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Janki Patel, MBA 22, on embracing her queer identity

A group of men and women sit in a gazebo
Janki Patel, second from left, with friends after graduation.

Haas Voices is a series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. 

Janki Patel, MBA 22, is a recent Haas graduate who identifies as a first-generation, queer, Indian-American woman. In this Pride Month perspective, she shares her story of discovering and embracing her queer identity at Haas.  

Growing up as a first generation Indian-American woman, I didn’t know anyone in my community who was queer. And as a cis-woman who is attracted to cis-men, I just thought any attraction I had to a woman was a “girl crush”. But when I started applying to business school, I realized some of my girl crushes were a bit more serious than the average girl crush. While I sometimes regret the fact that it took me so long to realize that I was queer, I am thankful that I am now closer to knowing myself fully. Every queer journey looks different and I’m sharing mine in case it helps anyone learn more about themselves, queer or not. 

Business school was the first place where I felt I could be openly queer. It was also the first time I was part of a queer community. It was beautiful to belong to a community that understood a part of my identity that others did not. Though the queer community at Haas still has work to do to center the experiences of BIPOC,  trans, and non-binary students, I am thankful I was welcomed into it at a time when I had more questions than answers. During my first year, three classmates shared their coming out journeys with other students for a special Story Salon. I was struck by how each coming out story differed from the next: from the moment my classmates realized they were queer to how they came out, to their loved ones’ reactions. I saw a bit of myself in all of these stories. After that event, I knew that I was getting closer to being ready to come out, but I wasn’t quite there yet. 

My classes both at Haas and across the UC Berkeley campus taught me about what it means to be a kind, humane, leader and what queerness means to me. Courses such as Sustainable Capitalism in The Nordics and Managing Human Rights in Business equipped me with the tools I needed to pursue a career at the intersection of business and justice. And an African American Studies class on the novels of Toni Morrison exposed me to language I could use to speak about my queerness in a way that felt authentic to myself and that eventually gave me the confidence to come out to my immigrant parents. 

Woman and man on a hike. They take a moment to take a photo.
Janki Patel, MBA 22, on a hike with her partner.

My professor Daerick Scott helped me understand what I loved so much about Morrison’s novels, especially “Sula.” Sula questions society’s expectations of women throughout the novel, and her relationship with her best friend, Nel, though not explicitly sexual, is one of equal partnership and deep understanding. It’s a queer relationship. Not simply because it is between two women, but because it questions the norms of how love exists. Re-reading Sula helped me articulate to myself and to others that I am queer. Not only because I like women, but also because my attraction to people and my views on my role in a relationship do not fit into the mainstream. With that new language and the help of my closest friends at Haas, I was able to write a letter sharing how being queer has shaped my world view and share it with my parents. Although my parents have been struggling to accept what I have shared with them, they are trying. I am thankful that I am no longer hiding a core part of myself from them and luckily, I have been able to lean on my siblings and friends who have been endlessly supportive. 

I came across a quote that in typical Toni Morrison fashion is incredibly eloquent: 

I still write about the same thing, which is how people relate to one another and miss it or hang on to it… or are tenacious about love. About love and how to survive—not to make a living—but how to survive whole in a world where we are all of us, in some measure, victims of something. Each one of us is in some way at some moment a victim and in no position to do a thing about it. Some child is always left unpicked up at some moment. In a world like that, how does one remain whole—is it just impossible to do that? 

Morrison’s distinction between surviving and making a living is one that I think about frequently, especially as I decide on next steps after Haas. Although I’m not sure where my post-Haas journey will take me (I’m hoping it’ll be somewhere at the intersection between climate and DEI), I plan to keep questioning if I am surviving or making a living. I’ll also question if I am helping others survive and remain as whole as possible. As for my queerness, I’m happily dating a cis-man and feel as queer as ever. I met my partner at a time when I wasn’t planning to date cis-men. But he helps me with my tennis serve (it’s still not great but way better!), bakes delicious lemon bars, and somehow genuinely enjoys doing dishes. All of this was a very unexpected bonus of my Haas journey.

Verse Gabrielle on the revolutionary act of being a proud Black queer woman

One, light-skinned black girl and a dark-skinned Black woman sitting in car.
Verse Gabrielle (with daughter Lyric Assata Gabrielle) is an associate director for the full-time MBA admissions program.

Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. 

Born and raised in Chicago’s South Side, Verse Gabrielle is an associate director for the full-time MBA admissions program at Haas. Gabrielle, who uses “shey, sheir, shem,” pronouns that are preferred by some nonbinary and trans people, is also a poet, a playwright, a wife, and mom to four-year-old daughter Lyric Assata. In this Haas Voices interview, Gabrielle talks about growing up, being queer, and the healing power of intellectual curiosity and the spoken word.

I knew from as early as six years old that I was queer. But queerness was not celebrated in my family. I enjoyed having male friends and playing sports with boys my age, but I was never interested in the male gaze. I despised wearing dresses, playing with Barbie dolls, and never considered myself overly feminine, which was met with a lot of disdain.

