Q&A with Camille Serrano, IGNITE’s Southern California Fellow

IGNITE is excited to welcome Camille Serrano to the 2021-2022 fellowship cohort as the Southern California fellow. We chatted with Camille to discuss how her experiences with identity and intersectionality shape her vision of leadership.

IGNITE: Congratulations, Camille! And welcome to the IGNITE community! What inspired you to apply for the fellowship?

Camille Serrano 1CS: What compelled me to apply is that IGNITE takes an intersectional approach in tackling gender inequity in public office. I believe that all inequities are interconnected, and social justice is best achieved through coalition building. As a bi-ethnic gender fluid woman of color, I bring an intersectional lens to the table and am passionate about adding momentum to IGNITE's initiatives. 

IGNITE: We are glad to have you! What is one thing that you want to change in your community? 

CS: One thing I want to change in my community is the desensitization to microaggressions among communities of color. Growing up with two immigrant parents in a working-class family, I silenced myself to racial slurs and comments directed at my family and I. Being teased for having an accent, being asked where my parents are "really" from, and questioning the legitimacy of sexual orientation are examples of microaggressions queer women of color relate to.

IGNITE:  Thank you for sharing. Our stories and lived experiences shape how we pour into our work and our communities. How have your experiences shaped your own work?

CS: Taking stock of these poignant comments, I took it upon myself to use research as a platform for policy change. At Fullerton Community College, I was one of eight students in the state selected by the University of California, Los Angeles, to partake in a pilot social justice research program. The results of my research showed microaggressions from faculty adversely affect the mental health and academic resilience of students of color, students with disabilities, and students in the LGBTQIA community. Using research as a baseline, I led a group of five students at Fullerton Community College in the Cultural Sensitivity Task Force to craft a resolution that mandates cultural sensitivity training independent of state funding for all faculty.

IGNITE:  We love to see it! What was the outcome?

CS: Three years after the task force's inception, I am proud to share that the Cultural Sensitivity Resolution passed unanimously in all three North Orange County College District Senates and will be implemented in 2021. 

IGNITE: Wow! Amazing work. Now, tell us a little bit more about your political leadership experience.

Camille Serrano 2 CS: In my recent role as a digital organizer for Blue Future, I collaborated with the Los Angeles Public Health Youth Advisory Council and Senator Alex Padilla. The goal was to improve mental health service accessibility for Philippine-American families in the greater Los Angeles area. Moreover, in the period of three months, I co-created a youth advisory council with community organizers across California to provide a political pipeline for youth to address racial inequities directly with Senator Padilla staff.

IGNITE:  What an empowering experience. What was your biggest takeaway?

CS: In Blue Future, I learned how to build community in digital spaces. I start by fostering a space where pronouns are respected, voices are heard, and individuals are present.

IGNITE:  Now, let's talk leadership. What does it mean to you? 

CS: My personal definition of leadership is the ability to initiate inclusive, sustainable change in space. The approach I adopt when it comes to leadership is different from the norm because I lead from the back. In my experience, true leaders do not need to sit at the front of the room. Instead, they co-create space for individuals who may not have access to the front of the room to be able to do so.

IGNITE:  And how is this definition present in your work? How will it be present in your work as an IGNITE fellow?

CS: The way I enact leadership is best described through my time at the global nonprofit the It Gets Better Project in West Hollywood. Growing up in a low-income family, I did not have access to supplemental educational materials to help me understand power, privilege, and intersectionality. I saw this internship as a chance to improve academic accessibility for LGBTQ+ youth. With diligence, I renewed over $130,000 of grant fundings for online LGBTQ+ education initiatives through strategic outreach. My "lead by example" approach to leadership is a perspective I can enthusiastically bring to the IGNITE Team.  

IGNITE:  As you begin your role as an IGNITE fellow, how do you plan on facilitating civic engagement and mobilizing your community?

CS: My approach to mobilizing community begins with building community. By developing a strong mission statement and clear goals, I empower our community with the belief that togetherness is essential to create change. Considering we live in a digital era, I learned that clear communication is vital, especially since individuals may not physically meet in person. In my organizing experience, using "we" statements and maintaining consistent weekly check-ins have proven to evoke and sustain excitement. Coupled with passion and leadership, I believe these strategies will be game-changers in spreading the messages of IGNITE. 

IGNITE:  Speaking of civic engagement, why is civic engagement important to you?

CS: As a community college transfer student at UCLA, I took note of the classist barriers that affect low-income students of color from feeling a sense of belonging at UCLA. From the first few moments of attending UCLA, I quickly realized the importance of civic engagement in its impact to advocate for space. To provide healing space, I initiated UCLA's first-ever Intersectionality Forum. At this event, all students were invited to share their stories of coping with inherent racism, microaggressions, and structural environmental injustice. Toward the second half of the forum, I re-centered the dialogue to focus on coalition building. One month later, I hosted an LGBTQIA Forum that successfully provided students with safe healing space to share their stories and experiences. I share this story not just to underscore my background in civil engagement but to underscore the importance of civic engagement, especially for individuals with intersecting identity markers. 

IGNITE:  At IGNITE, we're trying to broaden the definition of what it means to be a political leader. It's so much more than just being an elected leader. Political leaders can also be community organizers, policymakers, and campaign staffers. What leadership role do you identify with, and how do you want that to play out in your political career? 

CS: I enthusiastically identify with the role of a policymaker. My previous experience co-creating a Cultural Sensitivity Resolution coupled with digital organizing has inspired me to bring a layered, action-oriented perspective to policy change. 

IGNITE:  Camille, any closing comments to add?

CS: I am so excited to IGNITE change within communities! 

More about Camille

She is pursuing a Juris Doctorate at Southwestern Law School and previously graduated Summa Cum Laude with the Highest Departmental Honors from UCLA with a Bachelor's degree in Gender Studies. Camille also attended Fullerton College, where she served as Associated Students Chair of Finance, Delegate for Student Senate for California Community Colleges, and was one of eight community college students chosen to partake in a fully-funded social justice research project at UCLA. Camille used research as a platform for policy change, initiating the Cultural Sensitivity Task Force that passed a resolution to mandate cultural sensitivity training for all North Orange County Community College District staff. Camille facilitated UCLA's first Intersectionality Forum and LGBTQIA Forum. In addition, Camille collaborated with Blue Future, a youth-led political action committee, to improve accessibility to COVID-19 resources between constituents and Senator Alex Padilla. Born to two immigrant parents, Camille is a queer woman of color ready to create more space at the table. For Southern California inquires, contact camille@ignitenational.org.

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