After a Semester with USF in DC

 

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Jacqueline Garcia, Politics ’19, is a Newmark scholar as well as a recipient of the Betty L. Blakley scholarship

USF in D.C.—what an experience! On many levels and in ways I didn’t expect, the semester I spent in Washington D.C. changed me. I’ve always had an interest in public service and the common good; one of that typical twenty-something-year-old, “change the world” mentalities. The McCarthy center gave me the opportunity to put my class teachings and my personal aspirations into practice. Experience is truly the best teacher.

During my USF in DC experience, I interned at the National Immigration Forum (NIF), a non-profit advocacy group pushing for fair immigration reform. I was the Field and Advocacy intern for the organization’s Bible, Badges, and Business (BBB) program.  This experience was extremely valuable. First, it gave me insight in regards to what an advocacy group looks like from the inside. I learned the tactics and strategies used to keep members informed and also how to include members in the process of action planning. Second, I acquired new skills while working at the NIF. In particular, I learned to use different software systems like Salesforce and Cision. Lastly, the BBB program is targeted at moderate to conservative-leaning groups. As a native Californian, some of the views these groups hold were foreign to me. At the NIF, I was provided the opportunity to get out of my liberal bubble and worked with people who had opposing views to my own. What I learned about myself was that I am more tolerant than I thought and that my own views are subject to change. This experience gave me a new perspective of the world I live in and my place in it.

While in D.C. I tried to get out into the city as much as I could. It’s a dynamic place with a lot to see and even more to learn. Nearly 50% of the population in D.C. is African-American. Almost every Lyft or Uber driver I had was an immigrant from either Africa or Latin America. This city runs on the labor of these minority groups yet the administration right down the street ignores their needs. So, going to D.C. was a great learning experience and also a form of validation for myself.

As young people, we have ideas of who we want to be, but there are inevitably moments of doubt that we can actually accomplish those aspirations. D.C. allowed me to expel that doubt. It energized my ambitions to work with the immigrant community. I took part in protests with organizations like United We Dream. I was able to experience advocacy work first hand. I sat in on conference meetings, press conferences, and networking events where I learned about research. I learned about career paths I’d never heard of. Although there is no way I could give a definitive answer to the question of what I want to do post-graduation, I have a few ideas. The ideas I have now differ from the ideas I had before my semester in D.C.

However, I gained more than professional insight. I gained perspective about myself and my place in this world. Self-care and self-love were practices that I learned to implement in my life while in D.C. How could I assist others if I wasn’t taking care with myself? I did not expect to come back with so much personal growth under my belt. As a young woman, this experience helped me find my voice. I am beyond happy with my experience. It helped me zone in on possible career paths for myself. And more importantly, it has influenced my thoughts and motivations. I’m extremely grateful and proud of the person I have become after my USF in DC experience.

We Weren’t Born to Follow

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Trish Fontana was a former staffer for Leo T. McCarthy.  She has also worked for two California Lt. Governors, two Governors, two First Ladies and two State Senators. She continues to work in the State Capitol, currently for Senator Richard D. Roth, a retired Major Air Force General who represents Riverside.

This past weekend, I did what I do every Saturday morning.  I strapped on my running shoes, put on my favorite cap and plugged into my Apple Shuffle.  But this particular morning, I just couldn’t shake off the horrible news of the week.  The shootings, natural disasters, flu deaths and daily barrage of sexual harassment stories weighed heavily on my heart.

 And then Jon Bon Jovi’s powerful words penetrated my mind:

 “We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe.”

I started thinking about how do we hold onto what we believe in the face of so much sadness.  Sometimes there are just no answers.

I am proud to say that I am a public servant who works in the State Capitol.  Yes, that same Capitol building which has been overshadowed by the dark clouds of sexual harassment cases, corruption, and bribery.  But against all of that, I am still a big believer in the honor of public service.

It was over 30 years ago that I was a wide-eyed 19 year who at the age of 4 couldn’t speak a word of English when she started school.  I was fortunate to walk into the Office of Lt. Governor Leo T. McCarthy to begin an internship that would change my life forever.

Leo T. McCarthy, the T. stands for Tarcissus, a third-century Roman saint who worked on behalf of imprisoned Christians.  “Tarcissus got stoned to death for his efforts, McCarthy would say, and it reminded me of my days as Speaker.”

