But Bernardin doesn’t just nurture her family at home—she also cares for her family at Oregon State. Julia Rankin, a fourth-year environmental science student with a minor in social justice, knows Bernardin as her academic advisor for her social justice minor.
“She has helped me shape the minor to my passions and interests while also giving me new possibilities,” Rankin said. “The lens I have of equity and social justice to view environmental issues wouldn’t be as strong or valuable without her, which is crucial to my future goals of working in the environmental justice and equity field.”
Rankin is not the only person who noted Bernardin’s emphasis on centering social justice and equity
“I have a lot I could say about Susan,” said Melissa Cheyney, a professor of medical anthropology in the School of Language, Culture, and Society. “Something that really stands out to me about her is that she walks her talk and lives her politics. She approaches her leadership style, research, and teaching from a social justice perspective.”
According to Cheyney, Bernardin centers the most vulnerable—a tenet of reproductive justice that means putting all your effort and energies into people in your community that are made most marginalized by systems of oppression.
“She is a true ally to faculty and will absolutely stand by your side. Most people don’t think that the most important characteristic of a leader is that they are compassionate and loving. But that's what she is—compassionate, loving, and just—you respect her, and you want to work hard for her,” Cheyney said. “I can give an anecdote that really explains this in a nutshell for me.”
When Cheyney went up for a full professor promotion during the pandemic, she described Bernardin as a sort of midwife to her full professorship. At a nerve-wracking time when associate professors are being evaluated extensively—having their work, strengths and weaknesses viewed under a microscope—Cheyney said Bernardin made the entire process extremely straightforward for her. According to Cheyney, Bernardin not only looked over her CV and clarified the review process, but she also wrote a 4,000-word letter of recommendation for her promotion.
“It wasn't just, ‘yeah, promote her,’ she put her heart and soul into it,” Cheyney said. “I am so grateful that she made that process pretty positive for me—she nurtured me through that. I think she really does that with her faculty.”