The S.B. Questionnaire: Suzanne Peck

Talking Social Justice with the Educator, Author, and Force Behind Pass the Mic

Suzanne Peck
Paul Wellman

An educator and author who worked for 30 years in corporate America, Suzanne Peck serves on Santa Barbara County’s Commission for Women. Her mission is to promote equal opportunity, safety, and support for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and other minorities.

“My father was a Russian immigrant,” she tells me, explaining that he worked as a lawyer and judge who was passionate about fair housing. “I saw him make a difference. I saw a lot of anti-Semitism and racism growing up. I experienced sexual harassment. I want to use my skills and give back.”

Suzanne is particularly excited to talk about her latest project, Pass the Mic. Working with the MAD Academy at Santa Barbara High School, the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and the county’s education and health departments, Pass the Mic consists of three films that feature older teens sharing lessons learned about gender, sexual identity, consent, and knowing your rights. The films will be used for sexual-health education in high schools statewide, as the California Healthy Youth Act requires schools to teach about these issues.

“If you’re 12 years old, you have the right to access health-care service and info without parents’ consent,” she says. “So we’re making films that help educate on these issues.”

In the films, seniors tell their own true stories. “Kids learning from other kids is important when it comes to these subjects,” she says. “These films make it okay to have tough conversations.” She hopes that the concept will catch on.

Suzanne was born and raised in Chicago and studied communications at Northwestern University. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she admits.

After public school teaching assignments in Chicago and Lexington, Massachusetts, she began leading teacher training programs in San Francisco and teaching courses at Dominican University in San Rafael.

Those led to corporate training programs, including work with the management consulting firm Towers Perrin, where she taught executives from such companies as General Electric, Disney, and McDonald’s about equal employment opportunities, diversity, and harassment. She became a principal at Towers Perrin and led the firm’s human resources and communications departments.

Suzanne, who is optimistic and effervescent in person, moved to Santa Barbara after falling in love with our city and wanted to make a difference. Her husband, Abe Peck, was an editor for Rolling Stone and currently teaches journalism at Northwestern. She has two sons, Doug, who is a multi-genre music director, and Bobby, who works in digital marketing in India.

About the process of creating instructional films with students, she says, “This is the first time I’ve done this — created a treatment and passed it on to the students to create. It’s been an incredible journey.”

Suzanne Peck answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your greatest fear?

That Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos will cause irreparable damage to our country, our schools, our education system, and civil rights.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Passion for social justice.

Who do you most admire?

I just have to sing the praises of Sara Miller McCune, my mentor, publisher, and friend. In addition to her brilliant leadership of a multi-national company, her commitment and support of the social sciences, the arts, and our community, Sara’s advice and encouragement is what inspires me to take on the next creative challenge.

What do you like most about your job?

I get to be creative, work with amazing people, and have a positive impact in our community.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My honey, our kids, and our chosen family sitting around the dining room table for a Passover Seder.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Business class plane tickets to India to visit my grandson, Samson Peck, and, of course, his parents — super expensive and worth every penny.

What is your current state of mind?

Thrilled to be completing “Pass the Mic,” a series of films featuring older, wiser teenagers sharing stories, lessons learned, questions and insights about gender, sexuality, consent, knowing your rights, and making smart health choices. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

What is the quality you most like in people?

Passion and determination to make a difference.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Homophobia, racism, sexism, anti-semitism, cold-hearted intolerance, disrespect, and discrimination against anyone who is different.

What do you most value in friends?

Inspiration to have an impact and enjoy life. It’s contagious.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I don’t know, so I took a quick survey. Results: “Onward.” “Let’s do it!” “What else?”

What talent would you most like to have?

It would be so glorious to be able to sing like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Carole King — these amazing women I sing along with in the car every day.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Oh, to be patient. I keep thinking to take up gardening, that it will teach me the joy of patience, but, well not yet.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising two terrific sons while working an intensely demanding job with a global management consulting firm. Thinking back to the ‘80s when they were little, I was taking the early commuter train before they were awake, home after dark, and taking business trips every other week. But somehow, both sons, Doug and Rob, not only survived, but grew up to be smart, kind, and happy.

Where would you most like to live?

I’m here. I love Santa Barbara, my chosen hometown.

What is your most treasured possession?

Silver candlesticks (c. 1850) that my father and grandparents carried with them on the boat when they fled from their home in Russia to immigrate to the United States.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My husband, Abe, without a doubt, and that’s one of the top three reasons I fell in love with him.

What is your motto?

Push, push, push. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill. Sometimes it seems that new barriers and challenges pop up every day, and I just have to keep at it.

What historical figure do you most identify with?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “barrier-busting brainy Brooklynite” is my hero. Fighting for women and minorities and using her voice with so much power, and still kicking it! Anyone who has not yet seen the new film, RBG, get over to the Riviera immediately.

On what occasion do you lie?

When I order a martini at Lucky’s and say I’ll only drink half.


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