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'Unsung staff heroines': UC Berkeley women of color in leadership discuss experiences, empowering women

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Cruz Grimaldo, Mia Settles-Tidwell, Charmin Smith and Sunny Lee spoke at a panel Tuesday commemorating the 19th Amendment’s ratification.

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Senior Staff

AUGUST 20, 2020

UC Berkeley women in leadership positions discussed their experiences as campus’s “unsung staff heroines” Tuesday in a panel commemorating the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, which gave white women the right to vote.

The panel was a part of the “Campus Conversation” series and the yearlong celebration of 150 years of women being admitted to UC Berkeley. It was moderated by Academic Senate chair Oliver O’Reilly; Chancellor Carol Christ, who is the first woman to hold her title, gave opening remarks.

Major topics of conversation during the panel include racial justice and the intersection between race and gender.

“Today is a token of our appreciation to the female staff who have played such an extraordinary role to the history of our campus,” Christ said during the panel. “As you know, we still have a journey ahead of us as we seek social justice. We’re willing travelers on this journey together.”

Both of the Black women on the panel, UC Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Mia Settles-Tidwell and Cal women’s basketball head coach Charmin Smith, said their race was a significant part of their experiences as women at a higher education institution.

Settles-Tidwell described being doubted and told to be quiet by her colleagues.

“I understand the root of the problem is not me. The root of the problem sometimes is someone else’s insecurity,” Settles-Tidwell said during the panel. “I recognize that I’m too strong for you, but it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with being strong.”

Smith said, as a gay Black woman, she has become used to being the only person with her identity in a room. As the first Black person to hold the position of head coach of women’s basketball, she added that she feels a sense of “obligation” because of her identity, but also takes pride in empowering her players to be strong women, speak out and do what they desire.

She also said her players have created a racial justice council and will continue to fight to hold others accountable.

“If I express my opinion in a way that doesn’t cause me to shrink in the room … then I might have some other negative words associated with me that men don’t get,” Smith said during the panel. “It doesn’t phase me. I know who I am and what I believe.”

During the panel, Dean of Students Sunny Lee focused on the challenges that women who have children face. She said her greatest challenge was working in a leadership role while studying for her doctorate when her first son was born, but it taught her resilience that she still uses.

Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Cruz Grimaldo also said having her son impacted her life, in addition to her identity as a Latinx woman. She said it is fellow staff with similar identities and experiences who help her feel validated and empowered.

“As a woman of color, particularly as an Asian American-identified woman, not being seen, not being heard, feeling invisible … I think it’s something we can all relate to on this panel,” Lee said during the panel. “(Find) your support system. … We still are connected. It’s home, find a home.”

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.
LAST UPDATED

AUGUST 20, 2020


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