By Kelsey Hamlin
It became very clear to me when interviewing new University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce how deliberately she chooses her words.
As a student and a reporter, I’ve talked to her before, covered her as a member of the Board of Regents, and attended events where she’s had speeches. But all of these things were more or less pre-scripted.
Off-script, it’s very clear that Cauce puts a lot of thought into the things she says before they escape her mouth, frequently pausing mid-sentence.
“I—,” Cauce stuttered and then paused.
“I want this to be more than just about me and my personal life,” she continued.
Cauce came to our interview from having just talked with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Yet, here she was, taking the time to sit down for a half-hour, in-person interview with a university reporter.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t have my work cut out for me.
The fact that the newly elected president is at the intersection of three minorities has been well-covered and largely discussed. Of all the UW’s presidents, she is the first woman, the first Latina, and the first to be openly gay.
“People have been taken that this appointment shattered a lot of glass ceilings, there’s a lot of firsts here,” Cauce said.
“This is who I’ve been all my life,” Cauce added.
Cauce is, however, very aware of her intersecting position.
“I take very seriously, and take pleasure from the fact that if there’s any kid out there whether they’re Latino, gay, lesbian, trans, whatever, that my being here gives them more confidence in how they can change the world and reach whatever position they want,” Cauce said.
Roy Taylor, ASUW Director of University Affairs, has known Cauce for approximately a year, having first met her through the Provost Advisory for Students, or PAcS. He called Cauce “An-C-mazing.”
“I think she’s in a very powerful position to set a precedent for how a university should handle making students feel included and safe and part of a community,” Taylor said. “And she’s really put in the efforts to do that.”
Cauce says she is someone who engages. She has frequently worked with students on the Black Lives Matter movement, and on Divest UW.
“I’ve experienced some of the same issues that they were experiencing. I know what discrimination feels like,” Cauce said. “When I was a student, I’ve been known to participate in movements myself.”
The president said she has a lot of respect for student activists. In this sense, Cauce sees student engagement, and learning how to do a better job as a part of her responsibility.
“It’s been quite amazing,” said Elizabeth Pring, ASUW appointee to the PAcS. “She’s stayed very grounded, incredibly humble.”
Cauce said she sees diversity as more than just differences in color.
“I think in society, outside of families, we don’t have as much intergenerational contact,” she explained. “And when I talk about diversity, it includes age.”
Cauce went on to explain how, since she has been around the UW for 30 years, she can use her perspective to remind students that things have improved over time. She also finds it important, however, to be reminded by students of the progress that still needs to happen.
Cauce has faced much more publicity since she was named president. She recalled a moment last week, during a visit to Fred Meyer in sweatpants, when a shopper recognized her.
“I’ve probably had my picture taken more in the past three weeks than I have in the past 30 years,” Cauce said.
But there’s much more to Cauce than her appearance in a single picture.
She hails from an immigrant background, one called the “1.5 generation” a term given to immigrants who moved to the United States as children. Cauce went from Cuba to America with her family when she was three years old.
“My family probably identifies more with being exiles,” she said. “Some people have described me as someone who brings people together. It comes from helping my parents understand the American culture.”
Taylor sees that same aesthetic in Cauce’s leadership with students.
“I remember being taken aback by how interested she is in getting to know student leaders,” he said. “She is very open and receptive to what I have to say.”
To Cauce, what makes the university is the human stories.
“If you look behind all of these buildings that are beautiful, and you spend five minutes, half an hour talking to the people inside the offices, it’s just amazing the people that we have here,” she said. “It’s the humanness of the people who work here and their desire to change the world, not just as an intellectual exercise, but their willingness to get out there and engage with people.”
Reach Kelsey Hamlin on Twitter @ItsKelseyHamlin. Portions of this article were first published at The Daily.