Now working in the Capitol can be extremely challenging but it can also be very rewarding. Leo McCarthy was a compassionate public servant who led by example that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

 He was passionate about advocating for seniors, the mentally ill and the poor but always with compassion, kindness, and ethics.  Sometimes his meetings could get highly charged and contentious but Leo McCarthy always tried to steer toward the road of higher reason.

I learned a phrase that has become my own personal mantra which is that “you should never mistake kindness for weakness.”

After retirement, he established the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, which is dedicated to inspiring and preparing students at the University of San Francisco to pursue lives and careers of ethical public service.

During my Capitol career, I have worked with many interns and Fellows who have gone on to pursue careers in public service.  One intern stands out and I will never forget him.

I met Joseph Schultz in 1997 when I was the intern coordinator for Lt. Governor Gray Davis.  Joseph was self-confident and had a strong commitment to public service for which he would later work in the Washington DC Governor’s Office.

We lost contact but one day I was standing on the first floor of the State Capitol when the elevator doors opened.  Out walked Joseph in his full Green Beret Captain uniform. I had no idea that he had enlisted and he just yelled my name and gave me the biggest hug.

I learned later that Joseph was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country during Operation Enduring Freedom where he was known for his leadership ability and steadfast friendship.  He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, the ultimate example of public service.

 Public service is the opportunity to make a difference.  It is putting the “we before me” in our daily lives.  Many interns have gone on to work with foster children, become teachers, coaches, attorneys, public officials, worked in public health and on environmental issues or joined the Peace Corps.

They are shining examples of what Leo McCarthy envisioned – people helping others for the common good.

And on that Saturday morning, Jon Bon Jovi continued singing and I followed right along:

“This road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry,
This road was paved by the winds of change
Walking beside the guilty and the innocent
How will you raise your hand when they call your name?”

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Former staffers of Leo T. McCarthy from left to right: Ed Manning, Trish Fontana (author), Betsy Butler and Ted Toppin

The Paths of Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars

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The Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) is a living-learning community that explores issues of diversity, inequality, social justice, and social change. Named after the late Esther Madríz, beloved USF professor of sociology who embodied the Ignatian ideals of education of the whole person as a means toward social justice, Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars examine and challenge these boundaries to gain a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The program approaches hip-hop through sociological frameworks to explore the role of poverty, globalization, immigration, racism, sexism, homophobia, unemployment, incarceration, and urban marginality. During winter break students participate in a transborder travel experience (previous destinations include: Cuba, New York City, Marseille, and more) to gain new perspectives on social problems and their solutions.

Below are excerpts from some of the EMDS Cohort 12’s reflections on their experience during fall and winter of this year:

Natalie Mills, Kinesiology ’20

We started our curriculum with learning about the sociology of hip-hop. I grew up with my papa rapping, “I said a hip-hop, hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop,” to me and my brother, making us giggle. Through the EMDS program, I soon discovered that songs like “Rapper’s Delight” were pivotal points in the history of hip-hop. We have learned about the influences from Barbados and Jamaica, and how Afrika Bambatta turned the practices of yard parties into one of the integral elements of hip-hop: djing. The history and art of the Bronx that emerged from the struggle of black and brown folks has inspired me. I also learned about the politics surrounding the art of graffiti, which opened my eyes to government’s systematic oppression of youth of color.  The art of hip-hop can be explained as a means of resistance and a loud voice of the struggle.

Chaniece Jefferson, Art History ’19

One particular reading, Reflection in Service Learning: Making Meaning in Experience, helped me and my fellow students begin a dialogue about cultural competence. My cohort has provided a space for me to see things in new perspectives and challenge ideas. An issue we have discussed thoroughly is around gentrification, and how we as college students can be seen as gentrifiers ourselves in San Francisco. One memorable event that I was able to attend was a showing of the documentary film Dolores We had the honor and privilege of meeting Dolores Huerta herself, and it was a life-changing experience. Meeting someone who has sacrificed so much for her activism shifted my way of thinking and made rethink the roles I’m in and how I could become more like her. Most importantly, it made me rethink about what I would like to do with my college education and what I want to do in life.

