Taversia Maddalena hasn’t always considered herself an artist. In this in-depth interview, we took a look at how she got to where she is today — director of legislation in the office of ASUC senator Hani Hussein, aspiring pre-law student and creator of a popular online video uploaded onto the UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens Facebook page. If you remember the psychedelic and chaotic video — titled “Cal is fucking expensive & sometimes I think about killing myself but at least I have adderall” — then you’ll understand what we talk about when we say this woman understands the mental, emotional and financial hell of logistical issues that can accompany being a student at Berserkeley.
Maddalena opened up about facing homelessness and her struggle with obtaining medication for her attention deficit disorder, and she offers her perspective on coming to UC Berkeley from the Midwest as a transfer student. Leaving her support system behind, in her first semester at UC Berkeley, she watched her life as a student essentially fall apart without access to her medication, and she even slipped into homelessness. Through the kindness of classmates and strangers, she was able to find temporary housing — even resorting to staying in campus buildings overnight — while maintaining her grades and taking 17.5 units.
After her video — originally created for a class — was released, she received an outpouring of concern and support from fellow students. Because her video contained themes of suicide, both campus counseling services and UCPD reached out to her. In a miraculous turn of events, she received scholarships and aid equivalent to $30,000, which wiped out her debit and covered the rest of her tuition.
After describing her encounters with those who helped her along the way — including a man who bought her a meal when she was studying on the side of a curb — she touched upon how her privilege as a white woman cultivated “cultural capital.” Dumbfounded at receiving financial aid she never applied for, she wondered at the role of her cultural capital in the sudden institutional support. Nonetheless, Maddalena remains grateful for the help she received and recognizes her voice as a tool to speak out on these issues that UC Berkeley students face.
As a student familiar with issues of homelessness, food insecurity and mental health, Maddalena’s artwork lends itself to the experiences of any student burdened by the several demands existing in UC Berkeley’s climate. We were incredibly lucky to sit down with Maddalena and learn from her unique perspective.