First Year in San Francisco

Justin Pearson ’20 is completing his first year in the MA Urban and Public Affairs program

My path to the University of San Francisco began with loving the Bay Area on prior visits from my home in Jamaica. I have had the privilege from prior work and study in International Relations and Government to contemplate my own country in the wider world context, to consider the advantages and disadvantages of being in the minority and punching above one’s weight. I saw all this in San Francisco, and what better way to dive into all these issues of policy and social change than to enter the Masters of Arts programme in Urban and Public Affairs (UPA). The chance to experience and learn from the San Francisco Bay Area seemed like the right mix of being overwhelming and exciting.

I came here to visit friends and because it was a new place that you hear about all the time, but it’s always best to see it for yourself. I fell in love with San Francisco because of the view, the Bay, and the odd familiarity I felt to the geography of the City which had elements of my home, Montego Bay, Jamaica.

San Francisco holds so much of what the world could be in such a small physical area. The city is its own microcosm of what is possible, with glaring reminders of what’s left to be done.

I’m in the UPA programme, and I’ve taken courses in Urban Racial Politics, Urban Power, Cities Law and Inequality and Urban Public Finance. I can definitely say that I came into the programme with a viewpoint that was more broad and far-reaching, but through these courses and the ones I’m planning to do in my final year, I’ve learned the value focusing on the local. Local is not synonymous with small, but leans towards the recognition of the varied experiences in spaces from the national stage to a specific neighbourhood, and everywhere in-between.

A year into my programme, I see San Francisco in many of the same ways I saw it before, but more evolved, more nuanced. The glittery facade I saw before is still a sight to behold, but now I also see the underbelly that is not always as obvious. This manifests in issues such as the issue of homelessness, racial inequality and this looming, ominous cloud of what’s next with tech companies in the Bay Area. What’s been surprising about San Francisco is that it is not always perfect, and that in spite of a democratic majority in government here, there are still points of contention and disarray.

This summer, as part of my MA programme, I will be interning at City Hall with District 8 Supervisor Mandleman. I’m really looking forward to it because of one of the central issues in his platform — climate change. Supervisor Madleman has put forward a resolution to declare a climate emergency. My capstone next year will deal with the effects of climate change, in infrastructure and politics alike. It is an area of interest for me, coming from a country vulnerable to the effects of climate change given its hurricanes, rising sea levels and economic consequences. I’m keen to dive into the climate change as it relates to San Francisco.

I have another year in my programme and I’m ready for it. Fresh starts are always the slightest bit daunting but I am encouraged, based off my first year and the fact that I’m experiencing a city I’ve grown to love, complex and simple all at once.



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