Today at a holiday event at work, I was introduced to a colleague as the ‘prettiest girl in the research office’. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I kindly smiled and said ‘thank you’ and walked away. I wrestled between feelings of content as if I just received a compliment, and feelings of being undermined as if only physical attributes mattered. And although it took me some time to figure out why I felt this way, I think I was able to capture my feeling into words.
I love my dark skin, my black hair, and I’m very proud of my Mexican upbringing, being a woman, and of my accomplishments so far at my age. Yet it seems like just focusing on those traits alone the odds are stacked against me.
And it is this ripple effect that has caught me off-guard: I read about how Latinos have higher dropout rates, are among the lowest performing groups academically, the numerous barriers encountered by students of color in higher education, and how each of these outcomes has a repercussion on later years (employment and in overall socio-economic status -by the way did you know that it takes over 300 Latino students for each Latino PhD graduate?). But now that I am on the other side of the pipeline, I continue to feel those ripples creep by as it seems like those biases persist into the workplace and transform themselves into a thick and seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling. “Oh you are so pretty” people tell me. Or the classic “You need more experience” as if my years of experience and doctorate degree aren’t enough.
I guess for now a simple thank you at the holiday party was sufficient, while I get back to my office and continue my work on eradicating the achievement gap to make sure all students have the same opportunity to succeed even after they graduate…