by Amber Officer-Narvasa
photograph courtesy of Darializa Avila-Chevalier
Welcome to our senior interviews series, where we talk with the mentor-peer-elder-friends who have led our clubs and protests and movements and communities. If you would like to nominate a graduating senior to be interviewed, please fill out this form and we’ll contact them as soon as we can: http://tinyurl.com/reclaimqanda.
What have you learned about organizing/movement building during your time at Columbia?
I guess the straightforward answer is, never underestimate how much work it takes, and how much self-care that needs to happen in the process for there to be any kind of successful movement-building. Collaboration is actually so important, because if you are not working together, there leaves no room for that kind of self-care, and then everyone just gets burnt out really quickly. So, make sure that whenever you go into a movement, you have not just the moral support, but also the physical support of other people, because that labor is so taxing, that someone needs to be there to pick it up when you get really exhausted.
I also think it’s really important to be very aware of who’s doing labor in these movements. Oftentimes women of color bear the brunt of the labor, be that physical, mental, emotional labor, in these movements, and that weight really does need to be distributed evenly. And sadly, too often it’s not. And that’s with any movement I’ve been a part of, I’ve noticed the same pattern. That’s not to say that these movements haven’t been great, or that they haven’t been something that I’ve been so proud to be a part of, but it is something to be aware of, especially how it affects you and your body and your mental health.
What have been your experiences finding and building community here?
I think it’s different for everyone…mine has been kind of a roller coaster, in terms of moving into spaces, and moving out of spaces, and then just finding spaces where I feel like I could freely express myself. I decided my sophomore year that I didn’t want to be separated from some of the people I’d lived with, and that I wanted more of a community of women, so I joined a sorority, realized that was awful. Not because sororities themselves are awful, but because it just wasn’t a radical space that I needed to be around. I don’t regret it..and I acknowledge that those spaces are very important for so many people, but they’re not what I needed. And what I needed was like a radical space for people of color…and so while I was looking for a space that was about women, I wanted a space that was more centered around women of color, and their needs.
I had one foot in each of these spaces at the same time, and so my transition was just kind of [about] where I felt most comfortable, and where I felt happiest.
Favorite/most radical professor(s)?
I loved Rhoda Kanaaneh, she was my Anthropology of Palestine professor, and she is just so brilliant and so kind and so patient with where everyone was at in their learning, but yet, always made sure that we were being challenged. And to this day, we still talk every now and then, and she’s just such an amazing professor.
I also loved Joseph Massad. He intimidates me in so many ways because he’s just an incredible person, but I also find his personality really funny and he’s quite a character. I’m taking Palestinan-Israeli Politics and Society right now, and I also took Contemporary Arab Cultures with him.
Who else? I was just taking a class on Afro-Latin America with Frank Guridy, he’s new here. He’s the kind of professor who will sit there and have a conversation with you, and push you to think more deeply about the readings, but then all of a sudden he’ll say the most radical thing, like as a side-note, and he doesn’t think twice about it.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.