As president of the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees, Dyana Delfín Polk is currently working with her colleagues, Berkeley area leaders and state officials to advocate for a much-needed, affordable student housing project for Alameda County.
The Merced College alumna deeply understands why having an affordable, safe place to live can make or break the academic potential for so many community college students.
And there is nothing Delfín Polk, 37, is more passionate about than the academic potential of community college students.
“I’d like to see these affordable housing opportunities extend to more community college districts, including rural districts, since the housing crisis affects everyone,” she said.
Peralta is seeking $52 million from the state to help pay for a facility of below-market room rentals, in an area known for high rents, for PCCD students.
UC Merced and Merced College are partnering to do something similar in Merced County, the place where Delfín Polk was raised and began her own community college experience in 2002 as a 16-year old high school student taking independent studies.
Delfín Polk salutes her old Merced College guidance counselor Greg Soto, now a dean, for helping her chart a course to her dream school.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at that age, but I knew UC Berkeley was my destination,” she said.
She is also grateful for her mentor, former Merced College history Professor Amerjit Johal. When a course in modern European history was set to get cut due to low enrollment—a course Delfín Polk needed in order to transfer—Johal encouraged her to fight for it.
“She taught me how to be an advocate,” Delfín Polk said.
Delfín Polk appealed to the administration and saved the course. Count that as her first success in community organizing.
Delfín Polk was a typical community college student in other ways. She lived at home and worked part-time. She received financial aid. She was also highly engaged, giving campus tours as a student ambassador and serving with ASMC.
Already interested in public service, she interned with former U.S. Congressman Dennis Cardoza and found her political advocate’s voice while working with constituents.
But when she successfully transferred to UC Berkeley in 2006, living her dream wasn’t that easy.
“I had such high ambitions, but I felt a little out of place,” Delfín Polk said. “There weren’t many students from the Central Valley there. I felt so isolated. So, as an adult, showing how proud I am of where I come from is really important for me.”
Delfín Polk is the whole political package. Bilingual. Bicultural. Educated in state schools like Merced College and UC Berkeley (B.A. Chicano Studies and American History) and a private school in Mills College (M.A. Public Policy). A leader among younger progressives and Democrats. Experienced in organizing at the community level with nonprofits like Unity Council in Fruitvale and Oakland. Politically savvy, having advised Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Oakland City Councilmember Kevin Jenkins.
Her first campaign victory was for her current office as the Area 6 Representative with PCCD. She has also consulted on city council and school board campaigns, while working extensively with BIPOC, women and LGBTQ+ candidates throughout the Bay Area.
“It is a unique skill set I’ve developed over the last 15 years,” Delfín Polk said.
Her biggest professional successes so far came during her tenure as the Associate Executive Director of Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth (HOMEY), a violence prevention and social justice nonprofit serving disadvantaged Latinx and African-American youth in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“We guided system-impacted youth on using education to better their lives,” Delfín Polk said. “I deeply believe in that power. The years I spent in service to HOMEY taught me that. It also convinced me that I have to use all that I have and all the opportunities I have gained as a result of my education to help others achieve the same.”
Berkeley will always have her heart. She first connected to the area through her grandparents, who moved there in 1971. Her grandmother, Martha Acevedo, served as a trustee for the Berkeley Unified School District from 1988-92. Delfín Polk moved there when she started at UC Berkeley and never left.
Delfín Polk plans to seek reelection with the PCCD in 2024. In the meantime, she has the housing project to work on, and the district is also searching for a new chancellor.
Delfín Polk is well positioned to do this important work because, 20 years ago, people at Merced College saw her energy, and nurtured her ambitions.
“There is no way I’d be here without the support of administration, faculty and staff,” she said. “I was so young. I was so curious. I just started asking questions and never stopped.
“When I ran for office the first time, ‘Merced College’ was all over my campaign materials because it’s important that people understand where I come from. Merced College did everything for me.”