MEET KATE. AGE 30. NEW YORK, NEW YORK. INTERGOVERNMENTAL & LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
As a native Western New Yorker, how does it compare to New York City? What do you miss most about home? What changes would you like to see happen in Buffalo?
I miss the friendliness of people in Buffalo. Buffalonians are always so happy to see other people visiting or enjoying Buffalo that they are really kind and welcoming. NYC is plagued with tourists, so it’s a very “fend for yourself” kind of place. It makes you tough and more independent, but I find myself having to rein it in a little bit when I’m back home.
I think Buffalo is doing really well – I’m happy that young professionals are moving back into the city and starting their own businesses. I wish that some of this resurgence could help the poor communities of Buffalo that have been overlooked for some time. I think our historic architecture and character is a huge asset, so I just hope this development boom doesn’t go so far as to tear some of those treasures down. Our Rust Belt city history and mentality is what makes us unique from many other places in the country, and we should always strive to preserve that (pun intended!)
You are the Director of Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs at the New York City Department of Probation. What inspired you to get involved in a field that many others might shy away from?
Well, I’ll be honest, had I known that within my first few months of work I’d be at the epicenter of some of the biggest battles and protests around racial justice, civil rights, policing, and criminal justice issues of our time – I may have been more intimidated. But I’m actually really honored to be working in this field during this time in our country and feel like I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to make things the most equitable and fair for all.
If you asked me 10 years ago if I’d be working at the Probation department in NYC, I definitely would have said no. I don’t have a formal Criminal Justice background, I merely come from a family of lawyers. 🙂 But I’ve always been extremely passionate about fairness, social justice, and equity. I was also arrested at 18 while home in Buffalo on Christmas break, but because of my background and privilege, it was expunged and has never impacted me negatively or prevented me from excelling in life. Not everyone who gets pulled into the Criminal Justice system is that lucky; an arrest or a conviction haunts you for life and becomes a barrier to jobs, housing, you name it. So though my path wasn’t straightforward, I truly believe that everything that’s happened to me, professionally and personally, has helped bring me to working at a progressive criminal justice agency during some really big times in history.
You’re also a professor. How did you get into teaching, and what’s the hardest/most rewarding thing about it?
Being a professor, specifically for working men and women, is one of the greatest parts of my career. I lucked into it really, and my Urban Economics professor from graduate school asked me to teach in the program that he coordinates. I’m an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Empire State College in the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies, which is a long way of saying I teach IBEW Local 3 union electrician apprentices about economics and politics while their union pays for them to get an Associate’s Degree. They aren’t thrilled to be there, but I get them to come around by the end.
Teaching is really magical, there’s honestly an “Ah-Ha”/Lightbulb moment that you can see with your students when they finally grasp a strange concept or can relate to what it is you are teaching. Unlike teaching regular college or high school (which I’m sure is delightful), teaching working men and women is especially rewarding because it’s not done in a vacuum. My students speak about what we talked about in class on their job site with their coworkers. They’ve emailed me (often years later), about how exciting it was for them to vote in the last election, how they’re considering joining their local community board, or how they heard about the new immigration proposal and understood how it would impact them and their families. They’ve organized and banded together at marches and rallies to fight for what they believe in based on what they learned in class. I continually get reminders of the profound impact you can have on someone while being a teacher.
That said, it is a huge responsibility. My students’ lives are not easy. I’ve had undocumented students, homeless students, those battling racism or sexism on their job site, all while taking care of themselves and their families. Any teacher will tell you that they don’t just teach, but become an unofficial part of that student’s life. Sometimes you have to be a therapist, case worker, and mentor all in the same evening. But the students provide that for you, too. A really hard day at the office can be completely turned around by a great class session or getting an email from a student about how much you impacted their life. I have nothing but respect and love for the profession.
What’s it like to have a twin sister?
It’s all I know, so I don’t know how well to describe it. Liz is my best friend and has always been there for me. It’s both annoying and extremely comforting to always have someone to go through life with, good or bad. It was difficult in high school because we were into the same things (basketball, plays, etc.) and often were in competition for the same things. But now that we’re adults and have found our own paths, we really just compliment and support each other.
We live together in the same apartment and there was a stint where we both worked in the same building. The security guards at my office were horribly confused. 🙂
When things get crazy and stressful at work, what is your go-to coping mechanism?
To be honest, I thrive on succeeding at things, so when work is very hard, stressful, or difficult to solve, I often retreat from that particular problem and bang out something easy. The feeling of productivity I get from accomplishing other things on my to-do list helps me remember that I am qualified and good at what I do, and that some things are more complicated than others. However, there’s not always a simple task available to do. Sometimes it’s a walk or a coffee, sometimes it’s a gym session (I wish I was one of those people), sometimes it’s shopping (terrible I know!), or sometimes it’s going to a networking event and meeting some new people. It depends on the day and how rough things have been. Sometimes (too much) it’s coming home to a bottle of red wine and some comfort food.
What’s your favorite activity or hobby in your free time?
Oh my, so many things! I enjoy watching TV entirely too much, but feel guilty for doing so. A happy medium that I’ve reached to suppress that is to knit. I make big, thick, warm, chunky infinity scarves. (Feel free to check out my Etsy site!)
I also recently got into makeup and enjoy watching makeup tutorials and learning new techniques and ways to do makeup. Youtube.com is a great resource for this – my favorite artist to watch is Jaclyn Hill. I highly recommend, and my makeup game has EXPONENTIALLY increased since following her!
Also, I love getting manicures. You can’t move your hands so it’s definitely one of the most relaxing things I do! In NYC, everyone is constantly running around and busy with their 2 and 3 jobs (myself included), so it’s extra important to take time to pamper yourself. Clean and nice nails just perk up my whole day.