Memorial for Janeen & Support for the Family

Janeen Irving was a mother, friend, sister-friend, daughter-friend, colleague, and student. On March 17, 2021, Janeen passed away suddenly. Janeen leaves behind two children, Adjani and Jalil, both in their early 20s. We want to do everything in our capacity to help Janeen rest peacefully and to give support to the family in their grief. Funds will be put toward Janeen’s cremation, memorial service, moving and storage of belongings, travel for the children to and from New Orleans, and as support for the family as they grapple with such enormous loss.

**While many of us use she/her pronouns in reference to Janeen, we want to note that Janeen used both “she/hers” and “they/them” pronouns to articulate the expansiveness of their being in the world.

[Administrative note: My name is John Mundell and I am helping to manage the GoFundMe. All funds raised will be sent to Adjani and her brother, Jalil. Janeen was, first, my student at UC Berkeley in 2016 and, in the years following, became a dear friend. To manage this GoFundMe is an honor for me that I take with tremendous care and responsibility. I miss my friend so much and I know that I am far from alone in that. I hope that we may be able to come together at some point to celebrate Janeen’s warm, brilliant, hilarious spirit very soon. Thank you for donating!!! Any questions, please message me through here.] 

Below are photos of Janeen, including one with Adjani and Jalil. Following, are a dedication and  beautiful tributes from Janeen’s family, friends, co-workers, classmates, and instructors. As these come in to my inbox, I will continue to add more. We will compile them and give them to the family. Or feel free to leave a comment with your donation, including any photos you have with Janeen.

In Memoriam: Janeen M. Vance Irving, May 23, 1972 – March 17, 2021 

Janeen was a fighter. She knew what it meant to hustle and get things done. If she said she was going to do something, she did it. She was always going places: moving across the country for a change of pace, traveling abroad, and going back to school and getting her degrees. Janeen remained in constant physical, social, and intellectual motion. A Bay Area native and doing her masters in New York City, Janeen moved to New Orleans mid-way through the pandemic to finish her degree virtually and to be closer to her Creole ancestral roots. For those who knew Janeen well, you knew that, even sleeping, she couldn’t sit still. She preferred the gentle rocking of a hammock instead of a still bed. 

Janeen took tremendous pleasure in meticulously planning her next move and projects, including even sewing and tailoring many of her own clothes, traveling to see art or relax on her favorite beach in the Dominican Republic. But she always set time aside for her friends and family. The lilt in her laugh was infectious and joyfully loud and her wit was razor sharp, both in real life and online. She carried that humor wherever she went, be it with her friends, in her work at several museums in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, and in the classroom. From Chabot Community College, she transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated in 2018 with a double-major in African American Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies. In 2019, she began her Masters in African American Studies at Columbia University and was two months from filing her thesis for graduation this May. She was a success at all of these institutions but not merely on her transcript. Janeen embodied the mission of her fields of study, seamlessly bringing the University to the surrounding community and bringing people in who have historically been excluded by the same institution. She was determined to break barriers and then lay out a welcome mat. 

As a transfer student re-entering higher education later in life, Janeen brought not only intelligence and dedication to her studies, but also wisdom and overflowing grace. When she entered a discussion, she made sure it stayed grounded in what truly mattered at the end of the day: people. Janeen could talk to anybody and she would listen intently. Her passions were Black art and culture, reading about race, gender, and sexuality, exploring family genealogy, looking at old maps, and playing with and writing about technology. She saw her studies on race and popular culture as an ongoing conversation with the people she interacted across spaces, from museums and academia to her own distant relatives that she discovered via and strangers online with whom she became fast friends. For Janeen, the lives of everyday people and the pursuit of knowledge were one and the same. And she found tremendous humor in it all making sure we laughed right along with her. That's how she showed us her love. 


