Yesterday, I saw the article on WaPo about the University of Maryland professor who accidentally sent an email to his mock trial class that included a coach’s (the prof’s daughter) remarks on the students who had tried out and her concern about whether or not to include the Latino students for the sake of diversity even though she thought they all performed poorly and that the best one was “mediocre.”
I read that article and it was gut-wrenching. So often students of color have a sense that some professors, admins, or people in power within academia don’t support us because they have a preconception of our “inferior” capabilities, but rarely is it confirmed in embarrassing emails like what happened in Md. I felt horrible for the Latinx students who were unfairly maligned. Of course, I was furious as well because this situation highlights, once again, that in academia, individuals who make choices that impact the course of a student’s career have very little checks and balance when it comes to curtailing implicit bias. The coach in this article probably believes she’s a good person who is striving for diversity and inclusion. But diversity isn’t a favor. You don’t aim for it like it’s something done out of pity. It’s done through purposeful action that acknowledges how we inherently often favor one group over another and then rather than imposing standards on students as if we’re colorblind, we work to ensure real opportunities are available that aren’t impeded by our misconceptions. I can go on and on about how this is an issue, but that doesn’t help you, querida reader, who may be in the midst of deciding whether to try-out or apply for something exclusive; a program that perhaps has not been very welcoming in the past and now you are having second-thoughts.
To those students, it is imperative that you go where you are not wanted.
Yes, in a perfect world, you would be welcomed with open arms and they would see your worth and the value you bring with your diverse background. But you already know the world is not perfect. And I get how hard it is to swallow your pride and participate in something that you feel is being given to you out of pity or in a begrudging manner.
When I was in high school, I knew I had to participate in debate because I wanted to go to law school. It was awful my first year. The coach for my specific type of debate basically ignored me. I never was taught basics. I was mediocre, at best. But after a semester down the drain, I realized I wouldn’t get the support I needed so I’d have to keep pushing myself. I told myself, maybe this coach didn’t want me, but it wasn’t about him–I needed debate because I needed to go to law school. So I kept going; I bit my tongue when the boys were given more valuable critiques; I set goals for myself even when no one checked in on me, and I kept improving. It sucked not being as welcomed as the others and feeling (very explicitly) that this wasn’t an area for me. It made me question my intelligence and capabilities. It just sucked all around. But, ultimately, for me there was no other choice. And there can’t be one for you either.
These systems are purposefully exclusive and difficult to break into so when you have a shot, don’t turn down those opportunities for jobs, fellowships, teams, etc. that will help you grow and reach your goal just because the people in charge aren’t as welcoming as you like. Even if the gate-keepers don’t want you and even if they make it more difficult–try anyway. Go where you’re not wanted because your participation isn’t about them–it’s about you. Through your participation, you’ll gain the tools, skills, and knowledge they tried to keep away from you. It won’t be easy and can take an emotional toll, but you are where you’re supposed to be—whether they like it or not.
Ultimately, my hope is that Latinx students, like the ones at U-MD or the ones at U of Michigan, who just yesterday saw how un-welcomed they are on campus, will stay and participate in places that are usually closed off to Latinos. Get into that space and through your presence and participation you will create an even bigger space for the rest of us.