When I was a freshman in high school, I told a family member that I liked girls. I was advised to keep the secret and not to disclose it to anyone. So I did. I suppressed my queerness until I deemed it safe to come out. Unfortunately, I was forced back into the closet until I turned 18. 

Book smarts and intellectual curiosity are what saved me. 

I graduated as valedictorian of my elementary school. Instead of attending my neighborhood high school, I went to De La Salle Institute-Lourdes Campus (DLS), one of the top private schools in Chicago. After completing my freshman year, I transferred into the honors program at DLS. I was ranked #6 in my class, graduating with a 4.667 G.P.A.

In my senior year of high school, I applied for and was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship. I felt like I had secured my financial future and could leave behind all the drama. I decided to go to the University of Minnesota, where for the first time in my life, I could be my authentic self. I started dating women, joined the LGBT student union. It was freeing. 

While my intellect saved me, my spoken word helped heal me. I started writing poetry when I was about 10 years old, performing at talent shows and school assemblies, but it wasn’t until the summer before I went to college that I started performing at open mics in Chicago. 

In college, I joined a student club called Voices Merging and later established the group Poetic Assassins. We’d travel and perform at different universities and colleges around the U.S. My poetry spans topics of internalized homophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, the prison industrial complex, and gender roles. 

Spoken word was my therapy: it helped me escape and process all the trauma I endured in Chicago. That’s where I let out all of the anger, rage, and pain. It also opened many doors for me. My poetry has been published in a few anthologies, including “When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience.” I’ve also written and collaborated on a spoken-word play, and facilitated poetry workshops focused on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender through a hood-feminist lens (i.e. Black feminist critique of traditional feminism).

I’ve been called dyke, bulldagger, male-woman, he-she, and chi chi man, which was hurled at me as I walked the streets of Kingston, Jamaica. 

My artistry allowed me to move and operate in different spaces, but it didn’t shield me from bigotry, homophobia, and microaggressions on and off campus. I remember going to a rally almost every other weekend to protest against police brutality and crimes against Black and Brown people. I’d go to these protests to show solidarity because I am Black and I’m absorbing the pain like everyone else, but I’d also face homophobia from members of the Black community because my physical appearance and queerness didn’t fit the mold of what an “ideal Black woman” looks like. I’ve been called dyke, bulldagger, male-woman, he-she, and chi chi man (which was hurled at me as I walked the streets of Kingston, Jamaica).

A Black woman wearing dark sunglasses and pink shirt
Portrait: Verse Gabrielle

Being queer and masculine-presenting has affected my relationship with straight men and women. I get weird looks and sometimes I’m questioned when I enter the female restroom, which is where I am most comfortable. I have had verbal altercations with men who’ve had issues with how I express my queerness being masculine-presenting. I’ve also had women express their discomfort with my presence in professional and communal spaces because they feared I was romantically interested in them.

I have many identities, however the core of my identity is my unapologetic Blackness: Black Buddhist, Black mother, Black queer, Black wife, Black woman, and so on. I am proud of my heritage and culture. I embody the beauty and duality of masculine and feminine traits without denying either. I demand the world see me the way I want to be seen. As a result, my identities have evolved from strikes against me to badges of honor that I wear proudly. To walk this earth against society’s expectations of what womanhood looks like is revolutionary.

A black woman and her daughter sits on a blue-and-white checkered blanket.
Gabrielle’s wife, Dominique, and four-year-old daughter Lyric Assata.

As parents to a four-year-old daughter, my wife, Dominique, and I strive to be the best parents. We have taken parenting classes and joined groups to prepare and round out our parenting techniques. It’s important for us to not only model Black queer love, good communication, and healing, but also to support and celebrate our daughter’s Blackness, femininity, intellectual curiosity, athleticism, and spunk. We support our daughter, Lyric Assata, in everything she does. We take the time to listen to her and truly understand her love languages. Dominique and I are just two Black queer womyn who’ve shared their visions and created the family we always wanted to have—and that’s revolutionary.

I’ve had an amazing experience since joining Haas in 2019. By far, Haas has been one of the best communities that I’ve joined. As a Black queer woman, I feel heard, my identities are celebrated, and I’m part of a diverse staff who support me. My colleagues and I regularly participate in Courageous Conversations where we discuss difficult topics like race, gender, and class. It’s rare to find a work environment where I can be my authentic self and I think much of that has to do with Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles (DLPs). Students Always is my favorite DLP because I’m an intellectual at heart and will forever be a student. 

Now that I have transitioned from an admissions manager to an associate director, I feel like I have a seat at the table, I can make admissions decisions, and I can serve as a support system to all of our students, especially those who have similar backgrounds to me. When I was applying to college and graduate school, there was neither a blueprint nor a support system for me; I had to figure out everything on my own. But now, I can be of service to others.

London Swift, MBA 22, on helping creative freelancers find gigs and demand fair pay

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.

London Swift photo
London Swift, MBA 22, co-founder of startup Et al, a community for women and gender-diverse creative freelancers.

Before London Swift arrived at Haas, she raised $15,000 on Kickstarter to build a test website called Et al., a hub for women and gender-diverse creative freelancers.

