LEE member Cat Shieh (she/her) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and spent most of her schooling and teaching career in Los Angeles. Now, she’s fighting against the rise of anti-Asian American hate as the Anti-Hate Training Coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.
Cat shares with us her fight for equity journey, and what led to her current unique role putting a stop to anti-AANHPI hate in her community.
Can you tell us about your current work with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago?
I host and facilitate Bystander Intervention Trainings to the public and for organizations. These training sessions are designed to teach folx how to intervene in a harassment situation in public or online – which is even more important during a time in which we’re seeing a huge uptick in anti-AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) hate incidents. Within this training, we also talk about privilege, oppression, impacts of harassment, and the history of anti-AANHPI hate in this country.
I do all of the training from start to finish — from training trainers to writing grants to building relationships with organizations for funding.. It helps that I have some event planning and customer service experience. I also do politics/policy, organizing strategy, communications/marketing, DEI facilitation, event planning, and program management. I love all of it while acknowledging that nothing is perfect. I’ve never felt so valued in my life.
What led you to do this work?
I was really scared to leave teaching. Although I used to work in politics (I worked for Congressman Ami Bera in Washington, D.C., did public affairs work in Los Angeles, and supported some campaigns) before teaching, I wasn’t sure if my experience was too outdated. With that said, I had a “virtual coffee date” and networked every week day for 4 months straight. I applied everywhere I could.
One of these “virtual coffee dates” was with Mark Anthony Florido, Director of Organizing Strategy for Illinois & Northwest Indiana at LEE. He told me there was a job posting at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago and was able to introduce me to someone at the organization. I then had a meeting with her to get a feel for the role. I applied, and the rest is history.
How did your experience as a teacher inform your current professional experience?
I absolutely loved being an Ethnic Studies teacher, but it’s new content that a lot of companies and organizations aren’t necessarily familiar with. I fell into Ethnic Studies by accident — I took a class in high school at the local community college, and I started teaching at my second school because they were looking for an Ethnic Studies teacher. From there, I knew in my next job I wanted to talk about race and identity, be able to touch politics/policy in some way, and keep some elements of teaching and facilitating in my job. It was scary to move from Los Angeles to Chicago knowing only two people and that Ethnic Studies was not a course offered in K-12 in Illinois.
How have you leveraged LEE resources to help you in your quest for equity?
I don’t think I would value community organizing as much as I do now without the conferences, guidance, and collective knowledge from LEE. There are so many programs and coaches. I signed up for everything: from the National Fundamental of Organizing & Civic Engagement (NFORCE) workshop, to the Emerging Policy and Advocacy Leaders Series (EPALS) to 1:1s with LEE staff. It’s always great to get resume advice, have a shoulder to lean on, get encouragement, and cultivate connections. I never felt alone, which was really impactful because Chicago is an entirely new city for me.
What advice do you have for members who are still unsure about how they want to engage in the work towards educational equity?
You might never be sure. It will probably change, because the world changes. And that is okay. I currently have a job that didn’t exist before July 2020. I am in an industry that didn’t really exist 10 years ago.
I’d like to think that I have a very specific skill set. It’s not quite teaching, it’s not quite policy, it’s not quite DEI – but rather a hybrid of the three. To put it simply, most jobs posted on job boards/LinkedIn just aren’t for me. I realized that being my true self helped me avoid organizations that wouldn’t value me anyway and helped me realize that having a specific skill set is perfectly fine. There aren’t a lot of Ethnic Studies teachers out there, let alone Anti-Hate Training Coordinators, in the world. It’s a lot of risk I have had to be more comfortable with. But hustling with networking, having faith in how industries change, and crafting a role for yourself CAN make a difference.
As Will Ferrell says in his USC Commencement speech, you just need to “keep throwing darts at the dartboard.”
Some things I found really important for my own experience:
- Meet with as many people as possible. I encourage you to think about why you like the people you vibe with, rather than be drawn to people simply because they have a cool job title.
- Take a values assessment (yes, LEE does this). Instead of thinking about your policy issue, your type of role, and what responsibilities you want, I challenge you to take a step back. What values do you have and want reflected in your daily work? What is your worldview? Who are these people to get to know that agree with your values and worldview?
As we continue to navigate an ongoing pandemic, what has been bringing you joy during this time?
Embroidery, the outdoors, political cartoons, cute Instagram cartoons (@chibirdart is very uplifting), running, biking, playing piano, and cuddling with my dog. It’s been hard, and I’m still trying to figure it out. The pandemic wall is real and I’m just trying as much as I can!
What is your vision for educational equity?
Educational equity and segregation are inherently related, and I’m still trying to sort out what it all means. Especially with LEE’s organizing, this is all the more important. How do we figure out how to organize while also building autonomy and agency within the communities we care about?
The more we talk about schools, the more I realize: education should not be the solution to poverty. Anti-poverty laws and policies should be the solution to poverty. If we can’t own that as a country, then educators and children are systemically set up to fail.
*This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity and brevity.
Want to learn more about Cat’s work?
Check out these news articles:
- “With Anti-Asian Attacks On The Rise, Webinar Teaches Bystanders How To Help” [WBEZ]
- “Bystander intervention trainings combat hate crimes against Muslims and Asian Americans” [ABC7 Chicago]
- “Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. Here's what activists, lawmakers and police are doing to stop the violence” [USA Today]
You can learn more about and/or sign up for one of Cat’s Anti-Asian Harassment Bystander Intervention Trainings here.