|Detailed Information||Dr. Claire Camaya (1998)|
Biography/Additional InformationOwner /Director at DOORS Education Center, Class of 1998
Why and how did you decide to major in Women’s Studies?
To be honest, when I started my undergraduate studies at UCI, I was far from ready for university studies. I chose the course of English Literature out of just a slight interest in the subject, and I had no idea what I would do with it career-wise. In retrospect, I believe my critical thinking skills were immature and subpar, and during that time, it felt as though I was just going through the motions.
Then, a few different things converged. Women’s Studies was suddenly offered as a major, I enrolled in a women’s literature class that met the requirements for both Women’s Studies and English Literature, I found out that it would only take me a few more classes to add the second major, and I was suddenly interested! I took my first class, and suddenly, my eyes were opened to part of history that had not previously captured my attention, the evolution of women’s rights in the US. Somehow, this line of study gave purpose to my learning.
What did you enjoy learning the most?
While I loved learning about the important people and events without whom progress in women’s rights would not be possible, undoubtedly my most valued lessons have to do with analysis, introspection, and communication. I learned how to analyze various contexts and think critically about underlying messages that indicate and perhaps promote stereotypes about certain groups. I learned to recognize my personal biases and their role in how I view others and my actions toward others. I learned the importance of effective and respectful communication. Admittedly, I would not describe my skill level with these areas as being proficient. However, I can confidently say that I am more conscious and thoughtful than I would have been had I not been exposed to Women’s Studies.
What was the most unexpected thing about the Major/Minor?
I did not expect my experience with Women’s Studies to ignite such a strong desire for social justice for all minority/underprivileged groups. I also did not expect it to have such a strong impact in virtually every aspect of my life.
What have you done since you graduated?
After graduating, I sought a job in education and sort of stumbled into the field of educational therapy. The company had already filled their quota for tutors, so I was initially trained as a tester for children with learning disabilities. I subsequently worked my way into various positions until I became the associate director for the branch. While employed there, I learned about various learning disabilities, as well as neurodevelopmental disabilities impacting academic achievement. I fell in love with the field of special education, and it became my personal mission to better understand how I can help these students who had difficulty learning via traditional schooling. So, I continued to pursue higher learning in these fields. After getting married and having my first child, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education. I worked for another educational therapy center; I served as a reading specialist at a school for children with autism spectrum disorders; I pursued and completed my doctoral degree in Educational Leadership; and I started my own educational therapy company. We are a private practice serving students and families who are in need of academic assistance for children with special needs. We provide academic assessment, program design, 1:1 individualized instruction, and parent training.
How did you choose your current career?
Aside from what I mentioned above, my interest was fueled by my work with two young boys diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Their thought processes were so different from anything that I had ever encountered. They challenged everything I thought I knew about people and the teaching process. I had to learn, as I continue to have to learn, how to be a better listener so I could understand how to be a fitting teacher for them. When an adult acts or speaks in an unusual manner, it may seem appropriate to make judgments based on generalized ideas of “acceptable” behavior. However, when you are exposed to many children who do the same and obviously cannot control it, it becomes easier to empathize with them. When you work with many kids with such challenges over the course of many years, you realize these kids become adults and you need to extend the same desire to understand them. At least, this has been my experience. So, in a nutshell, I chose the career for selfish reasons. I feel that it continues to teach me to be a better human being by reminding me of the diversity in our nature and nurture, and it makes me feel good.
How did your major shape your work/life choices?
My women’s studies experiences frame a lot of the choices I make, especially when it comes to raising my kids. I have two sons, 11 and 13. I try to raise them to be conscious about the language they use when they talk to and about other people. I try to keep them as informed on important social justice issues, at least as much as I think they can handle, and I try my best to model the values of respect and understanding of others especially when they hear language in the media that models otherwise. I remember a family member telling my older son, then 2 years old, that “dolls were for girls” after my husband and I got him a baby doll, along with a bottle, so he could learn about how to treat his soon-to-be born sibling. My younger son has met many a critical eye because he has presented as gender ambiguous. His love of dancing, his lengthy hairstyle, and even minute things like asking for an easy bake oven for Christmas have all led to questionable looks and comments from friends and family. So there have been many, many discussions with my kids and with friends and family about these things. One of the things I’m most proud of are my kids’ confidence and unapologetic, shamelessness when it comes to being who they are. It’s a tough job, and I’ve made many, many mistakes and expect that will continue to happen; but I’m so grateful that my experiences with women’s studies have helped to guide me. I think the ideologies I’ve adopted in large part because of Women’s Studies are good and decent.
One of the challenges that we’ve faced as a family is whether to include religion and how to do it, given the very progressive views. However, we’ve been able to bring religion back into our lives over the past several years after searching for a church that promoted openness and inclusivity. It has been a great way to link our family to service and activism opportunities, specifically for social justice issues.
Why should people choose to study Gender & Sexuality Studies at UC Irvine? What advice would you give to a newly admitted student?
Be open. Be flexible. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to learning things that may challenge your preconceptions. Gender & Sexuality Studies is ultimately about learning about humanity in others and within ourselves. At least that’s what it has been for me, and it’s probably one of the greatest life lessons I will have ever received. I will be forever grateful.