Isaac Baron, Politics ’20

For my community work, I’ve had the privilege of working with San Francisco Rising on the College for All campaign. This has been an experience that I felt allowed me to recognize the level of privilege I have as a student pursuing higher education. It has made me reflect on my experience back home in Santa Barbara, and the economic disparity and how that parallels the educational disparity as well. Many of the people I grew up with either did not finish high school or did not pursue an education beyond it, so the idea of holding an internship with a community organization while attending an institution of higher learning never really crossed my mind growing up. In this way, I feel that the program has allowed me to cross a border set in an economic class that I never thought I would cross. The campaign that we’re working on through San Francisco Rising would make public education through California public colleges and universities free by establishing a grant funded by a tax that would cover tuition costs for students. This would make higher education more accessible to those who see their personal economic situation as a barrier. 

Alegra Bauder, Fine Arts ’20

The experience we had traveling to New York and to Washington D.C. is one that I will always cherish. Meeting and engaging with all of the people and organizations was a privilege and enhanced what we had learned over the semester. At Howard University and One D.C., I saw how gentrification and urban renewal affects other communities outside of San Francisco. In New York, and especially in the Bronx, seeing everything we had learned about the culture and world of hip-hop came to life, and it was incredible. I think that going to different boroughs and communities within the city helped me to fully grasp the long-term effects of what we had studied, such as planned shrinkage and benign neglect. Seeing it first hand, it’s obvious that the injustices that occurred in neighborhoods there are still evident today. By engaging with other communities, my EMDS cohort has begun to better understand our own communities in San Francisco.

Check out the slideshow from Cohort 12’s trip to New York and Washington, D.C.:

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In D.C.’s Public Defender Service

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Vivienne Pismarov, Psychology ’19

This fall semester, through the USF in DC program, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Public Defender Service. Everyone working there is tasked with one job and one job only: do everything in your power to support your client. As an investigative intern, I request records, locate potential witnesses, serve subpoenas, canvass the scene of the crime, and more. Even though sometimes this role requires me to work late into the night and over the weekends, I’m honored to do this job because I believe every client deserves someone who is genuinely in their corner ready to fight against the giant criminal justice system. 

Working in the Special Litigation Division, we defend clients who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles and are now eligible under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act to have their sentences reduced or eliminated altogether. To be eligible for re- sentencing, individuals must have already spent 20 years or more in the prison system. These institutions often do not prioritize the rehabilitation of their inmates; instead, inmates are exposed to terrible living conditions, daily violence, racism and abuse. Such conditions make a transition back into society difficult and also make successful re-sentencing challenging.

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My first client, who I have spent most of my time in D.C. working with, was sentenced to life in prison when he was just sixteen years old after being misidentified as the perpetrator of a drive-by shooting that injured four teenagers in his own neighborhood. While there were witnesses and multiple examples of false testimonies to prove that our client was not at the scene of the crime and that the police involved in the case bribed witnesses to lie, my client has been imprisoned for the entirety of his adult life. This injustice astounds me. I have grown up with the privilege of having a supportive family and an education that has opened up infinite doors for me. Meanwhile an innocent young black man from the Southeast quadrant of D.C. has spent this same amount of time wrongly imprisoned and deprived of experiencing the world that he so desperately wants to be a part of again. Every day I come to work with a goal that one day this man will be able to enjoy a life of freedom.

We have witnesses who’ve confessed that they lied to the police. We have a solid alibi for our client. And we have proof that one of our client’s friends actually committed the crime. But while serving time in prison, our client was provoked by other inmates and was involved in a fight. Before he knew it, our client killed another man in prison.

From the bottom of my heart, I know that our client was not involved in the drive-by shooting that relegated him to a life in prison. However, I also cannot deny that a man in prison was killed at the hands of my client but I certainly believe that he would not have killed anyone if my client was never wrongfully convicted in the first place.

My client’s situation is not an anomaly. He had a great defense going for him and an amazing likelihood that he would be released from prison given the evidence that we had gathered in his favor. However, the prison system cultivated an environment where my client felt that he had to resort to murder just to live another day. Now, my client will likely continue living within the four walls that he has been living in for more than 20 years, while I have the world at my fingertips.

Given my client’s situation, I still will not give up fighting for his rehabilitation and release. Avis Buchanan, the Director of the Public Defender Service in D.C., emphasizes making a connection with a client and recognizing their humanity is required to successfully assist them in their defense. This is the challenge of the criminal justice system.

Avis Buchanan says that when you cannot see the humanity in your client, “that’s when you know it’s time to leave.” My time participating in the USF in D.C. program has taught me to never forget that everyone is human and deserving of someone being in their corner. While my internship is quickly coming to end, I’m not ready to leave and I’m not ready to stop fighting for the people who have been overlooked by society. When I leave this internship program at the Public Defender Service in D.C., I know that I will continue to advocate for people like my client who have been victimized by the prison system.

