Gerardo Campos: How a student walkout changed my life

For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Our first profile is of Gerardo Campos, facilities manager for the Haas faculty and student services buildings. Campos, who is Mexican, discusses early activism that significantly impacted his life.

Gerardo Campos with his family
Gerardo Campos (second from left) celebrates his birthday with daughter, Celeste, son, Marcelino, and wife, Michelle.

In December 1993, Gerardo Campos helped organize a walkout with hundreds of Latinx students at San Francisco’s Mission High School to pressure the school board to change the curriculum.

“We marched, demanding that they add ethnic studies, demanding a review of materials and the curriculum, because we weren’t hearing our story in class,” said Campos, who was student body president at the time.

The walkout, which led to the addition of new ethnic studies courses and expanded college prep and job readiness courses, not only politicized Campos, it changed his life, laying the groundwork for Campos to receive a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, where he was the first in his family to attend college.

Creating change

Mission High then housed 1,415 students, 37% who were Latinx and 26% who were Chinese. Many of the students were newly arrived immigrants from around the world.

Coverage of the walkout in local paper El Tecolote
Coverage of the walkout by the English/Spanish paper El Tecolote. Campos, who helped organize the walkout, saved the news clip.

Campos recalled that some students in the high school’s newly formed Latino Club had started talking about diversity issues. The San Francisco Independent weekly newspaper reported that the students believed that “many of the high school’s staff members were insensitive to minorities” and that the curriculum didn’t align with their diverse histories.

The walkout led to a new ethnic studies alliance between Mission High and San Francisco State University, where Campos thought he would end up going to college. However his activism and leadership as student body president led him down a different path. A high school counselor nominated Campos for a citywide $5,000 SF Rotary Club scholarship that enabled him to afford tuition at UC Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in psychology.

“Huge pride and a sense of accomplishment”

After graduation, Campos, who is 45, worked as a substance abuse counselor, slowly moving toward a career in facilities management at Kaiser Permanente, and then as an administrator at a nanotech startup in Emeryville. In 2004, Campos arrived at Haas, where he’s worked as a facilities manager, one of few people who comes to campus daily to manage the buildings during the pandemic.

While Campos’ activism has taken a back seat to his demanding job and raising two children, he was active over the years in the UC Berkeley campus staff Chicanx/Latinx community Alianza.

Campos and his wife, Michelle, have two children: a son, Marcelino, who is a college sophomore, and a daughter, Celeste, a Berkeley High School junior. His family is close, including five brothers and 60 cousins. Of his family members, he’s the only one who made it to college, he said, adding, “I always feel huge pride and a sense of accomplishment that I did it.”

Campos said he tries to return to Mezcala, a small town in Mexico about an hour from Guadalajara, every year to visit his family.

In recent months, Campos said he’s followed the Black Lives Matter protests and kept informed on what Haas is doing to support diversity and equity for people of color. The Trump administration’s immigration policies toward his community anger him, and he challenges the idea that people are “legal” or “illegal.” “It’s not right that if I was born over here and somebody else is born over there that we should be treated differently,” he said. “I am against it to my core.”

Reflecting on his past, Campos said he’s grateful for his experiences, including the walkout that he believes awoke him to fight for justice as a teenager, a story he recently shared with his daughter. “I’ve had a lovely life,” he said.

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