Why Minority Representation is Important to Me

I recently applied for a Google Travel Grant. The application had a question on the importance of diversity to me. I would like to share it, along with my response.

The travel grant program is open to all qualified industry professionals and students and is committed to promoting diversity within our company and the technology industry. Anyone who identifies with a group that is historically underrepresented in the technology industry (including, but not limited to, African Americans, Women, Hispanics, Native Americans, persons with disabilities, and veterans) are encouraged to apply. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates the importance of diversity to you.

I am Afro-Brazilian and Bolivian American. In my childhood, I went to schools that were predominantly Caucasian or Asian and was regularly told by my peers that I was inferior to them due to my background. This continued into college where my freshmen roommates (one Indian and the other Chinese) gave me a list of arguments one afternoon explaining why African-descendants and Latin-Americans were inherently inferior to Eurasians. Their main evidence was that much of the developments made throughout human history were by those from Eurasian backgrounds, while African-descendants and Latin-Americans were historically known to be “uncivilized”. I tried to explain to them that this was a warped narrative that described the world through the ideals of a biased perspective so it would not highlight the accomplishments of some groups[1]. One of them graduated from an elite high school in New York City known for having a small proportion of Black and Hispanic students. They used this fact to motivate the argument that our “inferiority” is evident by our lack of representation in positions of financial and academic success. I found a catch-22:

People think of Black and Hispanic people as inferior because they’re underrepresented, but they’re underrepresented partly because people don’t believe in them.

This encounter motivated me to succeed in physics and computer science (fields where minorities are severely underrepresented[2,3]). Additionally, it motivated me to constantly engage with and encourage my community to pursue and succeed in academics and fields in which we are underrepresented, such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. During both my bachelor’s and master’s programs, I mentored minority students, spoke on numerous panels encouraging minority youth to pursue STEM and research, and taught a supplemental calculus course aimed at increasing minority representation in STEM. Now, committed to increasing minority representation generally, I continue to provide advice, mentorship, and evidence for youth interested in pursuing academics, STEM, or research but unsure of their ability.

  1. Loewen, J. W. (2008). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. The New Press.
  2. Ivie, R., Anderson, G., & White, S. (2009). African Americans & Hispanics among Physics & Astronomy Faculty. Astronomy.
  3. Zweben, S., & Bizot, B. (n.d.). 2015 Taulbee Survey: Continued Booming Undergraduate CS Enrollment; Doctoral Degree Production Dips Slightly. Computing Research News

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I just like to philosophize.

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Wilka Carvalho

Wilka Carvalho

I just like to philosophize.

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