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On My First Year Of Grad School

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Jessica Lindquist, M.A., Public Affairs ’18

Last July I left my cushy job as an executive assistant at a financial technology company in Mid-Market to try something scary and exciting: graduate school.  I had been accepted into the Master of Public Affairs program at the University of San Francisco.  At my core, I knew it was time to take some risks and pursue the public policy career I had always dreamed about.

The first week of orientation was a whirlwind and admittedly I had a few moments of doubt, which I later realized is a classic stage of starting grad school. I found myself in a classroom of strangers feeling anxious about what the fall semester would bring. Yet, after a few weeks into the program, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I had adjusted to back to student life.

My favorite class of the semester was Applied American Politics taught by Professor Brian Weiner. Our small seminar provided us the space to have intense discussions, applying classic political literature to current events. The 2016 presidential campaign was a subject that we covered substantially in class and Professor Weiner wanted to afford us the opportunity to campaign in Nevada, the closest swing state to California. With a lot of time and coordination on his part, Professor Weiner was able to secure enough funding for anyone in the class who wanted to make the trip to Reno.

On an October afternoon I boarded a Greyhound bus with five of my classmates to persuade Nevadans to vote for the Hillary Clinton. Over the course of the weekend we door knocked in wet weather and unabashedly phone banked strangers. Many of the voters we spoke to were still undecided and it was insightful to talk through some of their concerns about the two candidates. Aside from the incredible campaign experience, the trip also turned my five classmates into five close friends. We spent time talking politics late into the night, swapped stories from the past, and discussed our dreams for the future. The bonds I made during the trip became even stronger when we were back in class.

A few weeks later on election night I watched in horror as Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red. I woke up November 9th puffy eyed and feeling absolutely distraught. My only solace was knowing that later in the day I would go to class and be able to commiserate with my fellow classmates, who I knew were equally devastated about the election results. Together we tried to process the fact that Donald Trump would become the forty-fifth president of our country. In the days and weeks that followed, my closest support group became my academic community .  

Winter break provided an opportunity to reset and reflect. I had time to think about the direction I wanted to take my graduate career. Over the last semester I noticed I kept being drawn to policy topics that were related to how our financial system negatively impacted the lives of low-income consumers. I had a revelation that I wanted to focus on consumer financial protection policy.  I finally had clarity about my policy interests, which gave me direction and purpose.

A few days before spring semester, I traveled to D.C. to attend the Women’s March. The day after the inauguration, I joined hundreds of thousands of people to protest the hateful and discriminatory values of the Trump Administration. The energy in the city was electric and as I marched alongside a few of my friends I began to feel resilient.  I saw so many different walks of life join together in solidarity for a common cause.  At the risk of sounding trite, it was one of most beautiful experiences I have had in my life and it made me feel recommitted to use my voice to stand up for justice and equality.

Spring semester felt different in several ways. I had more confidence as a student and I knew what level of effort was required to get the most out of my classes. The coursework was incredibly demanding and I spent even more time studying. However, each of my professors was incredibly supportive and made themselves available whenever I reached out to them with questions or guidance.

Urban Public Finance was a class that I looked forward to every single week. Ed Harrington was the San Francisco Controller for twenty years and he has an impressive level of knowledge about the inner workings of City Hall. He brought in many guest speakers from the City that spoke to our class on a range of topics including local budgets, economic development and municipal debt. Not only were the speakers experts in their field, they had an obvious deep commitment to public service.  After discussing career prospects with Ed, I became very interested in working at City Hall in the future.

By the middle of the semester my cohort began looking for internships.  Having a full coursework load, working part time, and trying to secure an internship placement all at the same time was daunting. However, my program made sure I felt supported throughout the entire process. Kevin Hickey, one of our faculty members, used his expansive network to connect me to my top choices. Our program manager, Kresten Froistad-Martin, provided coaching on how to navigate the interviews and assess what placements would be best suited for me. References from faculty like Ed Harrington and Professor Weiner helped me secure my top two choices for my summer internship: the Office of Financial Empowerment at City Hall and the California Reinvestment Coalition. The internship search highlighted to me the connections this program offers its students.