Swift hoped the beta site would bring “creatives”—digital designers, podcast creators, photographers, artists, and writers—together to find gigs.

“We got a tremendous response,” said Swift, MBA 22, who is working with her partner and co-founder Sophia Wirth, a digital brand strategy consultant. “We had 100 people reach out but only had room for 25 people on the site.”

At Haas, Swift is building Et al. from a test site into a business—a place for many more freelancers to showcase their portfolios, and network about everything from collaborative opportunities to fair pay rates to administrative challenges. Employers will use the site’s bulletin board to post job jobs and view users’ creative profiles.

Female “creatives”often face a persistent pay gap in the freelance market, a problem Swift is working to solve with the startup.

“We wanted to build a community where women could better understand the pay issues and work together to close the gender wage gap in the gig economy,” said Swift, a ceramics artist who once considered a career in the arts, but, wary of the low pay, worked as a consultant at Deloitte after her undergraduate program.

“We wanted to build a community where women could better understand the pay issues and work together to close the gender wage gap in the gig economy,” —London Swift, MBA 22.

Part of Et al.’s strategy will be to keep customers’ costs low, by offering flexible monthly user subscriptions.  Platform users will be segmented into professional communities, where they will have access to an exclusive Slack workspace.

Swift said she was inspired when one of their first test users, a new freelancer who had never written for a magazine, built her first creative portfolio and landed her first assignment with Elle UK, an article about how 1990s television sitcoms revolutionized Black beauty. “She is now working full-time as a freelance writer and we could not be happier for her,” Swift said.

Help along the way

Many groups have supported Swift’s startup journey since she arrived at Haas.

First, she was accepted into the Berkeley Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP), a 10-week campus-wide incubator. Then she raised $35,000 last spring to build a new version of Et al.

Et al founders Sophia Wirth and London Swift
Et al. co-founders London Swift, MBA 22, (right) and her partner & CEO Sophia Wirth, a digital brand strategy consultant, whom she met during her undergraduate program at American University.

She was also the recent recipient of the Hansoo Lee Fellowship, created to honor the memory of Hansoo Lee, MBA 10, and is among the startup founders joining the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars summer fellowship program for entrepreneurs. There, she’ll work with a mentor and bounce new ideas off other founders.

Last spring, El al. also participated in the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership’s Investing in Inclusion pitch competition, coming in second. “It’s so unique to have a startup space that’s focused on social impact and profitability,” she said. “It felt really special for us.”

Swift is also working with Berkeley Female Founders and Funders to find a few undergraduates who might be able to work with the team this summer. “We have an incredible network of entrepreneurs here,” she said.

London Swift
London Swift, co-founder of Et al., considered a career as an artist.

Outside of the startup world at Haas, Swift is a member of the Consortium, an organization that recruits qualified students who can demonstrate a commitment to its mission of enhancing diversity in business education and leadership, and Q@Haas, the LGBTQ+ MBA community at Haas—and the vice president of academic affairs for her MBA class. She said she’s looking forward to returning to campus this fall. “I’m definitely an extrovert and love being with people,” she said.

Meantime, Swift will focus on her company—and a new ceramics wheel she just bought, getting back into pottery and her creative side.

“Having the opportunity to study at Haas, support women in the arts, and address pay inequity is such a privilege and I cannot wait to see what the next few years bring,” she said.

Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90: Transitioning—a private decision with public consequences

Portrait: Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90
Portrait: Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90

Celebrating Pride Month on the OneHaas Podcast, host Sean Li spoke with Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90, an African-American transgender artist-activist, about how being an over-achiever helped him land senior positions in the corporate and nonprofit world. (Élida Bautista, the director of inclusion and diversity at the Haas School of Business, joins Li for this interview.)

Jackson served on various community boards including mayoral appointee of the San Francisco Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, the UCSF Chancellor’s GLBT Advisory Committee, San Francisco LGBT Community Center Project, and former board president of Fresh Meat Productions, a leading transgender and queer performing arts nonprofit.

Stacy has since retired and is now focused on being an author, artist, and activist.

Michelle Kim, BS 11, on social justice and “talking about the hard stuff”

Michelle Kim, BS 11, is co-founder and CEO of Awaken, which leads interactive diversity, inclusion, and leadership workshops. We spoke with Kim about her political activism at UC Berkeley, why she studied business, and how she’s making honest conversations about social justice happen in corporations. A lifelong social justice activist, Kim has served at organizations including the LGBTQ Speakers Bureau, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and the LYRIC board of directors.

Hear Michelle Kim discuss how to create systemic change.

Can  you talk a little bit about where you grew up and what that was like for you.

I grew up in South Korea and immigrated to San Diego when I was 13. It was a tumultuous time as a teenager, navigating a world that is so drastically different, while also coming to terms with who I was as an Asian person, and as a woman. Right around the age of 16 I started grappling with my sexual orientation. I had my first crush on a girl, and that was very confusing, with a lot of internalized homophobia coming out. When I was growing up in South Korea, there weren’t conversations around LGBTQ issues, at least not when I was in school, where it was a foreign thing. Being in so many different spaces geographically, mentally and emotionally, has a lot to do with why I’m doing the work that I do today.

