This post is the third installment of my “Where are they now?” series, a collection of conversations with former Oberlin bloggers about their first years as Oberlin alumni. See my first post with Kira and my second post with Teague.
Hanne (she/her) is originally from San Francisco, CA (unceded Ohlone land). At Oberlin, she was a Comparative American Studies major and a Gender, Feminist and Sexuality Studies minor. Outside of her studies, Hanne was a music booker at the Cat in the Cream, a poet in OSLAM, an HIV Peer Tester, and was involved in the Oberlin Bystanders Initiative and Student Senate.
After graduating, she is back in San Francisco and after working for a documentary filmmaker and a farmer’s market, she’s found her place at a non-profit organization serving unhoused and housing-insecure LGBT+ youth.
R: Hey! It’s so good to see your face!
H: It’s good to see your face!!! Do you want to start this interview? (laughs)
R: Yeah! I guess to start, tell me a little bit about where you’ve been working and what you’ve been doing since graduating?
H: Well, I graduated last year into a world without a pandemic, which was a huge privilege. Then, I moved home and during the summer I interned with a documentary filmmaker from UC Davis, who was graduate-school besties with Rian Brown-Orso, my Oberlin cinema studies teacher who I loved so dearly. She was working on a documentary about her Little People community that ties together ideas of self-portraiture and belonging in Little People and disability communities, as well as the political-medical interventionism measures and eugenics history that is really scarily tied to the oppression of Little People. We actually got to film at the Little People of America Convention, which was in San Francisco during Pride!
In the second half of the summer, I just got a job at the farmer’s market and relaxed, went to the river a lot with my friends and just chilled out. That was really lovely. Toward the end of the summer, I was thinking about what was next so I did a weeklong climate justice community organizing training called SPROG … It was kind of a random thing because I wasn’t that involved in climate justice stuff at Oberlin … but I saw that a badass Oberlin alum had done it and it ended up being so incredible.
I got connected with so many badass anarchist activists in the Bay Area who are really throwing down for the revolution. It was really inspiring and exciting and it felt like I was starting to get roots down in the Bay Area again.
Then I started applying for jobs, and I ended up getting an offer from the first job I applied to! It was for a non-profit in D.C. When I first heard about the job, I was really down with what they were doing but as I found out more about their financials and some of their political stances, it was disconcerting. So, when they offered me the job, I had an inner-turmoil moment. I had been offered this really fancy job at a non-profit in D.C., maybe I should go for it, and the other side was like: I have values! (laughs). Do I actually stand for something or no? (we both laugh again). It was very stressful!
R: That sounds stressful! I think trying to balance your personal values by trying to enter the career world is challenging. Kira and I actually talked about this! She didn’t want to compromise her values [in a career setting]. It’s a very real thing.
H: They even flew me out and showed me their glitzy building, so it was kind of wild. But, as many of my friends were kind to remind me, I was so privileged to be in a position where I had a safety net and could decide not to take a job based on my values. Like, if I’m in the 1% of people who actually get to decide whether or not I’m living in alignment with the values that get me this paycheck, I should. So, I declined the D.C. job. I applied for a couple of other positions, one of them at the LGBT Center here, which I got!
The LGBT Center is a big community center and non-profit in San Francisco. I work in the youth program and in our community drop-in space. We have art supplies and hot meals and resource navigation. A lot of the youth we serve are housing-unstable or living on the street, so they come in for a safe respite and to find community with other queer and trans folks, but a lot of people also come in for assistance with housing, getting signed up for food stamps or Medicare.
I run events and community programming and do a lot of crisis de-escalation and peer support. We also have a mental health specialist who provides free counseling for young queer and trans folks. We also have a program called Host Homes that links housing-insecure or unhoused youth with families who can host them for up to a year.
R: Wow! That’s amazing! What an incredible resource. That host program sounds really amazing. It’s really awesome that there are these alternate channels [of care/aid].
H: It’s a small, small pilot program. The really oppressive and violent anti-homelessness sentiment is real in San Francisco. It’s definitely been rough during the pandemic because these young people moved in a week before we went into quarantine, so it hasn’t been an easy situation at all.
R: How have you guys adapted to working in the pandemic?
H: I’m not gonna lie, it’s been really hard. We run a drop-in space, so we don’t know the next time it will be safe for us to operate. What has been really good is leaning on the community partnerships we have with other agencies who serve the same demographics. I’ve been focusing on coordinating logistics for crisis response supplies, street hygiene, food, camping gear, gift cards, etc. to other agencies who do have distribution capacity. So just making sure that even if our doors aren’t open, our youth have access to the services they need. It’s been really messy and really hard.
R: That sounds really hard.
