Videocast: Womxn in Leadership Episode 1

by Reagan Jackson

Reagan Jackson is the Program Director for Young Women Empowered. Y-WE is non-profit based in Beacon Hill in Seattle, Washington. Their mission is to cultivate the power of diverse young women to be creative leaders and courageous change makers through transformative programs within a collaborative community of belonging. Reagan started a series of short interviews with local womxn to help frame for the youth what leadership looks like in the time of COVID- 19. Her first interview is with Sara Yinling Post.

Sara was raised biculturally between Hong Kong and Pennsylvania, moving to the West Coast in 2010 to study biology, counseling, and eventually nursing. She never thought she would work in a huge hospital (especially during a pandemic!) but, here we are. As she enters her second year working on the pediatric burn unit at Harborview, she’s thinking about how to amplify and support other frontline workers, especially historically marginalized workers, and especially through horizontal mutual aid.

How did you first decide to go into health care?

You know, I never grew up around professional health care workers, even though my mom was something of a Chinese medicine healter. But in my second year of college, a friend roped me into a project she started, called “Night Owls.” THis project, funded by the school, consisted of buddy pairs roving the campus between the hours of 10pm and 3pm with snacks and first aid kits, essentially helping drunk and high students stay hydrated or get help if they needed it. It was a very small scale harm reduction project, but very impactful. I’m somewhat an introvert, and it immediately felt like the right place for me at parties– to be clearheaded, able to think quickly and triage. Also, even in that setting, I saw how when you open yourself up as someone who is willing to listen without judgement and without threat of punishment, people come to you. I really feel honored to have witnessed so much vulnerability and resilience in others. Working that job opened up a whole world for me, and I followed it into working at crisis clinics, youth homeless shelters, and eventually the medical field.

What is it like working in the hospital right now?

At this very moment at Harborview, we are in the so-called “calm before the storm.” All elective procedures have been cancelled, discharges have been expedited, and we have opened up units and upstaffed them all- so it’s an eerie feeling of waiting. The patients that are there are ones that really need to be there, so each day I’m working with very sick, very injured folks. Nurses across the country, and Harborview isn’t an exception, are concerned about not having adequate gear to keep ourselves safe and our patients alive. When we do have the gear, the process for putting it on and off (called donning and doffing) is very clunky and awkward, and then when we’re with patients in our full body suits, it feels like there is more than just a physical barrier that is preventing meaningful connection. I’m struggling to find grace in a system that doesn’t really know what it’s doing, and wishing there were easier answers than taking it day by day.

How has COVID- 19 impacted your life, personally and professionally?

Before Seattle really revealed itself to be a major hub for the virus, I got pretty sick. I was sent home from work with a cough, which got worse, so I got tested, eventually finding out I was negative. The whole experience affected my mental health terribly. I felt so guilty for leaving my patients and my coworkers. I felt a lot of shame as a queer and Chinese person at a time earlier in the virus’ trajectory when I was hearing a lot of passive anti-Chinese sentiment. But through that experience, I also used the time to reach out to other nurses who share some of my identities, and I found a lot of unity between us. Building networks with other nurses who are thinking through an anti-racist, anti-capitalism lens has been something I have wanted to do since I entered the field, and the past few weeks have given me the opportunity to do so.

Do you consider yourself to be a leader? Why or why not?

I would consider myself… a leader in training. I’m good at facilitating connections between people and I’m good at thinking up projects that be accomplished in small groups without a lot of resources. I’m good at thinking through situations carefully and listening deeply. I think those are all qualities of leadership that I admire in others. Where I struggle as a leader is the speaking up, the confidence, the teaching of knowledge to others. Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) has been great for me– I’m so inspired by the leadership styles of both mentors and youth. I’m also trying to learn how to not be intimidated by the leadership styles of others and to find, uniquely, my own.

What have you accomplished so far and what are your goals for systemic change during time? 

Well, I’m currently a part of a mutual aid group (COVID- 19 Mutual Aid) which has blown up much larger than anyone could anticipate. I’m proud of this group for being able to translate a value system into a tangible network of support, and to stick to its values throughout. In the group, I’m facilitating the worker solidarity sector, where we are distributing toolkits for workers whose bosses are denying them benefits, paid, or protection at work. We’re also going to be making COVID- 19 kits for workers, with masks, herbs, and homemade hand sanitizer included. This work is rooted in study groups that me and other organizers have done on the meaning of work itself, on capitalism, on occupational health. Systemically, I want to see workers coming together to support each other and not relying on bosses for their needs.

How can community support you in this important work?

I see a lot of support on social media, thanking frontline workers, including nurses. I’d like to see more appreciation that these people (self included) are not martyrs or just selfless beings, but are working harder than normal and under more hazardous conditions because it is our job we don’t want to lose them. In fact we don’t want to be working harder or under more hazardous conditions. I want community to support us in the long run by supporting more community health initiatives so that people don’t have to go to the hospital, support more personal protective equipment so we don’t get sick or injured, and I want to that to be the kind of support all year long. Whether its fighting for rights for undocumented workers, respect for trash collectives, equitable pay for custodians etc… now that all these “essential” workers are being exposed to the public, I want the public to commit to supporting their livelihood always, not just thanking them while things are hard now.