Pierre R. Berastain

Pierre R. BerastainDirector, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Hi Pierre, thanks for talking to us. Could you tell us about your relationship with Harvard?


Currently, I am the director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response, which works to support members of the community who have experienced interpersonal harm. We also create programming to raise awareness and engage the larger community in preventing harm. While I've only been in this position for two years, my relationship to the University goes back to my years as an undergrad at the College. I'm also a proud alumnus of the Divinity School.


And what is your relationship with the immigration community?


Immigration is a huge part of what shaped my identity, my values, and my work as a professional. I came to the United States on December 18, 1998 with my family and remained an undocumented immigrant through high school, college, and part of graduate school until President Obama signed DACA. The anxiety that comes from uncertaintynot knowing whether my family would be deported, whether I'd have a job, whether I could trust police or even doctorsthat anxiety inevitably molds you.


I also I grew up in a system whose answer to my and my family's needs was often "no", so I had to learn early on how to navigate those systems. I learned that systems are people who make and enforce rules, and so I became adept at rejecting "no" as an answer, and instead asking how we could make something happen. That's the philosophy I try to bring to my work and my life, but I must confess it's not always easy. For example, I still have anxiety and trouble sleeping. I sometimes wake up to nightmares, and every time I hear negative news about immigration, I find it more difficult to concentrate. I’ve learned that those feelings are temporary, that the next morning or the following week, my mind will pull from years of resilience and ground me, but in the moment, those feelings are formidable.


You ask me what my relationship is to the immigrant community—I’d say it’s one of solidarity, a sense that “we are in this together.” When I was a junior, the College had sent an email connecting a number of undocumented students who had opted to have their information shared. At the time, there weren’t any special programs or supports for those of us who were undocumented, so having an unofficial list-serv was a big deal. I remember opening my laptop to see an email from my friend Karla that read, “Así que vos también con [esto], no?” “Yes,” I replied, “and we can talk all day long about it.” Karla was one of my first undocumented friends, and I have found strength in our conversation. I think that’s the role that we, as immigrants, play in this community: we are all each other’s strengths and hopes.


The IIH is about 'Advancing and promoting interdisciplinary scholarship, original research, and intellectual exchange in immigration policy and immigrant communities.' We also seek to create community, 'Bringing together people who care about immigration to promote positive change'. What do you think the priorities should be?


I'm so glad there is a center dedicated to uplifting the voices of immigrant communities. Priorities are going to shift over time, and that is expected with any initiative. My hope for the IIH is that it never looses its guiding compass. There will be times when the IIH will be weighing the value of programs and events, debating the merits of an initiative or policy. It's during those times that the most important tenant to remember is that we ought to go back to those communities we work with and center them in the decision-making process. The disability rights movement has a guiding principle for allies: "Nothing about us without us." I'd say the same applies to a center like the IIH.


Pierre was in Washington in solidarity with DACA beneficaries last year as evidence was heard by the Supreme Court about the future of the program, which has supported some 800,000 undocumented youth. Watch his interview with CNN here.