Stephanie J. Joseph is Staff Counsel at the California Teachers Association. Stephanie serves as Vice Chair to the Section's Education Committee.
Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?
I’m originally from a rural town in Tennessee called Barren Plains. I lived there until I was 17, when I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for college. Prior to moving to Pennsylvania, I hadn’t ventured far from the South and had never been on a plane. So, to say that I experienced culture shock in Pittsburgh is an understatement. Moreover, there was no hiding that I was an “outsider” because my heavy Southern accent revealed my roots quite clearly.
In this new environment, I might have floundered, hidden, or drowned under the weight of my difference but for a wonderful teacher and mentor, Marie Hooper. She helped me to realize that lack of knowledge and experience isn’t something to be ashamed of, but rather an opportunity for growth, and that difference isn’t something to hide, but is instead to be celebrated. She taught me how to sit comfortably in a place of “not knowing” and fostered my curiosity about the world. This foundation has carried me through my life and career, growing my empathy, broadening my perspective, and driving my passion for inclusion and outreach.
What drives you?
No one should be denied an education, opportunity, or a voice simply because of where they come from, what they look like, how they speak, or what resources they have access to. I am passionate about leveling the playing field and helping people in places of privilege recognize and use that privilege to work towards a more equitable society. This is why my work as a union-side labor lawyer – using collective action to speak truth to power – suits me so perfectly.
What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?
Maybe most people do know this about me, but it’s something that is important nonetheless – I love my work. I am one of those fortunate souls who was able to meld my personal and professional passions in such a way that going to work is a joy for me. I feel extremely lucky that this is my reality and I encourage anyone who is feeling dissatisfied in their career to take a good, hard look at how to make a shift. Because when work is meaningful and fun, we are more effective and productive, and our lives are more fulfilling.
When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?
I want to contribute to this world and to bettering the lives of others. If we each only get one journey on this blue earth, I’d like to know when my journey is over, that someone’s life was made better because I lived.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing this world today?
One of the biggest challenges facing our world today, I believe, is the myth of scarcity. The scarcity myth prevents us from lifting up our fellow humans, keeps us from enacting effective corporate responsibility and conflict-of-interest laws, and keeps us from ensuring that each and every human on the planet has their basic needs met, including healthy and plentiful food, clean drinking water, safe and secure housing, education, and health care. If we can work to dispel the myth of scarcity, I believe more people would feel free enough, secure enough, and brave enough to demand real social change.
In what corners do you find the greatest support in propelling these issues you work on? In other words, who are your most frequent allies?
The CRSJ is engaged in this work on every level, which is why being a part of CRSJ is so rewarding. Another ally in this work is, of course, the labor movement, which works to balance power in our economy and our democracy in a way that is fundamentally needed right now.
What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found the most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?
The CRSJ project I have been most involved in recently is the Civil Rights Civics Institute. My role there is to review attorney answers to student questions on civil rights issues to ensure appropriate tone, educational effectiveness, and eliminate possible microaggressions. This work is incredibly rewarding, because it connects us directly with today’s youth and gives us insight into the issues they find interesting and important. I also serve as Vice Chair of CRSJ’s Education Committee and as CRSJ’s liaison to the Standing Committee on CLE.