October 22, 2020
By Zakirah White, Staff Writer
While attending one of the many courses taught by Laney College Sociology Instructor Charity DaMarto, students are made keenly aware of how she is far from the average college professor.
“A big credit to her impact is her unique teaching style,” said Maria DePaz, a former student of DaMarto.
“We would dissect every concept and just talk about it — she gives so much space for that sort of thing,” DePaz said. “Whereas a lot of professors would just be moving on with the lesson, she’ll sit and we will talk a concept through for hours.”
Creating an open space for students in class is part of DaMarto’s process. She graduated from Laney College, received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology from Mills College, and then went on to receive her master’s degree in ethnic studies from San Francisco State University. DaMarto also worked as a youth advocate for the Berkeley Unified School District. Currently, she is a part-time instructor at Laney College and San Francisco State University.
Despite all of her successes, DaMarto’s life has not been an easy one. She grew up in a small town outside of Ridgecrest, California, on a military base she described as a very isolating place in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
“I grew up a latchkey kid,” DaMarto said. “My mom worked a lot, so my aunt and my grandma took care of me, up until third grade. After that, it was just really me on my own.”
DaMarto described her early academic experiences as extremely challenging due to battling mental illness. DaMarto spent her early years taking special ed and classes for English for speakers of other languages. It wasn’t until later on in life that DaMarto discovered she had been struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) and depression. She was unable to discuss the personal trauma and experiences she had been through in life, and believes her time in school would have been different had she received support for her struggles, DaMarto said.
After enrolling in continuation school, DaMarto developed her aspirations. Her experience there differed from her earlier education in terms of quality and environment. There, DaMarto was mentored by her teacher, Mr. Holland, who she credits with ultimately changing her trajectory in life. Holland introduced DaMarto to her school’s book clubs, newspaper and volleyball team while regularly checking in on her to see how she was doing.
“He saw something in me that I couldn’t quite see myself,“ DaMarto said. “I think that really shifted kind of where I wanted to go. That kind of mentorship made me feel like I could do better.”
After graduating from high school, everything changed for DaMarto when she moved to the Bay Area. She started taking professional massage therapy classes at the Natural Holistic Institute in Emeryville and described her time there as a healing experience. In the Bay Area, DaMarto experienced an immense culture shock that ultimately gave her a sense of belonging.
In 1999, DaMarto enrolled in sociology, ethnic studies, and world religion classes at Laney College where she started feeling normalcy in life and began shifting her perspectives. “Everything started making sense, like why I had felt so disconnected. I started seeing connections to why I felt the way I did,” DaMarto said.
DaMarto graduated from Laney College with three associate’s degrees and transferred to Mills College where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in 2005.
She then taught at Thousand Oaks Elementary (Now Sylvia Mendez Elementary) in the Berkeley Unified School District. During her time there, DaMarto worked as a supervisor of family engagement equity for the entire district. She was in charge of a staff that focused on high school training and support for English learners.
After her stint teaching grade school, DaMarto returned to Laney to take additional courses in ethnic studies. She believed teaching at a college level was her way to make a difference.
One of DaMarto’s professors was Roger Viet Chung, chair of Laney’s ethnic studies department and founder and faculty lead of the Restoring Our Communities program.
“Charity really saw our department as an opportunity to advance and tailor her career in education, and really saw value in community college instruction as well as the wealth of knowledge that students in a community college classroom bring. That really impressed me about her,” Chung said.
“Many of the students that come through our department take our courses as graduation or transfer requirements. Others come from the community to take classes out of personal interest or enrichment. Her intentionality of building a personal and intellectual skillset, and how much she valued the power of Laney College’s student body [was valuable].”
Concerned about the mistreatment of marginalized communities, DaMarto felt compelled to return to school in pursuit of her master’s degree. After earning her master’s degree from San Francisco State University in 2018, DaMarto was hired as a part-time instructor for the Laney College sociology and ethnic studies departments.
“I thought if there was a teacher who could’ve just explained these macrosystems that affect us versus these microsystems of how we feel in our own bodies and our realities, I think it would just have made so much more sense to me at that age,” DaMarto said. “I wanted to be a positive employee, a safe adult in a child’s life. My goal was to teach other people the right to really understand and to learn about ourselves through academics.”
DaMarto’s student DePaz said the DaMarto has a knack for helping students understand complicated, large-scale issues. She added that DaMarto’s lectures were always engaging and reflected hope.
“She’ll connect a lot of stuff to herself, and she has had so many intense traumatic experiences and she’s not scared to tell you about them,” DePaz said.“Even in the way she speaks. She’ll connect it in a very base-level way and I think that’s really unique.”
DaMarto has a goal of being hired full time at Laney and says that her future plans are to create “a safe space for fostering youth development and mentoring women of color.” She had been working with Restoring Our Communities at Laney and was going to a San Francisco jail to help teach women mathematics before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chung said the fact that DaMarto is a former student at Laney is a representation of the school’s ability to develop community-minded public servants.
“Charity is an amazing professor [who] brings so much to the Laney community,” Chung said. “She’s a strong example of how many of our programs are truly geared towards developing leaders that will come back and serve the communities from which they came.”