“I can’t find the words to express how much my mom meant to me. She was beautiful. She was kind. She was super smart. I just want people to know we lost an angel. Whatever they can donate, we are beyond thankful.” – Adjani Anderson, Janeen’s daughter 

“Janeen and I were kindred spirits. Our relationship at times was mother/daughter as well as friend.” – Delores Orr, dear friend and classmate at UC Berkeley 

“Janeen was special. We met during our orientation at UC Berkeley and instantly connected! She was a non-traditional re-entry transfer student just like me and she fearlessly navigated Cal in such an unapologetic way. I later learned she was a mother, a bit eclectic (like me) and she had a love for fine wine and cheese (just like me) It didn’t take long before I officially joined her and Delores as the 3rd member of the Old Lady Gang. Janeen provided comfort as we both navigated NYC for our master’s programs. That’s the constant—she would always provide comfort. She created space for her friends and loved ones to exist however we showed up; an authentic sense of belonging, if you will. I could go on and on but to make a long story short, I will miss her dearly. While she accomplished many, many things, one thing was certain: she wasn’t finished yet! In fact, she was just getting started... Rest Well Janeen. Your friend and fellow Ol’ Lady, Brianna” 

“With her humor and intelligence, Janeen was a bright light in our Department. She was completing her MA thesis and would have graduated in May.  She was a gregarious, generous, mature student who was whip smart and excited about completing her studies.  She brought her full self to all she did in the classroom, hanging out with other students and staff. As our very first Mellon Arts Graduate Fellow, Janeen was assisting with our Black Arts Dialogues and had been a key factor in developing our podcast “Black Lives in the Era of COVID 19,” which characterizes her invaluable contribution to our academic community.  Her dedication to and passion for the arts and for African American and African Diaspora Studies is something we will never forget.” – Faculty, Staff and Students, African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, Columbia University 

“Janeen was right there when we needed her most—smart and steady, savvy and quick.  She is missed and will be always.” – Ayana Mathis, Host & Curator, African American & African Diaspora Studies, Columbia University 

"Janeen had a soft energy with sharp passion, taking up space in this world for others who were too small to make their own. She attracted wilted souls and soothed us into believing that there was a way through our troubles. She set the example of how to make joy in our own lives when happiness is hard to come by. Janeen’s memory will always be a blessing and I am forever grateful to have known her." - Barbara Draughn, Janeen's close friend 

“I hate to speak of Janeen in the past tense. Her expansive and razor-sharp intellect, her warm smile and deep laugh, her fierce love of family and community, and her commitment to living a thoughtful, responsible, and joyful life will always resonate on the 6th floor. I miss her.” – Brandi Catanese, Associate Professor, African American Studies and Theatre, Dance & Performance Studies, UC Berkeley 

"It was a joy having Janeen in my discussion section. She was so brilliant. I felt like she gave me as much as I tried to offer the class. I was a fan of her vivacious spirit, love of the arts, and unyielding ambition. I'm honored to have witnessed just a small part of her journey. She is sorely missed." - Jamal Batts, PhD candidate, African American & African Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley

“Sending love to her family and to all of us who worked with, knew, and loved her. One thing 'bout Janeen, she knew how to have a good time and enjoy life's luxuries. May our grief be sweet, compassionate and pleasureful.” – Ra Malika Imhotep, PhD candidate, African American & African Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley 

"Janeen and I regarded and recognized one another for who we are almost immediately. We were fast friends who shared a similar sense and sensibility: joy over pain, laughter over sorrow, pleasure over suffering. Wherever we found each other—be it in Berkeley or NYC—Janeen insisted on us escaping to a rival geography! There with Janeen, the food was sure to be tasty; the cocktails overflowing; the décor exquisite; and the laughter abundant. We. Cut. Up. Okay? There is just no other way to put it. Then we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic in NYC, as grad students no less. Her response? “Meet me at Fogo de Chão for happy hour after my shift at the MoMa.” I went (we kept going too!). In her love I found a balm. And in her companionship, I found a salve. She must have known I needed a real friend and a really, really stiff drink. But most of all, I needed to be reminded of the truth. Of the fullness of life, no matter what else is going on. In her very Janeen way, she invited me into critical perspective: “Poetry is not a luxury.” I hope you’re finally getting to live in your yurt, Janeen. I love you!" - Aman Williams, a dear friend on both coasts

