Shared vulnerability. This has always fueled me. Academia tells us to distance ourselves from our vulnerabilities, to never study what makes us angry or scream and sadden to tears, but this vulnerability and this passion has always been the only reason for my involvement in academia.
Academics have rarely felt sustainable in isolation from activism and extracurricular activities. The material learned in the classroom always felt too devastating and overwhelming without work on the ground. I came to academia in the hopes that I could find a place to make an impact, to make waves, to help and heal — to make a world I wanted to live in instead of one I was told I had to. In my first semester at UC Berkeley, I tried so hard to do nothing but school. Everybody told me what a challenge classes were going to be, how much reading and writing I was going to be faced with — and they were right. So I did nothing but school, and I was miserable. I missed feeling grounded in a community, surrounded by people with whom I shared similarities, from whom I could learn.
My second year at UC Berkeley, I found a community. It was hidden behind Golden Bear Cafe and adjacent to the Student Learning Center: the Gender Equity Resource Center. I can remember every moment of my interview, nervous that I was not nearly intelligent or aware enough to embark on social-justice work, but my enthusiasm was pouring out of me, and when I got the call that I was assigned to be an intern planning Take Back the Night, I knew everything was going to change. Take Back the Night is a national movement that works to shatter the silence around sexual violence through expression and various art forms. UC Berkeley’s Take Back the Night is coordinated by students from GenEq each year.
Take Back the Night and GenEq have been like a whirlwind. I have spent countless hours on the couches of GenEq listening to brilliant minds confront one of the world’s most challenging obstacles: discussing race, gender, class, ability, size, access — and the list goes on. My activism really grew out of angry and loving conversations over lunch in GenEq. It became a home of sorts, a place of comfort when I wasn’t sure where else to go for a friendly smile. And then there comes a time when GenEq has prepared you enough to move on to other things and to other areas. So that is what I did.
In fall 2013, I began a 60-hour training program to obtain my rape-crisis certification with an organization called Bay Area Women Against Rape. I learned so much to add to my knowledge of sexual violence in our communities. I was able to better support survivors, to listen and to share any knowledge I had that they were looking for. I learned that the best thing you can do for other people is listen and hear them — this is where true power lies. In hearing and validating other people.
For a number of reasons, I then got involved in homelessness and housing in Berkeley and have the incredible opportunity of sitting on the homeless commission for the city. This commission has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. I have met incredible activists and thinkers who sit down once a month for a common cause-differing ideas on how the problem can be solved, but our commonality in imagining the end goal makes the journey entertaining and fulfilling.
I am so grateful to all the teachers, mentors, peers and friends that have made my Berkeley journey what it is. It has been a messy and beautiful and challenging four years, and my time at UC Berkeley has left me so ready to leave, in a great way. Thank you.
Ella Bastone was the Take Back the Night coordinator from fall 2011 through spring 2014. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in gender and women’s studies.