However, perhaps even deeper within this bubble of leftist ideology lies the inner bubble that is the gender and women’s studies major. For those in the major, Berkeley is the perfect incubator in culturing a population of conscious citizens, equipped to dismantle the heteropatriarchy and shatter glass ceilings built by an oppressive society.
However, as one leaves the bubble to traverse across America, one realizes that the free spirited culture taken for granted may not be the convention elsewhere.
Priscilla Hung and Karla Cruz are two gender and women’s studies alumni who have both left the Berkeley sphere of liberal influence and entered into a professional world encompassing an assortment of opinions. As women of color in a major predominantly white, Hung and Cruz each hold a unique experience diverging from the mainstream viewpoints of white feminism. Graduating in the class of 1999, Hung offers a look into two decades of progress and reflection. Cruz, a recent graduate of the class of 2016, offers a fresh-out-of-Berkeley outlook.
As a Chinese-American coming from a Catholic family with a conservative political mindset, Hung pursued her passion in women’s rights despite the urging of her parents to pursue a more conventional path. Still, over the course of her duration at UC Berkeley, the popular liberal stances and conversations shifted her own predisposed views. Armed with a liberal education in which professors and peers pushed the depths of preset conceptualizations, Hung examines situations from every facet to gain a comprehensive understanding of radical attitudes.
“I was previously pro-life before I came to Berkeley,” said Hung.
A social activist working at Move to End Violence, a program dedicated to combatting violence against women, Hung feels the effects of her Gender and Women’s Studies education. Through working with marginalized groups struggling with racial and gender issues, she applies her expertise to advise these individuals.
“My students still say words like fag, gay and queer, and so for me — as a queer woman of color — I’ve had to stop class and say, ‘Listen, we do not use those terms in a derogatory way because I identify as a queer woman.'”-Karla Cruz
Hung believes that in altering the perspectives of her family, time has proven an effective antidote in dissolving the layers of conservatism. Dynamic growth in minds willing to extend their scope of reality by understanding the world through the lens of the marginalized can be achieved through the social justice programs that Hung develops.
Cruz, on the other hand, struggled as a queer, Chicana woman after being transplanted to the East Coast to pursue a career in education as a ninth grade world history teacher.
“Coming from Berkeley, a feminist going to D.C. and the East Coast in general, you don’t know how people will take you, accept you, and assess your credibility. I have to silence myself to be accepted within the East Coast, where they’re not as open to political conversation,” Cruz said.
The constant affirmation of leftist principles is missing in the buzz of a community less liberal than Berkeley. There prevails a mentality in which people are reluctant to engage in uncomfortable conversations involving politics — diametrically opposing the indulgence of the debates that persists amongst Berkeley students to quench their appetite for knowledge. For Cruz, a proud feminist, it’s a challenge to stand up for her values amongst a populace unwilling to listen.
Cruz hopes to leave an everlasting impact on her students by teaching them to be contributing members of society. She highlights the importance in educating her students on politically correct terms and ideals, yet restricts her own opinions from shadowing their respective takes on social issues. Cruz seeks to stay neutral to promote her students to come upon their own political stances.
“My students still say words like fag, gay and queer, and so for me — as a queer woman of color — I’ve had to stop class and say, ‘Listen, we do not use those terms in a derogatory way because I identify as a queer woman.’ I give them a history. Queer has been a word that has been used violently, but here I am standing here today claiming that word. There are a couple of times where they’ve slipped and said, ‘I’m very sorry Ms. Cruz, I didn’t mean to use it like that’. Ever since I gave them that talk, they’ve been very conscious about when or why they use those terms,” said Cruz.
Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected]