A History Geek with A Passion for People
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2012 - 13:35
Photo courtesy of Kate Berry
Born in Seattle, Wash., Berry became an integral part of the College community as an incredible conversationalist and thoughtful friend.

Most of us know Kate Berry as a Resident Counselor in Morris Pratt, but her loved ones know her as Dit Beedy, an incredible conversationalist, die-hard romantic and thoughtful friend. It’s surprising to know that she is already a graduating senior.
Born in Seattle, Wash., Berry grew up with her parents and little sister, Madeline, in Woodinville, Wash. — a suburb just to the east of Seattle. Redmond — the next town over — houses the Microsoft headquarters, so she grew up with an interesting blend of countryside (cows, horses, farms) and the tech industry.

While the weather may give Seattle a rainy reputation, Berry loved it and hopes to return at some point after graduation.

Growing up with American History

Growing up, Berry was a quiet kid who enjoyed reading — anywhere, anytime. To her parents’ displeasure, she would often even read at the dinner table. Berry loved all types of genres but particularly fell in love with books about American history.

She first became interested in American history after seeing her uncle perform in the musical “1776.” The characters’ noble actions and patriotism fascinated her and she spent much time as a kid gathering as many books as she could find about John and Abigail Adams. For a long time, Abigail Adams became her hero. She admired her as an early advocate for women’s rights in the letters to her husband. Watching that musical as an eight-year-old, she thinks, is the root of some of her interest in political science and women’s studies that have been so important to her at Amherst.

But really, Berry admits that her greatest heroes then and and now are still her parents. “Without a doubt, they were tremendous influences on my sister and me. They demonstrated early on a commitment to learning and to giving — both of which remain important to me today.”

Choosing Amherst

At first, Berry was not certain whether or not Amherst was the right school for her. She knew she was interested in political science and in a liberal arts education, but she was pretty ambivalent about where she wanted to go for a long time. She applied to colleges all over the country — primarily liberal arts schools, but some larger research universities as well. Ultimately, she decided between four places — Amherst, another small liberal arts college (not Williams!), a women’s college and a large university.

In the end, however, she decided that she wanted a co-ed experience and that the university’s program would not allow her the sort of flexibility she desired. It was ultimately a visit on Admitted Students day that changed her mind. As her dad and she sat on the quad — in the exact spot where her classmates and she will walk across the stage on May 20 — she decided that Amherst just “felt” like the right place.

Engaging with the Amherst Community

Berry attended a Community Engagement Orientation Trip as a first-year and ever since, her involvement with the CCE hasn’t stopped. On her trip she met Elias Johansson-Miller ’12, one of her closest friends today. They became good friends after working as CEOT trip leaders sophomore year. She also worked on The Indicator for a few semesters, performed in tap dance with Amherst Dance, walked backwards across campus as a Tour Guide, played on an intramural softball team (“Yogurt on Jake Gyllenhal”) and worked as a resident counselor.

All were memorable, but Berry finds this year as an RC to be the highlight of her Amherst tenure because of the remarkable RCs and residents she worked with. Overall, residential life has played a large role in her Amherst experience.

During her first year as a resident of James second floor, her relationship with her fellow residents that really shaped her friendships and time here. She was very much committed to recreating that intimate experience in Morris Pratt this year. Johannson-Miller remembers Berry having numerous conversations with him about her Morris Pratt residents. For hours, she would rack her brain trying to figure out their problems. She would carry around an extensively written day planner and spend time making sure that she fulfilled her responsibilities as a counselor and student.

Another memorable activity at Amherst was working as a photographer for the Public Affairs Office. It began when her first-year roommate got a job as a photographer for the office, and she quickly took on a similar interest. She ended up loving her work for that office — using a camera to preserve moments in Amherst’s history: sports games, guest lecturers, concerts, plays, commencements, convocations and President Biddy’s historic inauguration.

Until now, Berry has dabbled in various activities on campus — but she really took the time to consider what activities and classes she enjoyed the most. Her time in college was much less about filling up her schedule (although it has been pretty busy) and more about the quality and meaning of her engagement.

Birthday in Geneva

During her junior year fall semester, Berry studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland through a Smith College program. It was really difficult for her to miss a semester at Amherst, but she felt it was also the right time to get away. During her stay there, she fell completely in love with the beautiful scenery and romantic excursions the city offered. Every day, she explored the city — absolutely beautiful with the lake and mountains — and Europe, as well.

On her 21st birthday, she met up with Johansson-Miller, who joined her from Spain and celebrated with her, atop a Swiss mountain. After the celebration, Johansson-Miller and Berry walked around the center of town late at night at a cafe and sat there for a good two hours chatting and eating lots of croissants, cheese and chocolate. That, she recalls was an unforgettable birthday experience.

On another day, she also got to explore Budapest with her first year roommate. She even took some great classes at the Univ. of Geneva and the Graduate School for International Studies and had an internship with End Human Trafficking Now. The internship inspired her current interests in human trafficking and opened doors towards her passion.

Thesis on Human Trafficking

Berry dedicated her political science thesis to a critique of responses to human trafficking in the United States. She first learned of human trafficking as a high school student traveling in Cambodia, and it became a scholarly interest when she arrived at Amherst.

As she learned more, she became increasingly concerned about the problem and simultaneously critical about social and political responses in the U.S. For her thesis, she considered how human trafficking — forced labor and prostitution — is understood as an issue of prostitution, migration and criminal justice, and it highlighted some shortcomings of that conception.

The project was largely based on the internship at Geneva and another one she had at Polaris Project, where she worked on the national human trafficking hotline. She worked many exhaustive hours working on the thesis project — she cried when she turned it in, not so much from relief as separation anxiety. She hopes to revisit the topic in the coming years.

Her Passion Continues

Fortunately, Berry will be able to continue her investigation into human trafficking after graduation. She has a job in Washington, D.C. as a Call Specialist for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at Polaris Project. Expanding on her past internships and thesis, she plans to work on the national human trafficking hotline, fielding calls from people interested in learning more about trafficking, reporting suspicious activity and seeking help from exploitative and abusive situations.

She may go back to graduate school within a few years, but she is taking time off to determine exactly what she wants to study and pursue. The options are all open, and she is open to any suggestions.

As for 10 years from now, she really has no idea where she will be, but only hopes her daily life will involve good food, close friends and books.