At an Allan Hancock College English department meeting, before the pandemic, Kate Adams launched into a stream of consciousness that included the failing public school system, the inequities of the socioeconomically disadvantaged, the exorbitant price of owning a home in California, and ended with this conclusion: “We need to raise the federal minimum wage.”
This was a classic Kate Adams moment. No matter what was on the agenda, Kate reminded us to fight for a more just society.
When news of Kate’s passing circulated through our department, our collective shock created an existential reckoning. Kate was a larger-than-life figure, who, since joining our department in 1996, defined who we were and what we stood for.
Like many of her colleagues, she came out of graduate school steeped in theory, but for her, theory was tempered by pragmatics. She defined the community college ethos of higher education for all. Her classroom was a living, evolving part of her community. Her legacy was to encourage meaningful, thoughtful dialogue and, in doing so, to advocate literacy and global citizenry.
Ever passionate, Kate threw herself into tasks as though she were sent to save the world. At Hancock she served on the Academic Senate and the curriculum committee and was faculty advisor for the Gay/Straight Alliance.
She co-led the Teaching Learning and Social Justice group, helped organize the visit of activist Rigoberta Menchú, and was a staunch supporter of Dreamers and undocumented students.
But that was just one part of her life. She was deeply involved in many community organizations. She served as a board member for CAUSE, fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice. She served as a representative on the Santa Barbara County Citizens Redistricting Committee, advocating for fair and equitable political representation. She was deeply involved in Santa Maria Pride and the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice.
When justice demanded resistance, Kate was there, marching to show solidarity for George Floyd, supporting the “No Evictions Rally,” and advocating for the “Renouncing and Rejecting Hate and Bigotry” movement in Santa Barbara County.
Kate saw the value in each of her students and fought to ensure all had a fair shot at succeeding. After 25 years as a professor, Kate announced that she was going “to blow up her syllabus.”
Recent studies showed that developmental courses before English 101 disproportionately affected the transfer rates of students of color, and Kate, with an open mind, re-innovated her teaching curriculum and education philosophy. She threw away her grading rubrics, eliminated points entirely, and moved towards contract grading, a system of assessment that passed students if they committed to the work.
Her ability to empathize with the disadvantaged and at risk, made her a compassionate instructor, who contributed to the success of thousands of Santa Maria students.
Nobody talked her way through an issue like Kate. When Kate argued a point, she argued not to win, but to figure out what was right. She felt obligated to look at every issue through as many perspectives as possible: seeing through the eyes of others. She often began discussion arguing one point, then talked herself out of that point by the time she was done.
Academia is often defined by rigidity and tradition; Kate fought against both. Her intellectual agility and willingness to embrace change were core to who she was because she truly believed that the world could be a better place if every voice was heard and valued.
One faculty member called her the moral compass of the English Department. We mourn her death and will miss her energy, compassion, love, and humor. Kate made us better scholars, community members, and human beings.