Former UC Berkeley staff member, refugee activist Dianne Walker dies at 65

Former campus staff member and refugee activist Dianne Walker, 65, died Monday in her Berkeley home.

Friends, neighbors and colleagues remember Walker as a compassionate activist, mentor and friend. She became interested in refugee related issues in the 1970s. Working as a teacher in China, Walker saw firsthand the experience of people displaced from Southeast Asia, and she went on to work in refugee camps for four years in Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Walker also worked in Information Technology on campus for more than 25 years, at the International House and in the office of the chief information officer. In her time on campus, Walker started the Web Accessibility Initiative, which works to make all campus websites and web applications accessible to people with disabilities. Walker’s friend and neighbor campus professor Beverly Crawford Ames called Walker an “IT Guru,” and admired Walker’s investment in campus activities.

“I think she really did more than anyone I know to nurture scholar activism on campus,” Ames said.

Walker used her knowledge of technology to build connections between people interested in refugee related issues. Through her online site Berkeley Refugee Resources, or BRR, Walker created a network where community members could share and discover resources to related to refugees crises.

“Dianne always looked for bridges to connect students, faculty and staff with what was happening around the world,” said Pamela Larson, a former Daily Californian news reporter and campus graduate student who worked with Walker, in an email.

Several of Walker’s colleagues said that they were inspired by her hard work and devotion to BRR. She expanded the group by reaching out to people in Berkeley, and across other college campuses, according to campus postdoctoral student Niveen Rizkalla. Walker often welcomed neighbors, friends and members of BRR into her home to meet and work together on projects.

Ames said Walker could not easily leave her home because she was wheelchair bound, so those who worked with her online touched were thrilled to meet her in person.

“She was just like the queen — many students had met her online, but now they were meeting her in person,” Ames said, recalling when Walker held a meeting at 1951 Coffee Company, which trains and employs refugees. “There in her wheelchair, people just swarmed around her.”

Her friend, campus professor Susan Schweik, called Walker “a second parent to many young people who she loved and mentored,” in an email.

“In a world where we breeze by one another for meetings at cafes, she, letting people into her home, was really wanting to get to know what we as Berkeley students are doing, and how she can help,” Larson said in an email.

Walker helped young members of BRR, including Barrio, professionally by checking over their resumes, and connecting them to work opportunities.

Barrio said members of BRR said plan to continue Walker’s work for the organization and will miss her energy and generosity.

“She will be dearly missed to a lot of people,” Rizkalla said.

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.