The last week of finals, I found myself in the same room as orientation with the group of strangers that over the course of year had become dear friends.  As each of my classmates presented on a research question that they had spent weeks preparing for our Research Methods final, I was struck by how much we each had evolved as students of public policy. My cohort has a diverse set of policy interests, and I’m grateful that I’m able to learn from them about issues that are outside of my focus. Their passion for social change and commitment to challenge the status quo has motivated me to work harder so that I can become a compassionate policymaker.  

People say graduate school is not what you expect, but it is everything you need. This insight has been true thus far in my own experience. In the pursuit of my graduate degree, I’ve deepened my knowledge of public policy, become more open to perspectives that differ from my own and feel a renewed sense of purpose.  I’m incredibly grateful for the strong support of the McCarthy Center, my graduate program, the dedicated faculty and my inspiring cohort. I’m looking forward to what the next year brings.

 

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Five Lessons from Community-Engaged Living and Learning

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Lupita Garcia

B.A. Sociology Major ’18 and triple minor in Criminal Justice, Public Service and Community Engagement, and Chican@-Latin@ Studies

When I started my USF career, I would not have imagined myself accomplishing everything that I have. Participating in the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars Living Learning Community and then the USF in DC program gave me many opportunities that have paid off in the end and have taught me valuable lessons that will continue to follow me as I continue to pursue my career. I am thankful to have found the professors, staff and now mentors through these programs. Through self reflection, thanks to EMDS who helped me strengthen this skill (shout out to my RA, ACE and EMDS roommates) I have listed the common lessons that I have learned through both these programs and how EMDS helped guide me to achieve in DC.

  1. Community Organizing is important wherever you go, whichever career path you take

Walking out of EMDS, I had a basic understanding of how to effectively organize communities as I knew the basics of campaigning. Through the full-time internship om USF in DC, I have been able to continue to strengthen my community organizing skills as my work requires me to work closely with communities and help empower the messages and their campaigns.

  1. “Crossing Borders and Discovering Home”

While this is a quote directly associated to EMDS, USF in DC continued to teach me the same lesson. EMDS pushed me to not only cross physical borders but also personal ones in the ways which challenged me to think about situations. I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; it is ultimately how a person learns. Living my entire life in the Bay Area, I only new how to picture home within the Bay. Landing in D.C .in August, I honestly wanted to go back home and be surrounded by the USF community I knew but I kept telling myself to discover home in D.C. Honestly, I did and it didn’t take too long . I found similarities between San Francisco and D.C. which helped with the initial discomfort of being in a new city on a new coast. Now I hope to return once I’m done with my undergraduate degress and potentially start my career here.

  1. Look at everything with an open mind

You may think you have a certain stance on an issue/topic but take the time and continue to hear other people’s opinion. You may never know what you may learn. Take the time to have intellectual conversations that push all parties involved to think critically about the issues you are discussing and see whether or not you gain something new. Don’t be afraid to change your perspective/opinion on something. The more knowledge you gain the better. Honestly it’s why the saying “with knowledge comes power” exist.

  1. Self reflect and take time for yourself

This is the one I struggle with the most to this day but have gotten better. Always find time for yourself and do the things that you want to do. I find that through this, I created goals that I never would have imagined creating for myself and this has lead me to the places I have gotten to today. When I have time for myself, I ask myself where in which areas I want to continue to grow and challenge myself, and tell myself failure in life is okay. We are human beings and this is how we learn. Self check-ins are a healthy and important part of self care.

Also, when you’re not feeling 100% percent well, take the day off, it helps you get better sooner. Just don’t take advantage of it.

  1. Follow your passions

You’re at your happiest when you are pursuing what you’re interested in. EMDS pushed me to follow my passions and continue to look for them and incorporate them wherever I go. In D.C., I made sure my passions would be integrated in my internship through the clients I work with at Revolution Messaging and I can truthfully say, I enjoy my job and what I do every day. Working with people who also pursue their passions through the work they do taught me that in order for me to be the best at my job, I need to love the work I do and not just achieve at the skills that come with the job, skills training will always be there but my passions will only be there if I seek them.

I could have not been where I am today if it were not for EMDS, the McCarthy Center and USF in DC guiding me to become the person I want to become. They have pushed and motivated me to become a version of myself that I did not know existed and am forever grateful for the opportunities I have been given.

 

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Apply for our USF in DC program for Spring and Fall 2017 at https://www.usfca.edu/mccarthy/programs/usf-washington-dc