Were there many Asian students where you went to school?

There were but I grew up in a predominantly white suburb. It was weird because my family was low income, but the school district that I was a part of was not. It was a very stark mix of very affluent families and also folks living on financial  assistance. I was in the midst of navigating what that meant for me and how that was affecting the way that I was showing up in school. My dad was undocumented for 10 years and he was not making a lot of money when we came to the States to live with him.

How did you come out? 

I came out to my friends first. It wasn’t like, “Hey, everyone, I am gay,” because I was not sure. I first started talking to my high school biology teacher, who was an out lesbian woman, and she was probably one of the first people I admired who was a lesbian. She was one of the first people I told. She pointed me to the underground support group that I didn’t know about, where during one period every week, LGBTQ identified or questioning students could meet with an advisor. That group, quite frankly, saved my life when I was in a very confused state of mind. They welcomed me and created space for me to explore without shame and blame. After questioning for awhile, I decided that the term that I’d like to describe myself is queer.

You became politically active at a pretty young age and that continued at Berkeley, right?

Berkeley is where my identity as an activist solidified and where my philosophy, my principles, and orientation toward social justice became defined much more clearly. I chose Berkeley because of its legacy and history with the social justice movement, and it was exciting when I got accepted.

I had envisioned Berkeley to be this very progressive, radical agent of change in the social movement. There was a little bit of a surprise when I got here and saw that you really needed to seek out those groups. I started a student organization that’s still in existence called the Queer Student Union.  It was called Queer Straight Alliance when I started it, and it was a space predominantly for people of color and a variety of identities. I wanted to create a space where we could all come together and talk about intersectionality and coalition building. So we carved out the space for us to be able to really engage in that dialogue. And that’s really what propelled me to be more involved in social justice movements.

How did you end up studying business?

I studied business because this one white boy told me, “You’ll never get in.” That’s what lit the fire under me to do it. But as I began studying, I thought business was fascinating. I wanted to understand how these big corporations really operated, which is a big reason why I decided to go into consulting right after school, aside from the fact that I actually needed to make money. The business degree gave me the language and access to the world that I never knew about before. Neither of my parents had worked in a corporate setting, where they could have helped me to navigate getting a job in a big company.

Where did you work after graduation?

My first job was in consulting. I learned a ton and I also witnessed and experienced a lot of harm. I chose the company based on its external marketing and statements around how they cared about diversity and inclusion. I had my own idea of what that meant, but I had no idea what it really translated into in a corporate setting. I decided to join an employee resource group and figured out quickly that the group was all about happy hours and social networking and not about the movement and social justice work that was needed, so I was so disillusioned. I think in my young, activist mindset, I was angry, upset, and cynical.

So did you leave that job?

I left that environment to go into tech because I’d heard that the tech environment was a lot less rigid, more innovative, younger, and therefore that it must be more radical, which also wasn’t the case. I worked for a couple of different tech companies, building customer success teams, and also trying to push diversity, equity, and inclusion forward. I think time after time what I felt and what I found was diversity and inclusion being diluted to a point where it wasn’t recognizable as a social justice movement.  To this day, I tell people that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is actually just an extension of the social justice work that’s happening in the streets. It has to be founded and grounded in social justice principles.

Do you see attitudes changing now? Does this time feel different?

I will say that I have never seen this level of appetite to actually say and name the things that we need to talk about, so that has been very reassuring for me. I have a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism toward the surge of statements that are coming out of corporations, because I do feel like people are rushing to make statements before taking a deeper look at how their organization operates and what commitments are being made behind these statements. It’s questionable. But I will say that this is the first time in a very long time where I feel like there is space for us to actually go in and talk about the hard stuff, and actually use words like white supremacy and anti-black racism in a corporate setting. We’ve been doing it over the last few weeks and it feels different, and I feel hopeful because of that.

Eduardo Consigliere, MBA 21: Owning all facets of his identity

In honor of Pride Month, we’re highlighting members of the LGBTQ community at Haas. 

Portrait: Eduardo Consigliere, MBA 21
Eduardo Consigliere, MBA 21, is co-president of Q@Haas, the LGBTQ-affinity organization on campus.

In this interview, Peru native Eduardo “Eddie” Consigliere, MBA 21, talks about coming out to his mother, his leadership role in Q@Haas, and his love for the annual Coming Out monologues.

Tell me about your background and where you grew up?

I am originally from Lima, Peru. My parents separated when I was three years old so I lived with my mom, grandparents, aunt, and uncle in one big house. On the weekends my aunt and cousins would come over for family gatherings so the house was always loud and filled with laughter. I always enjoyed being around my family, especially during the holidays. My mom moved to the US when I was 12 and I joined her when I was 14. I’ve hopped around California ever since.

How old were you when you figured out that you might be gay?

I think a part of me always knew I was different. I just didn’t have the tools or language to identify what that difference was. I remember telling my mom that when we watched Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, I would pay more attention to the boys. I think I was worried that there was something wrong with me and I wanted her to fix it.

