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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Aggie recognizes influential women in the UC Davis community

Three women share their proudest career moments, inspiration and hopes for future generations

By ALINA ISSAKHANIAN — features@theaggie.org


In honor of Women’s History Month which ended on April 1, The California Aggie interviewed a few of the many women who have attended UC Davis and gone on to make great impacts in their careers and personal lives. Beth Rose Middleton Manning, Andrea Gaytan and Julie Sze discuss their accomplishments, current projects and offer wisdom to young women everywhere. 


Beth Rose Middleton Manning — Native American studies professor and associate director of climate and environmental justice for UC Davis’s Institute of the Environment


As an undergraduate student at UC Davis from 1997 to 2001, Beth Rose Middleton Manning studied nature and culture and explored her interests in the environment, landscape stewardship and the connections between communities and cultures. After graduating in 2001, Middleton Manning went to work for the Sierra Institute for Community Environment in Taylorsville, CA. She earned a Ph.D. in environmental science policy and management at UC Berkeley in 2008 and completed her post doctorate in environmental policy and management at UC Davis in 2010. Since then, she has been a faculty member in the Native American studies department at UC Davis.

Middleton Manning said that her passion for the environment and justice as well as her background encouraged her current focus on native environmental policy, activism, coloniality of power, indigeneity, community development, political ecology and participatory methodology. 

“I grew up in a rural area of the central Sierra,” Middleton Manning said. “I grew up without electricity. My father’s family is Afro Caribbean and my mother’s family is Eastern European Jews. They actually met at a big-time California native event, but neither of them are Native Americans. They moved to the Sierra foothills, which is where I grew up. I spent a lot of time outside, and I was also one of the very few people of color in that area, so I think both those experiences of really feeling close to the environment and also being aware of racism pushed me toward my current focus.” 

Middelton Manning attributes her passion for her work to her love of the land and of people, as well as her desire to address hidden injustices in our communities and environment. She said that she works to promote and positively impact the health and healing of human beings, landscapes and waterscapes. 

Middleton Manning teaches NAS 165, Keepers of the Flame, a course in the Native American studies department that focuses on cultural burning as a land care technique, land stewardship and land restoration strategies practiced around the world by Indigenous peoples — specifically those that were subject to colonial suppression and oppression. With her class, she meets with native tribes to learn more about their practices using fire, their restoration of plants and soil, their preservation and work tending gardens and other traditions that help create a connection between communities and the environment. 

“I love being out, hands on the land with people and learning from one another and finding that shared space of connection that’s rooted in caring for our places and caring for our communities,” Middleton Manning said. “And at the same time, I’m really aware of the injustices that have led to the exclusion of people from being able to care for their homelands, so a lot of my work is geared toward looking at land rematriation and repatriation for this bringing back this type of traditional stewardship that can be done and in a way that includes broader community members also.”

Middleton Manning’s book “Trust in the Land” also focuses on conservation easements and land trust structures to improve access, stewardship and protection of culturally important places by Native people and how people can use these cultivation tools for cultural conservation and justice goals. 

“I always just hope that my work is useful in bringing parties together to see where they have common ground, to accomplish something that’s healthy for communities and the environment,” Middleton Manning said. 

Currently, Middleton Manning is working on a dam removal project called Removing Dams and Restoring Tribal Homelands Without One. This initiative specifically focuses on tribal leadership and its role in dam removals that have been supported by the Open rivers Fund and the resources legacy farm. She hopes that through her work and writing, she can help get water back in some of the many watersheds that have been dewatered for hydro development. 

Middleton Manning is also working with the Environmental Health Sciences Center and faculty in Environmental Engineering on the Yurok tribe environmental program. This project studies contaminants in the Klamath river and its tributaries in Oregon, examining the water and soils in the old timber processing sites within the Yurok reservation to assess the water quality and potentially dangerous contaminants that have been allowed to enter the water stream. 

“This project to me is really focused on responding to a need identified by the community and supporting tribal health,” Middleton Manning said. “I like the idea of bringing resources we have at the university to help analyze [an] ordinarily not necessarily accessible [process]. I am excited about this project because I am able to assist in responding to a question in the community, and then a native nation will use that information to advocate for and support community health.”

In addition to being a leader in her career, Middleton Manning is also a mother, and hopes that, in the future, more resources will be available for mothers who work in all fields to help them balance these roles. She looks back on all of her female role models, her mother, her grandmother, women in academia, as well as the native women she works with every day and appreciates them for their advice, encouragement, support, and inspiration.