H: We’re in a shitty moment of budgets getting rebuilt due to COVID … even in the last week, we found out that 40 of our bus lines are going to get cut.
R: Yes! I heard about that! Of all the things to cut, why?!
H: Oh, I can think of a department that has way too much money … [SFPD] .. .maybe they should not have that money and we should use it for buses that get people where they need to go.
R: (sarcastically) I don’t know, Hanne, that’s like, a little too radical for me.
H: (groans). Ugh! It’s just so frustrating.
R: I’ve been thinking more recently about how the pandemic impacts people who normally have access to aid and services of all different kinds. The example in my mind is the camp I worked at last summer for kids with mental illnesses ... which isn’t happening this summer. For a lot of those kids, that camp is their only option and a lot of them come from precarious home situations. I’ve been thinking about them a lot.
H: I was having a conversation with my friend, who’s also an Oberlin alum, and how it’s really upsetting that the questions right now are “Do we open and hurt everyone, or do we close and continue to hurt everyone?” and not “How are we moving the military or police budget to actually supporting families and schools?” (laughs). We’re asking the wrong questions, people!
R: This whole situation has, I think, laid bare so many problems that already existed. It’s not like these issues didn’t exist before, they’ve been exacerbated and made visible by the pandemic, and people are forced to confront realities in this country. It’s such an intense moment. I keep thinking about someday if I have kids and they ask me about 2020. Our generation has gone through so much in our college years! It’s such a historical moment we’re living.
H: I keep thinking if this doesn’t turn people against capitalism and policing and prisons, what will? Straight up all the people in power are like “Sacrifice your grandma, I gotta get to KFC!” (laughs). It’s like, we live like this!
Well, I can tell you about another thing that I’ve been involved in this year that has given me a lot of joy. One of my goals for this past year was to find my political home. I’m a very excited person and have a lot of places I like to dip my toe into and care about, but I haven’t been the best about organizing around one single thing.
R: I feel that, I get too overwhelmed! I feel like there are too many things to care about that I don’t know where to focus my energy.
H: Totally! So, my goal was to find a political home and corral my energy. And I did find one! Which is so amazing! It’s a group called “Fatties Against Fascism.”
R: Oh my GOD! amazing!
H: It’s an amazing, amazing group of people. They organize fat people around fat liberation, particularly trying to understand how fat people and fat liberation fit into other social movements and how we can be in solidarity with them… Recently I’ve been working on a campaign called “No Body is Disposable” which links fat liberation and prison abolition and talks about how the eugenicist care protocols for COVID really target fat, Black, disabled, low-income people ... it really feels like my niche, I’m not gonna lie (laughs)!
R: Yes, I was going to say it really sounds like the perfect place for you (laughs)! Wow, that’s really awesome.
H: One of the first actions I went to last summer was a…Fatties Against ICE [event]. And it’s really incredible to meet all these radical fat people who are not at all oriented around body positivity, that is not what we’re building towards! It’s not about how we see ourselves in the mirror, it’s about structural oppression and racism and imperialism and diet culture (laughs). It’s very intergenerational too. We start each meeting with somatic exercises to appreciate the power and wisdom our fat bodies hold. We do exercises where we imagine our line of fat bodies at a protest and how hard it would be for cops to move us…
R: Wow, TRUE! Amazing! That makes me so happy. It sounds like you’ve really found or made communities for yourself.
H: I’ve been trying.
R: You’ve been succeeding!
H: Aww, thank you! It’s been a really exciting year in a lot of ways. The non-profit industrial complex will beat you DOWN and make you really sad and depressed, so it’s really important to find community outside of it (laughs). Literally crucial to maintain your joy! That’s definitely been a focus this past year.
Do you mind discussing something kind of controversial in this post?
H: Speaking obviously from my own opinions and vantage point here - but I’m really frustrated with Oberlin for what they are doing to their union workers [for information about this, please see the college’s official statement and an article written by Oberlin students]. It’s appalling, and amoral, and the fact that so many people are going to be losing health insurance and consistent income during a pandemic after they had to clean up after Oberlin students who left because they were given like, two days’ notice? Man. What has been powerful though is seeing students organize so quickly in solidarity with affected workers. SLAC (Student Labor Action Coalition) and Oberlin Against Austerity have been doing really great work lifting up voices of people who are affected by the changes. I really disagree with the media story the college has officially put out, but am really proud of all the folks who are the most vulnerable who are fighting so hard. It’s also been amazing to see our alumni network spring into action to support Oberlin staffers.