In school, while most of the boys played soccer during recess, I hung out with my girlfriends and secretly watched Sailor Moon. Obviously athleticism and sexuality are not correlated, but I felt different than the rest. I always thought it was because I was an only child growing up with a single mom, and I took after her. When I was a first year in college, I avoided parties and alcohol because I was afraid that if I drank too much, I would accidentally do something to out myself.

What was the process of coming out like?

student in cap and gown, posing with woman
Eddie and his mom.

It was difficult. It was the night of my 21st birthday and I had been hinting to my friend that I wanted her to ask me. So she did and that’s how I came out. Even though I was surrounded by an incredibly supportive community, there was a part of me that was afraid of being vulnerable, and still carried that mentality that there was something wrong with me. After that I started coming out to friends in casual, and sometimes completely uncomfortable and awkward ways, like typing it on their computer during class or screaming it at the top of my lungs.

 I came out to my mom about two years later. We hadn’t been getting along and one day she called me during the middle of a work retreat. She asked me if the reason why we hadn’t been getting along was because there was something painful I was hiding, and if that had to do with my sexuality. Needless to say, I had to leave the work retreat because I was bawling uncontrollably. Because of the circumstances, I thought she was going to be fully on board, but it still took a little while for her to understand. She eventually came around and is now so supportive and my biggest cheerleader. She dabbles in gay pop culture, sends me articles, and always takes a moment during Pride and national coming out day to celebrate my holidays and tells me she’s proud of me.

What about the rest of your family? Have you come out to them?

I’ve come out to my family in the U.S. and they’ve been very supportive. After all these years living here, I don’t see or speak to my family in Peru very much, so I don’t feel the need to come out to them. I’m also hesitant because of some anti-LGBTQ views and comments that they’ve posted on social media, so I’ve decided not to share that part of myself with them. At least for the moment.

Group of students
Q@Haas members attend ROMBA 2019 Conference in Atlanta.

How are you promoting inclusion at Berkeley Haas?

One of my goals for business school was to be more connected to the LGBTQ+ community. So I was excited to join Q@Haas. This year, I’m one of the co-presidents. One of our main priorities is to make sure that we sponsor events that are inclusive to all our members, not just one segment of the population, for example gay men. We’re also engaging with other clubs to create programming to not only cultivate the relationship between our community and our allies, but also to create a space to acknowledge the intersectionality of our identities.

My favorite event is the Coming Out Monologues, which happens early in the school year. Last fall, I was helping set up Spieker Forum and we set up around 320 chairs. By the time we kicked off the event, there was standing room only. It was so powerful to see classmates whom I’ve met just three weeks ago show up and hear people’s coming out stories. Those are so personal and sometimes painful to relive. So to see all of that excitement, support and respect, and to be embraced by the broader community like that was huge. I think it speaks volumes about the type of people that we have at Haas and how much they care.

Eduardo Consigliere and classmates.
Eddie and his classmates celebrated the end of the fall semester by attending the Gold Formal.

What does intersectionality mean to you and what can we learn about a person through this lens?

Intersectionality means we all have multiple identities. It’s beautiful yet complicated because it’s difficult to piece out an individual part of your identity. It all plays together. For me, my immigration story was one of the biggest influences in how I approach life and it influenced my level of self-acceptance and comfort with others. Coming to the U.S. is one of the hardest things a person can do. To do that, I told myself that I needed to be strong and build walls around me. Coming out was one of the steps towards chipping away at those walls.

While we can think of things in isolation, we also need to think about the broader context of a person’s experience, like their race, socioeconomic background, immigration status, ability, or education to understand their lived experiences. I think we’re getting better at understanding individual differences, looking at the whole person, and not making blanket statements, but it’s a constant struggle. Intersectionality of identity means that no two stories (and no two people) are the same.

 

EMBA’s Emeric L. Kennard: Pride in art and identity

In honor of Pride Month, we’re highlighting members of the LGBTQ community at Haas. 

Emeric Kennard
Emeric L. Kennard, experiential learning project coordinator for the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program at Berkeley Haas. Photo: Jim Block

(Note: Emeric L. Kennard, who identifies as a queer, nonbinary, transgender person, uses the preferred pronoun “they.”)

Growing up, Emeric L. Kennard’s sleep-deprived father would hand them crayons and a pile of paper and they’d draw for hours.

That passion to make art never stopped for Kennard, who is also the experiential learning project coordinator for the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program.

An award-winning visual artist and illustrator, Kennard’s art is informed by a love of reading—science fiction in particular—and their work contains magical elements like woodland creatures, horned demons, and moon-soaked ceremonies.

“The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly,”  said Kennard, who is from the Clackamas, Chinook, Atfalati, and Kalapuya territory, also known as Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly.

But for Kennard, a mixed race, third-generation Korean American, a youth spent in a white suburb was also alienating. “I grew up being called exotic,” they said. “Older white ladies told me I looked like an Indian princess.”

Arriving in the Bay Area seven years ago, Kennard said, “I had a radical reorientation with race in this culture of organizing and resistance to white supremacy.”

