From Not Even Having a Disaster Kit to Teaching a Class on Disaster Management

I have never been someone who was particularly concerned by the prospect of disaster, “natural” or not. Growing up in California, first in Southern California and later in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, I was often told about my danger of being caught in an earthquake or a wildfire, but this was something that seemed far away, as if it would never actually happen to be me personally, despite knowing the risks. If you also can admit to this, I am here to tell you that I now teach a class on disaster management and can say we are certainly not alone!

I would like to put a disclaimer here: disaster management is not my passion and it does not need be yours either. I study agro-ecology- essentially how to produce food in an environmentally and socially robust way- and have no plan to go into disaster management in the long term. However, I am thoroughly of the belief that disaster management is relevant not only to all of us as people who could experience disasters, but also as people working in fields that all have their own role to play in disasters and their management. If you have a field you work in, I could link it in some way to disaster management- that is my guarantee.

So how did an agro-ecology student come to teach a course in Disaster Management at the #1 public university in the world? An awesome program called Democratic Education at Cal allows students to teach pass/no pass courses that are usually 1 or 2 units to their fellow students. These courses,  also known as DeCals, can be found on the DeCal website and all have course codes that can be entered into Cal Central to enroll in them like any other class. They are usually low stress, take place at night so as not to interfere with normal class schedules, and can be on serious topics like mine, on a skill like baking, ballet, or parkour, or on a unique topic like Super Mario Smash Bros or Harry Potter. I took the class I teach now last spring and at the end of the semester, my then facilitator asked me to join him in teaching it in the fall- I agreed and we spent all summer working on the syllabus and the new direction we wanted the class to go.

I agreed to co-facilitate the class not because it was my life’s passion but because I saw an awesome opportunity to learn how to teach, to learn from my students and my co-facilitator, and to get people thinking about disasters in a new light. The course changed the way I think about disasters- it made me see how intersectional¬† disaster management is and how the management of disasters is relevant to all of us as people who can be affected by them and as people who can play a role in them, for the better or worse.

I am now proud to add information I have learned about disaster management to class room conversations in my other classes, and when I do, I reflect on how awesome it is to be teaching such a course at a world renowned university- you never know what opportunities Berkeley will open up for you or what wild new thing you could be doing six months from now, but I know its always interesting- and I can confidently add that as my second guarantee.


Author: Allison Weber

Conservation and Resource Studies Major with a specialization in Agro-ecology and Sustainable Development Policy (2020). Cannoneer for the UC Rally Committee and Farm Manager for the Student Organic Garden Association. From Mammoth Lakes, CA