Lisa (Meeker) Alexia
Class of 1991
I graduated in 1991. Since then my life has been full of the experiences of rural living in America, so different than urban northern California where I grew up. The academic learning in the women's studies program infused much of my decision-making about where to live, and proved vital to my success when I eventually landed in a career. Stepping outside my comfort zone and living near and with people who come from a background very different than my own has been the hallmark of the past 20 years. Ultimately, I feel I came full circle and in the last few years, was privileged to finally see tangible benefits in others from my experiences moving between different worlds. That's the abstract version.
After many years in rural Minnesota living without amenities, I spent the years from 2000-2010 living in a remote area of Alaska, mostly in a village on the Iditarod Trail, as a Community Health Aide/Practitioner. I was the primary health care provider for the village. It's a unique and fascinating program, and anyone interested in learning more can go to www.akchap.org for details. Anyway, it was a hands-on way to decide that I really did want to be a health care provider. So I continued with my education, and this coming August I will graduate from a physician assistant training program, UW MEDEX! Pearls along the way: Having a background in women's studies was crucial to my emotional survival in this remote Athabaskan village. Some things that happen here are heart-wrenching. Sometime in 2010, however, one of the young mothers mentioned to me, that once she found the courage to speak up about violence she had experienced, that her desire for alcohol and drugs fell away. In that moment, I knew that everything I had been struggling to both learn and teach for the past 25 years had not been wasted. My years at UCSC, combined with my training as a health care provider, were both integral to helping break cycles of violence and fear in the lives of another generation. The good part is, I am not alone in these efforts, and the young women here do find support rallying around them in a way their mothers did not have.
Another way I recognized the utility of my years at UCSC occurred when the City government reformed after a six year hiatus. (Long story). The new City Council had more white folks on it than Native. This was a sore spot with some folks at the Tribal Council. (Imagine the challenges of finding enough adults willing and able to serve on two separate governmental Councils in a community of 100 people!) Working with individuals on both Councils, I found that having an academic understanding of the complex effects of racism, sexism, and economic oppression really helped. What I saw was that developing training opportunities helped the community as a whole, but it took some "sales" work and negotiating, and I found myself more than once acting as a bridge to communication and understanding. I watched white men who had previously had no confidence, develop better attitudes toward everyone as they developed skills to contribute to the infrastructure of a community where they had married and had children with locals. As the city's infrastructure was rebuilt, the Tribal Council also reinvigorated itself, and additional opportunities opened for locals, this time only Natives, when that happened. It was frustrating when problems emerged around the perception of favoritism of whites. It was not a simple situation. In the midst of all this, while I was one of those white people on the newly formed Council, alongside my husband who was a local, I was also the only female, and really the only one with much formal white-collar education. It was a fascinating time, and I still feel privileged to have been a part of it all.
Reflections for current students: No matter where you go or what you end up doing after you graduate, this education you are getting is valuable beyond belief. Trust that, and follow your gut and heart and soul, and you will live your life well.
I think I forgot to mention (the best part!) that I also have a family--2 kids and a husband--and right now I hail from both Anchorage and a small village in the Interior, on the Iditarod Trail.
There are sooo many great pictures of life out here that I don't know where to begin.
Lisa Alexia (Lisa Meeker, Lisa Meeker Gorny)