Kennard’s art explores sexuality and race in their illustrations, paintings, comics and zines, with subjects that intersect gender, bodily identity, science, environment, and cultural survival. Their work has exhibited locally and nationally, hung in Congressional halls, and been recognized by the Society of Illustrators. “There’s always a story being told,” Kennard said. “That’s what drew me to art school.”

Here Kennard describes a few of the stories behind some favorites.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories illustration
Ghost Stories

“This illustration for Mother Jones accompanied an article called Ghost Stories by Delilah Friedler, which was about hooking up while trans. There’s a beautiful end note in this article in which Delilah speaks to the potential for beauty that exists between trans women and cis men in relationships when men are capable and willing to engage with their own vulnerability and to engage with unlearning toxic masculinity, and embrace the love, the sexuality, whatever the relationship offers them that shame and homophobia and transphobia would otherwise block. And while the bulk of the article speaks more to the impact and the violence of that shame, which is very important to discuss, so many of the stories about trans people, they’re not authored by us and they’re about our deaths. Most of the time when you hear about a trans person in major news it’s because one of us has been harmed or killed, and disproportionately it’s Black trans women and trans women of color. It was really important to me to create an image that didn’t erase the reality of the pain that we experience, but also helped visualize this beautiful open door that Delilah points to at the end of her article, the potential that exists if we could collectively move past the shame. And so that is where the idea for the sense of reveal and removal, taking off a mask, came from.”

Willpower

Willpower by Emeric Kennard
Willpower

“This mixed media piece was inspired by an article from the science magazine Nautilus. The original title of that article was Against Willpower. The article critiques the modern concept of willpower against the modern knowledge of psychology and how the human brain works, and makes a case that willpower as we have come to culturally understand it today is really repressive, and creates false and unobtainable goals of self control that are not actually healthy. While the article doesn’t explicitly address queer experience, there’s obviously a lot of connections that could be made. I thought about the experience of being closeted and the really harmful ideas that many people still hold that sexuality or gender can be fixed or need fixing, and the abuse that is conversion therapy. That was an immediate personal connection I made to the article, and I wanted to make an image that captured that sense of holding it down, keeping it in, trying to keep something that really wants and needs to be released repressed.”

Mephistopheles

Mephistopheles
Mephistopheles

“This is an illustrated demon’s monologue about rebelling against tyranny and embracing one’s own power. It takes and remixes lines and words originally spoken by Mephistopheles and other demonic figures in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus.

There’s this one scene where Faustus summons Mephistopheles from hell. Faustus is trying to argue with Mephistopheles that hell isn’t real, which is absurd in the context of this play and this scene. And Mephistopheles is baffled and insulted. And while I don’t remember the exact lines, his response to Faustus in essence is, ‘I know hell is real because I have suffered through it and how dare you.’ And I had a really powerful moment of recognition that I didn’t expect in that scene where I saw in that exchange myself and I saw all of these interactions that I, and many of the trans people in my life, had had in real time with cisgender people who are trying to convince us as we’re standing in front of them that we’re not real.

It’s also true that part of the hurt of being unacknowledged as real is that often we are put through a great deal of suffering for being who we are. Regardless of our own relationship to our bodies, regardless of how we feel about our own lived experience, suffering is imposed upon us externally, and I really felt Mephistopheles in that scene. I had this deep sense of understanding and connection with his character.”

Burial

Burial by Emeric Kennard
Burial

“This was a canvas painting, and I made it for this wonderful art show that I was invited into by friend and mentor Channing Joseph, a Black educator, journalist, advocate, member of the queer community, and just a phenomenal person.

The concept of the show, called Octavia’s Attic, was that Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novels were actually documentary accounts, because she could time travel, and she could visit alternative timelines and universes. What if this was recently discovered and made known to the public and her attic was opened up for public visit? What would it contain? I love this concept.

Around that time I’d learned a little bit more about gender expressions and identities in pre-colonized Korea that today we might consider queer—practices by what in English we call shamans; the Korean term is mudang. Often these roles were embodied by women, but not always, and there was this sacred femininity in these spiritual roles.

I was also learning more about queer relations in Korean royalty among men and women, and I had this idea of a queer funeral and a literal replanting. So much of my own access to this history is really limited. I didn’t learn Korean growing up, and even my halmeoni, my Korean grandmother, doesn’t know a lot of this. And so I was really compelled by this idea of planting a literal piece of someone and having them, through some spiritual process, grow and transform into a tree and be present as an ancestor as a living tree.”

Asst. Prof. Giovanni Compiani: From Bologna to Berkeley

Asst. Prof. Giovanni Compiani
Asst. Prof. Giovanni Compiani

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.

Giovanni Compiani and his partner
Compiani and his partner on vacation in Block Island.

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?

Giovanni Compiani and his dog
Compiani with Preston

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.

EMBA’s Kirsten Berzon on the hard-won fight for marriage equality

Kirsten Berzon, associate director of events and experiential learning for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program (left), with her wife, Kathy, photographed in 2009 next to their SF Pride poster.