"Janeen possessed a contagious warmth and kindness that comforted me during some of my most challenging times at Cal. She undoubtedly made an impression on every life that she touched. May she rest in eternal light. "  - Taylor Swain, classmate at UC Berkeley

“As an intellectual committed to disrupting the divide between the University and Black communities, largely through the arts and culture, Janeen represented the best of UC Berkeley.  Janeen found joy and pleasure in knowledge because she understood its powerful possibilities.  In so many ways, I think of Janeen like an intellectual Mardi Gras—filled with transformative visions grounded in love.” – Ula Taylor, Professor of African American Studies, UC Berkeley 

“Our beloved Janeen, ex-student at Berkeley who brought so much intelligence and joy to these hallways, will not be forgotten; she is unforgettable. What a brilliant, creative, caring human being.” – Paola Bacchetta, Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley 

“While Janeen was only with the Exploratorium for the summer, she made a huge impression on me and the rest of the team. Janeen was thoughtful, funny, passionate, fiercely intelligent and kind. I always hoped we'd cross paths again one day and am so deeply sorry to hear that the world (and the museum world) has lost such a bright light.” – Rachel Hyden, Exploratorium Museum (San Francisco)

“My dear sister friend Janeen, you were such a dynamic, authentic, and strong light force within my life as well as many others. Your aura exuded so much resiliency, luxury, intellect, and humbleness and my most favorite part about you - your sass and sense of humor. I pray that your transition is comforting and peaceful, until we meet again my sweet vibrant friend; I love you always - Love, Shelby.”

"Janeen was such a smart and inspiring spirit. I often remember the free-flowing jokes she’d throw my way whenever I could get a chance to hang at the ticketing desk. She had a kindness and realness about her that made all the visitors feel welcome and at home. She reminded me, during one of the final lunches we had, to always remember we have value beyond the expectations of where we think we should be. She told me a lot about her non-traditional path through schooling and living and having her beautiful children, leaving me with the lesson that life moves the way it does and to just trust the process. I am grateful to have been able to meet her." - Orion, Oakland Museum of California

"Janeen was an incredible person who was so bright and funny. She knew that she was amazing, and she refused to change herself to make others more comfortable and I really admired her for that. She had this incredible wealth of knowledge, partly because of how she was constantly observing the world around her, but also because she wanted to learn and grow and it was like you could ask her any question and she would know the answer or be able to figure it out in five minutes. People like her are very rare, and I'm so glad to have met her." - Helen, Oakland Museum of California

"Janeen was rich in the knowledge of her studies, family life, and diligent work. But I think the most powerful thing she taught me was to always stand up for myself." - Topher, Oakland Museum of California

"Janeen graced OMCA for a too short period of time but in that time had an outsized impact. She held this incredible balance between being light hearted and joyful and a real talk, no nonsense force for truth and justice. Her ability to navigate that interstitial space was what made her such an incredible influence and role model to all of us. As a scholar she brought her thoughtful and meditated intellect to our museum space, and I knew she would have a formidable intellectual footprint in her academic endeavors. I feel so blessed to have experienced a small slice of her presence on this plane. I am holding her family and loved ones in my heart." - Christina Young, Oakland Museum of California

"Janeen was a committed member of our small but mighty administrative team in AAADS at Columbia. Although I hadn’t known her long, we had an immediate rapport. I relied on her expertise and thoughtfulness. She was a joy to work with and I will miss her." - Kalia Brooks Nelson, Director of the Mellon Arts Initiative in African American & African Diaspora Studies, Columbia University

"I am so, so sorry to hear of Janeen's passing. I really enjoyed her talking with her at OMCA. Her humor, spirit, astute observations, and kindness made a big impression on me. I loved following her adventures and endeavors in academia, food, lipstick, travel, and art on Instagram after she left OMCA. Her light burned brightly and radiated powerfully. Sending much love to her family and all the folks who are mourning her loss." - Lisa Silberstein, Oakland Museum of California


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John Mundell
Oakland, CA

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