Giovanni Compiani just finished his first year as an assistant professor in the Haas Marketing Group, straight from a PhD in economics at Yale University. He’s taught marketing analytics to undergrads and PhD students. And as one on the first-round recipients of a Berkeley Blockchain Initiative research grant, he conducted research quantifying the massive energy consumption by cryptocurrency mining operations,
Compiani says he loves to come to work every day, as he feels comfortable as a gay faculty member here, something he might not have imagined growing up in a Catholic family in Bologna, Italy.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in Italy, so it’s a Catholic country and I have a Catholic family. Homosexuality was not a topic that was ever discussed. We only had a law that legalizes same-sex unions in Italy about three years ago, and it’s still not called marriage. Growing up, it wasn’t necessarily easy, and I came out fairly late.
When did you first realize you were gay?
I would say it was probably in high school, and even more so in college, but I was a pretty late bloomer. I was very focused on academics, and I don’t look back on that with regret. I am here because I worked really hard. But I really focused on academics partly because I didn’t want to think too much about relationships. It was clearly something that was uncomfortable for me at the time. Then, when I had a little bit more perspective, I was finally ready to take a step back and say, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
When did you come out?
I waited until I was very comfortable and I was really ready for it, and I ended up having a very positive experience. It wasn’t until grad school at Yale where it felt a little bit easier. I had so many doubts and fears but then I got so much positive support and love from the people around me. My family and my friends have all been super-supportive. Yale is a very liberal place, and my classmates and everyone else were great, but New Haven, Connecticut, is also a small town. Most people end up going to New York to date. That’s where I met my boyfriend, shortly after I came out. He just moved out to Berkeley last week. He’s a doctor, so he was finishing up his residency in Connecticut, and he’ll be starting at Kaiser Oakland in a couple of weeks. It’s my first time actually living with a partner, so it’s all come together.
What’s has been your experience so far on the faculty at Haas?
I arrived essentially one year ago today, and this is my first job, so I don’t really have a comparison. But I will say it’s been incredibly positive. I’m not part of any kind of organization within Haas, but there are other gay faculty members here and of course many on campus. It definitely helps to have examples right here of people who are successful and well-integrated into the community. Just the fact that there’s a normalcy to being gay here has been the most helpful thing. We’re all colleagues, and some happen to be straight and some happen to be gay, but that doesn’t create two different camps. It feels like a place where I want to go to work in the morning, which is, for me, the mark of a good workplace.
It’s also hard to beat Berkeley and the Bay Area in terms of the environment, and San Francisco with its history. I mean not only because of the queer community, but also things like the Free Speech Movement. This has been the epicenter of a lot of movements that have helped us get us to where we are now, and you have a sense that certain rights are really valued here. Even just getting emails from the dean or from campus, whenever there’s some sort of an incident, makes a difference. Those small things matter because it creates an environment where you feel that you’re taken care of and valued.
Do you feel like Italy has changed a lot since you were growing up, and do you feel comfortable there now?
Yes, as evidenced by the fact that I have a Catholic family, and they were ok with me being gay. They’re actually very happy for me. I’m from Bologna, which is Northeast of Florence. I think of Bologna a little bit as the Berkeley of Italy. It’s very left wing, and there is an accepting kind of culture. I just came back from there and it was a very good experience. But unfortunately, Italy is very similar to the U.S, in terms of what’s happening politically. One of the main parties governing right now is quite right wing and xenophobic. It seems like the goal is to take the country back to the past, which implies all sorts of things for women, for people of color, and for gay people. It’s a past that clearly benefited only a fraction of a population. I do think it’s up to us to stand up and say we’re not okay with that. Right now, I see that more from the outside since I’m not affected by it in the same way as if I were living there, but we have many of the same issues here with Trump. It does feel like a wake-up call. We are so polarized and I think people need to start coming together and find any common ground with those who are perceived as different. But sometimes I feel that the left also seems just as tribal as the right.
Do you feel like being gay gives you a different perspective in the classroom, in terms of how you work with your student and how you run your classes?
I would say so. To a certain extent, when you belong to any minority group, I think it’s easier to relate to people’s concerns and to be sympathetic. There’s always a bit of a hierarchy between students and professors, and I think that being as a member of a minority group helps you relate more to people across hierarchies. I’m hoping it can make my teaching more effective, and also make my interactions with students more welcoming. I haven’t had any specific interactions with students on the topic of being gay, but if there are students who want to reach out and I can help, that’s definitely something I’m open to.