In the summer of 2009, Kirsten Berzon and her wife, Kathy, could be seen embracing everywhere around San Francisco. Larger-than-life pictures of the couple covered the sides of MUNI buses and shelters, reflecting San Francisco Pride’s “To Form A More Perfect Union” theme.

At that time, Berzon was a board member for Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA), an organization that advocated for civil marriage equality in every state and at the federal level. For nine years, she fought for the freedom to marry—until the Supreme Court in 2015 struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalizing it in all fifty states, and requiring states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses.

We talked to Berzon, associate director of events and experiential learning for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, about growing up in Oakland and Berkeley, where her parents owned a well-known local cafe, her history of social justice activism, and weathering turbulent LBGT rights politics.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Ames, Iowa. My mom was a professor in the English Department at Iowa State University. We moved to Oakland when I was four and a half, so I consider myself a California native.

Photo of Kirsten Berzon with her brother Ian and father during the mid-1980s.
Kirsten, (right) who grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, with her father and brother during the mid-1980s.

I actually grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, because my parents are divorced, so I spent half the week in each city.  In Berkeley our family is a little famous because my parents owned the Homemade Café, a breakfast/lunch greasy spoon. They opened in 1979 and it’s still going strong. They sold it in 2011.

Photo of Kirsten Berzon with her mom.
Kirsten (left) with her mom at her 2008 wedding.

You come from a family of social justice advocates. What was that like?

My dad went to Rutgers University in New Jersey  and was the president of the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organization that did a lot of work against the Vietnam War in the ’60s. In addition to SDS, my mom was also heavily involved in the civil rights movement. I think that’s where it started. My whole life, my parents, and my aunt and uncle, my dad’s siblings, were very active, so any topic you can think of—the pro-choice movement, or the war in Iraq, LGBT rights—they’re out there. Since Trump got elected, I think they’re sort of reliving their activist days. I’ve heard my dad say things like, “I thought the ’60s were over. I can’t believe that we’re still fighting for these same issues.”

So how old were you when you came out?

I was 20. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I’d never dated boys, wasn’t even remotely interested except for one sixth grade crush. Also, I didn’t have any interest in girls. When I went away to college, my freshman year I thought, “Okay, I guess I’m supposed to have a boyfriend.” So my roommate and I decided we were going to try and find boys in the dorm to be friends with as a starting point, and we did. And I still didn’t have any romantic interest in them. That kind of went nowhere, but my second year in college I met a woman in the dorm who became my best friend. I also fell in love with her. She was the first lesbian I knew who was my age.

Were there issues when you came out?

It was really hard when I came out to my mom and she said, “Well, you don’t know.” She knew that I was in love with my friend, but she thought that it was a phase, and that it was about that particular person and not about coming to terms with my sexuality.

So how did you finally convince your family?

We got into a lot of discussions and eventually my mom came around, but what I realized is that everyone in the family had to go through their own coming out process. It wasn’t just me. And that was hard to take. It was actually my stepmom, when I came out, who said, “Well, we knew that a long time ago.” And I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” While it wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped for, that was a blip on the radar I would say. They are the most loving and supportive family and I am so grateful. My mom and I have marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade multiple times with PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gays, with people crying and screaming as we went by. It’s such a euphoric feeling.

Can you talk about why you got involved with Marriage Equality USA?

Marriage Equality USA was a very small volunteer driven organization that for many years had little or no paid staff. Our mission was to change hearts and minds by talking to people, one conversation at a time, about why marriage mattered. I believe that is what changed the tide so incredibly quickly on this issue. People realized that all we wanted were the same legal rights that any heterosexual married person had.

Kirsten thanked then Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for his role in the fight for marriage equality at the Marriage Equality USA San Francisco Awards Reception in May 2013.
Kirsten thanked then Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for his support of marriage equality at the Marriage Equality USA San Francisco Awards Reception in May 2013.

What do you remember about the day that the California Supreme Court granted the rights of marriage to same sex couples?

It was May 15, 2008. I remember that day very clearly. It was a few months before I started working at Haas. I remember sobbing at my computer, overcome with joy, and being totally distracted, thinking, “Oh my God, I’m supposed to be at work.” I read every email and article I could get my hands on and listened to the radio analysis of the decision. I couldn’t understand how the world could keep going like everything was normal, when my life and the lives of so many marriage equality activists like me had changed so dramatically with this victory.

My wife and I got married in August of 2008, along with 18,000 other couples in California, in what became known as the Prop 8 window.

But then Prop 8 passed in November 2008, a ballot measure that eliminated the rights of same sex couples to marry in California. What did you do?

That was a very, very dark time. You felt like you were just trying to live your life and yet there was just so much hate out there. I was working at Haas when Prop 8 passed. Obama had just won his first election, and I was elated. But Prop 8 had passed, and I was destroyed by that. Having those two emotions at the same time was really hard to reconcile.

Considering all that you’ve worked for, including the eventual Supreme Court decision to strike down all same sex marriage bans in 2015, how much does the current political environment worry you?