R: Those events were a hard thing to watch from afar when I wasn’t in the country. But it was really encouraging in some ways because I saw the speed at which my fellow student body organized to support the union workers and include them in the conversation while putting them at the forefront. But obviously it was disheartening too, and if I had been on campus I would’ve wanted to go to those demonstrations. When I was going abroad I was excited to have a new experience but also because I was starting to feel a little cynical about certain aspects of Oberlin…but I feel like being away for so long, I have a hard time remembering what it’s even like being an Oberlin student on campus. I’ve seen a lot of good things happen while I’ve been away, like how the college has handled its COVID plan. But on the other hand, there’s this stuff with the union-busting, which is hard to see because the student body cares a lot. And when the administration of the institution isn’t reflecting the values that supposedly the school stands for, that’s a really hard situation as a student and I can imagine, as an alum too.
H: My love for Obies most impacted by these structural harms runs so deep. It’s a really tough, smart, brave community of people leading us all in this work.
R: Yes, absolutely.
H: Also, I’m so happy to have a conversation with any Obie about post-grad stuff or the non-profit world. I felt a lot of times as a humanities person nothing I did would be seen as “hard skills,” but actually it was all the projects I cared about the most that was actually relevant to me trying to find work. So, yeah, I’m happy to chat!
R: That’s great! This has been a moment where I’ve been thinking about my future a lot, kind of like what you were saying, thinking about my values and trying to find a path that aligns with that. I want to be doing mental health care, and there are a lot of ways to get there. Something I’ve learned while at Oberlin is…that societal and structural issues impact mental health, and anything that ignores that is a big no-no for me…a big Eureka moment was when I learned about historical trauma in indigenous communities during my second-year winter term… I think because this is a very specific moment in time where a lot of learning and reflection is happening, I’m thinking about how I can possibly include what I think is important into the work I’m doing in the future.
H: For me, when asking those same questions about my place in this wild, wild world, is that my work feels like one giant thing, and my paid work is only one slice of the orange. My job is not my life, and my job doesn’t necessarily feel like my work either. My values and the people I have relationships with and the movements I want to be a part of, and the world I want to build, that is my work. And everyone has to get paid, so it’s important to live as aligned with your values as you can in paid work, but that’s not all your work!
I was doing something earlier this year that felt really good. I had noticed a growing stack of books on my bedside table that I was not reading, and feeling like I missed shared learning spaces, so I just started writing myself a syllabus month-by-month (laughs)… So I gave myself little goals…like commit to going to one action that’s aligned with the politics of this book, and that felt really good, and a cool way to ease into my life-learning outside of academia, because I don’t know if I’m going to grad school, but I want to keep reading and learning.
I think it’s just important to remember that you have options and that your life is so much more than your paid work. And the structural work you want to do is so crucial, and if that ends up taking up more of your energy and your heart than the work you do to get your rent paid, that’s fine! Something I felt that I needed to hear as a senior is that you gotta keep checking your ego and checking your desire for prestige because those things are just deeply rooted in white supremacy! (I laugh) It’s the truth! And that’s not our work! Our work is to abolish that legacy and build something so much better that’s rooted in mutual care. That’s my offering.
R: That’s a great offering!
H: I’m throwing little nuggets at you, I’m excited to blog again!
R: Oh, I will take ALL the nuggets, I will take all of them (Hanne laughs). I wanted to ask, are you still doing poetry things?
H: Yeah! I actually had a show in Berkeley last summer with my friend. We had a venue, and each did half the show. A bunch of people came, so that was very exciting. I’ve read at some open mics…and when the pandemic hit, I was feeling really sad, so I started hosting some workshops… I’ve been really enjoying that. And honestly, I think my poetry practice right now is writing letters through the pandemic! Snail Mail has been my artistic medium.
R: I’ve been writing letters too!
H: Omg, Ruth! Do you want to be my pen pal?
H: I hope you are able to create lots of spaces for reflection and connection and ritual this year, It will be so important in keeping you tethered and rooted in some practices of belonging that will be so disrupted.
R: Yeah, that’s the goal. I want to do something regular with my housemates… We’re trying to get excited. I have to re-register for all my courses… Since I learned how to relax in these months, I’m thinking about how I can re-do my schedule to be less busy…
H: YES! That is the KEY to Oberlin success … don’t just overload yourself because you think it makes you look cool! It doesn’t!
R: Yes! It’s so bad. I really dislike the sometimes-toxic Oberlin busy-ness culture, and I definitely learned that lesson… I’m gonna try to not do too much because I do want to have a good time and enjoy living with my friends.
H: Also, on a health-related note, stress is so bad for your immune system! So, take care of yourself! But I’m proud of you, that’s awesome and really, really good.
R: This has been a lovely talk!
H: Well thank you so much, this was lovely. It was so good to see you. Take care. I will send you a letter!
R: Ok great, I am looking forward to receiving it! Bye, Hanne!
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