Like many of incoming freshmen, it took me a while to decide that Berkeley is somewhere I wanted to spent my next four years. I remember my hesitations, intimidated by the competitiveness of Cal, doubting whether this was where I belong, and whether I will truly find a community to which I feel committed. Scrolling through my housing application late in the SIR period and coming upon the UNITY theme program application. But I hesitated, yet another time, and soon moved on.
And here I was in August, settled in, ready to explore. Interestingly enough, the very first people I met at Berkeley were not my floormates, but two bright individuals, at the dining hall, who I later found out live on the UNITY floor. Very soon into the semester I received a newsletter with an open invitation to join UNITY as an affiliate. UNITY had yet again caught my attention. I became much more interested, excited to take on this opportunity to participate without living on the floor, and I became eager to participate. In no time I was walking to Unit 3 for the first time, entering the room full of queer people like (and unlike) me—people of all identity had come together to embark on this journey of identity exploration and queer leadership. It was room full of strangers, “strange” to the social norms (queer!) of a heteronormative society, who, like me, had chosen to take on their pride to empower others through this program.
As the semester progressed, I became overwhelm with my regular academic course load and started to see many conflicts ahead that would limit my participation in UNITY. But through my short time engaging in the seminar already, I have come to a realization that as much as I am from San Francisco, my mere exposure to the LGBT culture and history there was nowhere close to a force of self-empowerment in this community. Listening to my peers presenting on topics on gender and sexuality through democratic education projects, I saw many topics I’ve never put too much thought on but are critical to the queer community as a whole. It provided me with a much broader context to which I used in understanding my own personal identity: What does it mean to be queer and be proud? What does social justice mean? How does intersectionality affect individuals and society as a whole? These presentations have changed the way I think and approach situations, and this community have provided me with the strength and tools to challenge socially exclusive and oppressive norms in our day-to-day lives.
On the other hand, it did not take me very long to notice though Berkeley is known for its progressive and inclusive political climate, there is still quite little queer representation in student organizations across campus. As I joined groups like the Peer Review Board for Residential Conduct, my own Hall Association, and an ASUC Commission on Financial Wellness, I noticed a very homogeneous group of students take on leadership opportunities like these across the board. Being an affiliate member of UNITY provided me with an advantage to make a difference. Living away from the UNITY floor in a completely different residential community, I am able to use the knowledge gained from the UNITY seminar in my interaction with my own community and student groups, turning the embracement of my identity into a tool of empowerment, a resource of queer perspective; and most importantly, a representation of who I am and of the community behind me at broader social conjunctions.
The time I spent with UNITY is limited, but I have enjoyed the friendship and the mutual mentorship UNITY has fostered with its welcoming and embracing environment. As I reflect my time in UNITY, I am glad to have made the choice to join. This has been a once-in-a-life time learning and bonding experience, in which not only educated me crucial issues concerning the LGBTQ community, but also empowered me to take charge on my identity and enjoy being who I am. Years forward the experiences will evolve, but the legacy of UNITY—an empowering living and learning community of queers and allies—will continue to support generations of student leaders to come.
April 16, 2018