Fostering Belonging Through Your Story with Jessica De Anda

March 9, 2022

Podcast Episode 7: Fostering Belonging Through Your Story

As the only Latina in a microbiology department dominated by white men, Jessica De Anda struggled to find empathetic staff that could meet her needs. This experience inspired Jessica to dedicate her career to uplifting students in higher education. 

As a program manager at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, she is  passionate about sharing her lived experience to help students harness their culture to pursue their aspirations.

There’s an aspect of belonging that comes from sharing your story. Sharing these stories creates that brave space that empowers others to share their experiences, to feel seen and heard, and to feel like they belong in the room.

Highlights from the podcast episode: 

Highlights from episode 7 of The Campfire Circle Podcast

Why Jessica’s parents changed her name 

Jessica was actually born “Yessica De Anda” but had her name legally changed to Jessica. Long story short, her brother had struggled so much throughout school because his teachers couldn’t say his name. They avoided calling on him and other students made fun of him. After he articulated that experience to their parents, they changed her name to be easier to say. 

She likes to share the story because it’s pertinent to the conversation of how much we have to assimilate to just be recognized. This experience, among others (like losing her accent) drove her passion and understanding of the student experience in higher education, and how difficult it can be to navigate just being yourself.  Her life experience informs the way she works with students and helps them to understand their strengths and identities.  

Sharing your cultural story with courage and vulnerability

Jessica hasn’t always been as comfortable with sharing her story, especially as a woman in a Latinx household. There was this idea or notion that she wasn’t supposed to tell her story because a man would be able to tell it for her. More specifically, white people share “her story” all the time in books and literature.

But when she went to college, she realized “wait … that isn’t my true story” and she became passionate about sharing her own narrative. One of the most powerful things about being Latinx is the telling of stories through oral history. She’s spent her entire life listening and participating in storytelling, exchanging chisme (gossip) in a light-hearted way.  She believes people don’t think they’re storytellers but they actually are. We all practice storytelling all the time. Knowing that can help you get used to hearing your own voice. 

How storytelling can impact lives

She interviewed a lot of [UC Berkeley] Haas alumni. So many of the students didn’t even know there were other Latinx students. They wanted to get access to that list because it can be so hard to navigate spaces of higher education without seeing people who look like you.  So, she brings up different people’s stories, uplifts/amplifies them for exposure, and helps people realize they’re not alone. 

Finding mentors that can guide you through your journey

When Jessica enters a space and looks at the landscape, she asks herself, “How do I connect with the communities that are really doing the work that I’m interested in – that are trying to create a sense of belonging – and connect with them?” 

When she entered UC Berkeley, she knew there were cool organizations doing the work that she wanted to be part of. She started connecting with folks in those leadership roles, which helped her come into the roles she’s in now including the Chair of Diversity of Alianza and being part of the Staff Advisory Committee. They’re already doing the work of uplifting people and fostering belonging, so it’s a natural fit. 

One of her mentors is the Chief of Staff for the executive vice provost, who started the Cal Women’s Network that uplifts women within UC Berkeley. So, finding mentors is about identifying people that speak to you and not being afraid to ask like, “Hey, can we get coffee? Or can we connect over Zoom?” Just approach them. 

How to decide what to say “yes” to as your visibility grows 

It goes back to Jessica’s mentors and executive coach. It’s great to bounce ideas off of them to clarify what she’s stuck on. It’s also important that every opportunity is in line with her values and goals. If it’s outside of that, she’s learned to let those opportunities go. But again, they’re not just decisions made internally – she always seeks advice from mentors. 

She seeks out mentors because they’re great and what they’re great at – whether it’s negotiation, networking, or something else she wants more expertise in. 

How we can take off our professional masks to foster belonging 

One of the secrets of higher education is that you can really engage with the faculty, who are world-renowned folks in their individual expertise. That can be scary. It can feel unsafe, like “Oh shoot, I’m in an all-white space.” Often as people of color, the higher you go in your career, you’re going to be the “only.” You’re going to be in spaces that are isolating so build your community as you go, so you don’t feel so alone. 

Jessica took a course on negotiation and learned about the concept of “shadow negotiation.” That’s a fancy way of saying have one on ones with people you admire. Approach people, build relationships and grow trust so that later on, you can really feel connected. Because you ARE part of the community. 

Becoming a confident public speaker

The trick to become a confident public speaker is to practice. It’s important because speaking is an opportunity to teach and transmit knowledge. Ongoing practice helped Jessica own her own voice and become a better teacher, as well. 

You have to learn to engage, you have to learn to enunciate … and it can be a lot of fun! Jessica has a lot of workshops in her head that can be developed into actual content – which is exciting. (You probably do too!) 

So, for example, if you’re in an employee resource group, volunteer to do a workshop in whatever skill you have. Let’s say you just learned about investing. Don’t be shy to do an investment workshop. You don’t have to know every single thing; you can just convene the space. Jessica encourages everybody to just try and experiment with it. There may be times you fail – but it’s all part of the process. 

Jessica’s big vision for the future

Jessica’s lens has always been higher education. It’s how she found her path out of poverty, and she wishes to have more people on her education journey that knew how it felt to just struggle. The assumption can’t be that students always have access to a computer or internet access. The assumption shouldn’t be that they’re able to make it to class because they have reliable transportation.

She has made it a point to be there for students and be very vocal about her experiences so nobody feels alone. Her vision, mission, and purpose are to let students know they belong in higher ed. She encourages them to tell their stories, own it, and learn to not feel ashamed by it. 

She wants to transmit her knowledge to uplift and empower students of color, in particular because she knows how hard it is to navigate higher ed – especially spaces where there aren’t many people of color. She wants to uncomplicate the process, provide clarity, and be an example. She’s here to tell others they belong here [at UC Berkeley], too. 

Resources from this episode:

14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your thought leadership brand, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your LinkedIn audience to drive change and raise revenue.  

Connect with Jessica De Anda:

LinkedIn: Jessica De Anda

Connect with Tania Bhattacharyya

Linkedin: Tania Bhattacharyya

Instagram: @taniabhat

Website: lumosmarketing.co

Demystify Linkedin with Tania

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