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Geralyn Williams, Program Coordinator in the Pace Center for Civic Engagement
Which identities are you most proud of?
There are so many facets of myself that I am proud of, it is hard to pick. I have to say that being a Black queer woman is one of the most wonderful things I am. I wouldn’t change that for anything in world. Being all these things means that the structures of this world weren’t made to hold me, weren’t made to work for me, but I don’t need them to hold me (back) and I make things work for myself. These identities connect me to the most loving, radical and liberatory communities. As I continue to grow and become who I’m meant to be I am excited for the ways those identities will manifest in my life.
What kind of household/family did you grow up in and how did this impact your identities?
I come from a big family. I am one of four kids, my mom is one of six, and my dad is one of seven. We are all New Jersey folks and tight-knit. This means there are lots of siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins to go around. It also means that I’ve had a million possibility models to learn from and to inspire me. My parents have made sure that we are connected to family as far back as possible. They have instilled in me and my siblings a pride in our Blackness and heritage. My father’s family is centered around my grandmother, our departed matriarch and my namesake, who was an educator, caregiver, and so much more.
My sister, cousins, and aunts all use the hashtag #WilliamsWomen to denote our joy, accomplishments, and journeys. I come from a long line of public servants and community leaders. They are what keeps me on track to make change through community and education.
My family has always been an anchor and support for me. We have different personalities and a variety of interests. I’m the first daughter and the third oldest (second youngest depending on how you view it). They have always been there for me. When I went to the other side of the country for grad school they didn’t mind the frequent phone calls and 3 hour time difference. When I dealt with unemployment for over a year they were my cheerleaders, my solace, and my accountability system. When I came out to them all, they doubled down on their love for me. Even when they didn’t quite understand or were afraid of what the world might do that love shown through.
How do these identities impact you and your work at Princeton?
My identities help me connect with my colleagues, students, and local community. My hope is always to build relationships and community so when I connect to others through hairstyles, being a Jersey girl, TV shows, common values, and fighting for equity and justice; I know that I’m doing my work and hopefully supporting others in theirs. Being a Black queer woman also makes me stand out within the institution because higher education is still working to match the representation seen in student populations. It can be scary at times, but I hope standing out serves my students and community well, more than anything else.
Reflecting on your identities and taking into account what you learned from the Campus Life diversity and anti-racism training, how has your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion shifted/changed?
My understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion hasn’t changed much. I appreciate what the recent trainings as a division and departments have brought out in many work spaces. I believe they shined a light on where more work is needed and have encouraged a deeper sustained commitment to justice and equity. It may be painful, awkward, and difficult, but we must do this if we want to create transparent, healthy and engaging spaces for students and our communities. My hope is that we stay accountable to the statements of this past summer both internally and externally. We have a lot of work to do. Equity and justice require consistent practice and action.
In closing, we invite you to share a self-reflection that captures how the recent events around racial injustice have had an impact on the work that you do in your role with Campus Life.
One thing that I’ve taken from living during this pandemic and living in this society where George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and so many other Black people just like me, my friends and family can be murdered and see no justice or peace is that I MUST take up space. Society has socialized me to be very careful with my presence through dehumanizing norms like, “you should be quiet and polite,” “don’t talk too loud or get upset,” “you’re too young to do/say/ask for that,”. This summer I decided to EXPAND where norms tell me I should shrink. I decided to take the space I deserve and hope that others see they can take space too.
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