Featuring Great Women in Santa Barbara

Women of all identities have often been seen as the supporting role throughout history. They are seen as the wives to the presidents, the nurses to the doctors, a stereotype that reigns over Santa Barbara just as much as the rest of our country. Yet, during the month of March, Women’s History month, we can spend time recognizing the women of our past and present that have persevered through a society built against them, and found places where they could lead, unafraid to take up space and speak up. There are countless women who have done this, in fact it can be argued that all women have to do this everyday, but here are three women in our community that are a part of living history, leading young women into the future.

Featuring Dr. Alvarez

At San Marcos, our assistant principal Dr. Alvarez is a latina woman. She is a San Marcos alumni who went onto college at USC, NAU, University of Toledo, and then worked numerous jobs in the education field until returning to San Marcos as vice principal. She shared her experience as a woman going through schooling and different jobs in the education field. 


Analese Alvarez

“If I look at the path of my life and career, not only as a woman, but as a minority woman, there’s definitely been a lot of struggle. There are a lot of assumptions that are impressed on you in certain industries,” said Dr. Alvarez. “I have had to learn how to speak up, stand up, and take space in those spaces where there just aren’t very many women.” 

When Dr. Alvarez was a high school student at San Marcos, there were few women in leadership positions, leaving an empty space where representation for young women should have been. Now, in a full circle fashion, she has come back to her high school, this time providing young women and young latina women with an example. 

When asked what she would say to young women facing misogyny, she replied, “It’s there, you’re not crazy, it’s there. Our society is getting better at recognizing it but don’t wait around for others to recognize it for you. And it’s hard. We as women should not be responsible for teaching anti misogyny to non-women, but sometimes we have to call it out and have those uncomfortable conversations. We have to be willing to stand up for ourselves in those situations.”

Featuring Former Mayor Cathy Murillo

Standing up for yourself and taking up space can be exhausting, especially when done alone. Fortunately there is a recent change of more women in elected offices, creating the power of unity, allowing self empowerment to be less daunting. In Santa Barbara, we have had 51 mayors, and only five have been women. The most recent woman mayor was Cathy Murillo, serving as mayor of Santa Barbara from 2018-2021. She has brought a voice for women to our community and serves as a role model to young girls. 

When asked how her priorities as mayor and perspective differed from her male colleagues, Murillo said, “One of the first decisions I made as an elected official was to oppose the City of Santa Barbara’s proposed gang injunction, which named 30 or so gang-involved individuals and aimed to restrict their movements. The injunction assumed they would do wrong in the future; I couldn’t support that. Instead, I formed a community forum to find the root causes of street violence and identify ways to support their families. I met so many single mothers, working-class and low-income parents who wanted their children to make better choices, to do well in school, to develop job skills, to be healthy physically and mentally. So the next 10 years of my public service was informed by that experience.”

This choice of using restorative justice rather than the criminal justice system is one of trust and patience. The quality of patience can be attributed to women. Despite a history of receiving the short end of the stick, our frustration has not turned into petty bitterness, it has become a patient motivation to change the rules and to change the society.

Murillo offered the advice to young women that want to break into a male dominated field but feel discouraged, to “enter those fields with faith in yourself and your abilities.” Knowing your worth is crucial for young women when the world will not reflect it back to you.

Featuring Simone Akila Ruskamp

In Santa Barbara there is an organization called Healing Justice Santa Barbara. Founded by Krystle Farmer Sieghart and Simone Akila Ruskamp, HJSB uplifts all Black/African Americans and brings resources to their communities. Co-founder Simone Akila Ruskamp shared her experience of being a dark skinned black woman that grew up in Oakland and then came to UCSB for college. 

“I am a black woman and I am also a dark skin black woman. So, my experience is deeply impacted by that. Oakland has this very very rich and super present black history,” said Simone Akila Ruskamp. “My mom got my sibling and I involved in all these super culturally affirming activities and programs. And then I came to UC Santa Barbara. When I was there, I graduated in 2011, probably 2% of the student body that was black. UCSB seems like an island to itself. It’s there but students are not often encouraged to be a part of a community. Especially black students. We don’t always know that there are black people in the community that are waiting to have relationships with you or organizations waiting to connect, I didn’t know that when I was student. Luckily when I was a student I was able to meet black families that had been in Santa Barbara for generations.”

Healing Justice Santa Barbara co-founder Simone Akila Ruskamp.                                                       Image courtesy of Healing Justice Santa Barbara

Through those connections Simone met Krystle Farmer Sieghart who co-founded Healing Justice Santa Barbara with her, and Leticia Forney Resch who is the director of cultural arts and events. Each of these women had to find their stride on their path to their current work at Healing Justice Santa Barbara. As advice for young people currently finding their own strides, Simone said to trust your gifts and talents. 

“Krystle, Leticia and I have very different experiences but we all found a way to use our gifts and talents together. Lytisha was a wedding planner and organizer but was really interested in film, and she’s helped produce some of our documentaries. Krystle has always loved young people and had this beautiful, effervescent personality and now she has a TV show where she interviews local activists. So I would say trust your giftings. And also of course in particular to black young people, we are heavy into relationships and mentorship so if there are young folks that want support or want to get involved or are like ‘I’m gifted at this thing’, I would love to be able to support them.”

To contact Healing Justice Santa Barbara, email [email protected] or send a message to them on their website under the contact page. 

As said many times before by many different people, we have come a long way but still have a long way to go. That is why honoring Women’s History month is so crucial in the path of equality. Without recognizing what we have accomplished we get discouraged, but we also must take a look at where we want to go so we can be intentional with our activism. During the month of March, read books by women, watch films by women, research women historical figures, do anything that appreciates and celebrates all that the so-called supporters of a society can do, until we are seen as the leaders.