“Sometimes you can’t do it all — you can’t be publishing all the time and also be the best parent and also serve on budget committees and be the best mentor,” Middleton Manning said. “Many of us really push ourselves really hard to be perfectionists, and you kind of have to give yourself that grace […] Just be aware of that ebb and flow of what you can do, because I think there’s a lot of pressure to be the best in all areas — research, teaching service, collaborations, parenting. You have to find that balance, knowing that you can’t always be the best in all the areas. There’s just one of you.”


Andrea Gaytan — founding director of AB540 and Undocumented Students Center at UC Davis


Andrea Gaytan is the Dean of the Davis Center of Sacramento City College and the founding director of the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis.

Gaytan graduated from UC Davis in 1992 with a master’s degree in sociology. In 2009, she returned to UC Davis to serve as the assistant director of the Cross Cultural Center, founding the undocomunted students center on campus in 2013. She credited the political change happening on state and federal levels at that time, as well as strong student leadership on campus, for helping make that happen.

“That was a really exciting time to see students working toward defining goals and talking to other campus constituencies and really advocating to create a center dedicated to serving undocumented students,” Gaytan said. “There were exciting things happening on a state and national level as well around that time with the implementation of the California Dream Act and the rollout of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. Those two things sort of dovetail with the student advocacy for a center on our campus. […] It was really an opportune time for that advocacy.”

Gaytan explained that when setting up the undocumented students center, also called the AB540 and Undocumented Students Center, she wanted to create a space where those who utilized the center could feel at home on campus and have all the resources they may need. She said that the students were her biggest motivation throughout the center creation process. 

“It was really important for me to be quiet and listen and to really include students in decision-making processes about what the center should be, and how we would operate,” Gaytan said. “I tried my best to honor that and to make space for students to design the center to be the space they wanted it to be.”

Gaytan said that serving as the Director of the AB540 and Undocumented Students Center has been her proudest moment in her career. 

“I think being able to present and share the information of how the center was created, the sorts of programs that we were able to offer,” Gaytan said. “Also being able to co-present with our students. […] That was really exciting to be able to share that experience alongside students and to see them presenting on their own about the work that they’ve been doing based on the programs we created. It was also just knowing that the work that we did at the center has a life-changing impact for students.”

Gaytan currently works with UC Davis and Sacramento City College on the California volunteer service grants project. She said that this project will connect students to volunteer opportunities with different nonprofit and public agencies in the sustainability, basic needs and K-12 education sectors. For their work, students would receive living stipends. Gaytan said that working on this project feels like a culminating moment in her career.

“There’s also a large percentage of AB540 students that are taken into account for this as well,” Gaytan said. “That feels very full circle for me, in terms of continuing to support and advocate for the AB540 undocumented student community and provide continued professional development opportunities, as well as supporting our local communities in Sacramento and Yolo counties. We’re in the planning phase right now, but implementation will start in the fall quarter.”


Julie Sze — American studies professor and founding director of the Environmental Justice Project


Julie Sze, a professor of American Studies at UC Davis for 19 years as well as an environmental justice researcher and the founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for UC Davis’ Institute for the Environment, said that her interest in environmental justice was spurred by an undergraduate course she took at UC Berkeley on race, poverty and the environment. 

“I was so angry when I learned about everything that I didn’t learn before,” Sze said. “I’m angry at racism and I’m angry at the killing of Indigenous people and I’m angry at the exploitation of the land. What motivates me is to know that we have to be outraged, but we can’t be nihilistic. […] I try to understand how people feel and understand my own feelings about the state of the world and go someplace else within.”

The Environmental Justice Project builds partnerships with Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, industry leaders, local government and multidisciplinary researchers to inform public policy and prepare students to conduct research and address environmental justice. 

Using this strong passion as motivation, Professor Sze has been researching in the field of environmental justice for many years. Currently, Sze is writing “Climate Justice as Freedom,” a book that discusses climate justice as a freedom struggle. She hopes that this book will be a way to educate others on climate justice movements and motivate people to get involved in the climate justice movement. She has previously written “Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger”, in which she discusses what she calls “non-naive, radical hope,” which she feels is necessary when facing these complicated issues.

“What I want to do through my writing is to cultivate that culture of non-naive radicalism,” Sze said. “We have to be radical, we have to be hopeful, we have to believe that change is possible. We have a lot of information, but where do we go from knowing that these problems exist to motivating people to do something about it — not to just be overwhelmed.”

Sze said that a lot of the women in the environmental justice movement, as well as those bringing awareness to Asian American communities are role models for her. 

“Environmental justice is a feminist movement,” Sze said. “The fight for environmental justice is led by women. There’s so much work to be done, and these movements and these women have been working for their whole lives. All I can do is try to contribute and support and build. That’s all that I want to do for the rest of my life.”


Written by: Alina Issakhanian — features@theaggie.org



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