I’m incredibly nervous. We won marriage, which was huge and what we’d been fighting for for years, but you can still be fired for being gay in 26 states. Brian Silva, the former executive director of Marriage Equality USA, calls it “lived equality.” He’d say, “If you can get married to your same-sex partner on a Sunday, but bring a picture from your wedding into work on Monday and get fired, we have a lot of work left to do.” While we were all incredibly thrilled that we gained the freedom to marry, there are still so many LGBT civil rights battles yet to be won. I’m worried and I don’t think marriage equality is a given anymore. Just like I’m worried about Roe v. Wade, as a former reproductive rights activist. I don’t think either of those hard won rights are safe in the current climate.

Kirsten Berzon and her father at her wedding.
Kirsten and her father celebrate at her wedding.

 

Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, on coming out to his devout family

right to left: Joe Castiglione and his partner, Seth, with Joe's parents on vacation in Key West.
(right to left): Joe Castiglione and his partner, Seth, with Joe’s parents on vacation in Key West.

In honor of Pride Month, we’re running a series of profiles and Q&As with members of the LGBTQ community at Haas. Follow the series throughout June.

In this interview, Evening & Weekend MBA student Joe Castiglione, a manager of strategic initiatives at healthcare accreditation  organization NCQA, talks about coming out to his devoutly Baptist family at age 22, how he found pride in the close-knit gay community in Washington D.C., and being out openly at Haas.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a few different places around Texas, all rural and suburban, but we moved around a lot. Lived a bit outside of Houston and I went to high school outside of Fort Worth, in a small town called Burleson. Kelly Clarkson, our hometown hero, went to our high school — the one claim to fame that we have! I went to college at UT in Austin, moving to Washington D.C. about 48 hours after I graduated. I spent six years in D.C. working in health policy before moving to the Bay Area for Haas.

Joe as a baby with his dad.
Joe Castiglione, who grew up in the Baptist church in Texas, celebrating a birthday with his dad.

What was your experience growing up?

I come from a devoutly religious family. I went to Baptist church every Sunday, church on Wednesdays, Youth Group on Wednesdays, the whole kit and caboodle. We even went for a brief period to a mega-church in Houston called Lakewood, where Joel Osteen is the pastor. I didn’t really have much of a safe environment where I could explore my queer identity until much later in life.

When did you first think that you might be gay?

I think the first time I knew something was when I was watching “Saved by the Bell” with my older sister, and I was like way more interested in the cute blond guy Zack Morris than in Kelly Kapowski, the cutest brunette of the 90s. I didn’t have any access to LGBTQ people or media in small-town Texas, so it was a while before I recognized what my interest in Zack Morris was all about.

So when did you finally come out?

I came out in 2012. I was 22, and it was shortly after moving to D.C. Despite my fear of coming out, and really every effort that I put forward to fight coming out, being in D.C. just yanked the gay right out of me. There’s such an amazingly vibrant queer community in D.C., and I am forever indebted to the queer community there for helping me discover a sense of self-love and pride in being a part of that community.

Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, (right) with his boyfriend, Seth, who helped Joe's father open up to their relationship.
Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, (right) with his boyfriend, Seth, who helped Joe’s father open up to their relationship.

How did your family take the news?

When I came out to my mom, she secretly told everyone in my family, really depriving me of what I think is for many queer folks a watershed moment in our lives. The rest of my family did struggle with it a lot at first as well. There was the “gay people go to Hell” thing, and the “gay people can’t have children” thing. The hardest was my dad, who took a couple of years to really come around. He started to open up in 2015 when I began dating my partner who I’m still with today. It was almost immediate as my partner is similar to my dad in some ways and has many of the personal qualities that he values. Fortunately, since 2012, we’ve come a super long way as family and today my mom is my fiercest supporter and a huge ally for the entire LGBTQ community. Today she’s one of the “Free Mom Hugs” women at Dallas Pride!

Joe during WeLaunch orientation has Haas.
“Being out at Haas was really my first opportunity to be openly queer in a classroom setting.” – Joe Castiglione, MBA 21.

Did your experience as a Q-identified person change at all when you came to Haas?

Being out at Haas was really my first opportunity to be openly queer in a classroom setting. I’ve discovered a new sense of pride and confidence in my queer identity by bringing that perspective into a classroom on things like management and leadership. It’s been a real pleasure to challenge myself to be more thoughtful and more nuanced in the way that I articulate my experience as a queer person in the workplace.

Do those experiences translate into the workplace?

Management and leadership are the big areas where this comes up at work—when we’re talking about how to interact with people, how to manage people individually, and manage to their expectations and things like that. What was so immediately clear to me is that Haas prides itself on intentionally creating environments that cultivate diversity, particularly in leadership. That’s a philosophy that I’ve really taken on since coming here–this desire to push that mission forward.

What’s a challenge that you’ve lived through that others who aren’t Q-identified might not be aware of?

For a long time, I was closeted and struggled with self love, but coming out and embracing my queer identity has been the biggest gift I could ever give myself. People who aren’t Q-identified may not see that, although I think it’s something everyone can identify with. It may sound cliché but because of this self love that I’ve found, I’m on this journey of learning how to treat people as you would treat yourself—considering who they are, and what that means for the way that you interact with them, and the way that they interact with the world.