Grad student receives top CSU award, says it opens new doors to give back

Author: Kent Bravo
November 3, 2021
J Patterson

J Patterson says award will help her continue transforming lives through social work

San Francisco State University graduate student J Patterson says that during her youth, she didn’t think college was in her future. There were many obstacles — including her struggle to come to terms with her identity as a queer, transgender person — that led to mental health issues and addiction.

Patterson eventually left the area where she grew up, Del Norte County in Northern California, but returned in 2013 with a goal. “I reconnected with my community to help build the support system I wished I had had as a young, queer trans person growing up,” she said. After founding Gender Talk, a youth-centered LGBTQ and gender justice community group, she discovered a passion for social work that inspired her to rethink her future.

Fast forward to today, and higher education is very much part of Patterson’s life: This semester she received the prestigious California State University Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement, recognizing her commitment to giving back and the challenges she’s overcome. The annual award is the CSU’s highest recognition of student achievement for those who demonstrate superior academic performance and personal accomplishments.

“This award is so much more than just a lump sum of money. It means doors opening that I dreamed of,” Patterson said. “The contributions don’t stop here because everything I’ve done is to give back to others in some way. It is such a beautiful act to give.”

Patterson, who has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from San Francisco State and returned to the University this fall to earn a master’s degree in Social Work, says one of those dreams is to become a Bay Area social worker and provide youth services. Drawing from her experience growing up, Patterson made it her mission to work on issues around intersectionality to improve the quality of life for young people.

Another dream she has is to continue advocating for prison abolition and liberation, specifically for trans and gender nonconforming people in the school-to-prison pipeline. Patterson says the scholarship will help bring these dreams to life.

​​​​​​​Every year, the CSU honors 23 students, one from each CSU campus, with the Trustees’ Awards. Awardees have all demonstrated inspirational resolve along the path to college success, and many are the first in their families to attend college — just like Patterson.

“These 23 scholars wonderfully exemplify the ideals of the California State University,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said. “Every year, and especially this year, our Trustees’ Award honorees demonstrate resilience, tenacity and resolve — together with a keen intellect — while making an indelible, positive impact on their families and their communities. They are truly an inspiration.”