Give Us a Voice
Why Did I Choose This Topic?
I decided to explore this topic, because I notice this issue everyday in my school. I can’t go one day in school without noticing or feeling myself the resistance against Women of Color in the classroom. I felt that I needed a way to get the voices of my classmates out there, to a larger audience so that those who don’t go through this on a daily basis can understand. Being shut down in an educational setting every single day can really take a toll on Women of Colors confidence as well as grades. There are so many ways that everyone can get involved everyday to make sure that everyone in their classroom feels comfortable and welcomed speaking during class. I interviewed a some classmates about their high school experience being a Women of Color in the classroom.
As a often shy, Biracial student at a private school, I tend to find myself sitting in class and only taking in what others say rather than giving out my own ideas. Though, I am known to be a good listener to my friends, I often listen more than speak in class. It may not be so obvious even to me that the reason I am not speaking up is because of the demographics of most of my classes, but when I think about I always end at the same issue. I feel as if when I speak, I am responsible for representing an entire group of individuals at my school who all have our own ideas. So how am I supposed to represent all of them? Though, that holds me back only to a certain extent, when I do find myself attempting to share a thought I am normally shut down or spoken over by another classmate. Too often enough, It is not noticed by anyone else in the room that I was talked over, and it requires so much energy and strength to reinsert myself. And when I do, I’m seen as annoying or easily irritated. Why can’t we have a strong voice that is listened to? I am just as smart if not smarter than you, so listen.
I made a short video picturing some WOC at my school!
I am a young Mexican American girl- one of four in my entire graduating class. When it comes to speaking in class, I find myself finding someone who can amplify my voice instead of speaking to the entire class. For example, I will look to one of my male classmates and ask them to repeat my answer or response because he is listened to before I am. I feel that my voice is not as respected as my male counterparts because not because I am Mexican but because I am a woman. I plan to study engineering, so I am in very rigorous math classes where there are no more than 5 girls in a class. The times I feel most silenced in a classroom is when I don’t understand a concept or am confused about something: I try to ask clarifying questions but they are breezed over unless a boy in the class is also confused. Over the past four years, I have tried to build up my voice in a classroom but it often becomes exhausting repeating myself four or five times just to be heard once.
My participation grade hasn’t been consistent throughout high school because I am no longer the same confident 14 year old. Coming to Latin as a freshman, I thought I would have more opportunities to grow as a student with people who loved learning as much as I did. But as I kept adding challenging class to my schedule each year, I found it harder to use my voice in a room that was usually dominated by white boys who looked down at girls like me. I found out that honors classes were seen as a competition for who was smartest, who got the highest scores on tests, and who’s money bought the best tutor– all of this usually intimidated a brown girl who didn’t share those same experiences. Being in classrooms everyday where people constantly rejected my ideas or ignored them made me begin to blame parts of my identity that got in the way of my education; but I’ve learned much more valuable lessons that go behind the classroom because I am a woman of color. This being my junior year, I feel that I’ve worked hard to begin to make my voice heard. I know I will face obstacles, and people, that will doubt my intelligence, but I use that as motivation because I know no one can ever take away my education. So I continue to work hard.
As a freshman I was terrified to speak up in class because I was afraid that if I got the question wrong I felt that I would confirm the stereotypes my peers already felt about me. As one of very few black woman at a school like Latin I feel like I’m representing my entire race. My fear of this then spiraled into a decline of my participation grade. Now as a senior i am a lot more vocal in my classes but I still find myself holding back especially in stem classes even when I know the material because of the fear that I would mess up and make myself and any other black women or even another WOC look bad.
When I was a freshmen, I was a little shy and felt that my voice wasn’t important enough to be heard. Later on, as I started to become better at participating in class, I realized that it was because I was one of the few people of color in the class and didn’t feel smart enough or confident enough to get an answer right. Now four years later, I’m still trying to have confidence in the classroom but I always notice something in each class. The people who aren’t of color don’t need to think about what they say or when they say something in the class. I recognized that is a privilege– a privilege I don’t have. And I don’t think it’s because I am holding myself back and I could’ve been more vocal in classes; it’s because I am trying to not hold a stereotype. Because I am the only Nepalese in the whole school, I am afraid that everything I do generalizes the people from my background, and that holds me back from being as confident and expressive as the other students who aren’t of color in the classrooms.
Identity entails all of the beautiful, unique things that make someone different from the person sitting next to them. To me, being Mexican and a female is something that is apart of me, and also what makes me proud of being who I am. It sometimes gets difficult to see all of its beauty when I spend everyday sitting in a classroom with peers who don’t see its worth the way I do. They don’t understand it, or see it the way I see it, instead they see stereotypes. I have not always been comfortable speaking up in classroom discussions in fear that I would fall into their prejudice assumptions. As years went on, my mother gave me the greatest gift I could have asked for, courage. She would tell me that despite what they would say, I was just as smart. I began speaking up more and enlightening my peers on the issues of race and sexism, rather than resenting them for their ignorance. I was proud of who I was, regardless of what other people said. Speaking up in discussions as a minority is always going to be hard and will never be easy, but it has gotten more manageable.
As a minority in a white central school, I don’t always feel comfortable enough to share my opinion in class – especially in Honors classes where very few women of color are placed. I often, though, am more scared to participate when it comes to a math or science problem, rather than a discussion-based class where I am expected to talk about my perspective on life. It feels like I am more likely to fail in an area backed by numbers and skill rather than an abstracted area of discourse, possibly because if I talk about being a woman of color, people will take my word for it since they are not one themselves, but in a math problem, they are more likely to undermine and doubt me.
What I’ve Learned:
- Repeating your point can be exhausting.
- Pushing forward no matter what, and amplifying your voice can really pay off.
- No matter what others see you as, you can still be proud of your identity.
- While letting others breeze over your points may seem like the best way out, repeating yourself and making yourself heard it an EVEN BETTER option.
- You have the right for your voice to be heard in class no matter what the subject is.
We have talked a lot in this course about intersectionality, and that was actually one of the reasons I decided to change my project from women in the classroom to women of color in the classroom. I enjoyed a lot of the videos and articles that we read in class, but also found this short video that talks about feminism and intersectionality in the context of pizza. Enjoy!
Take a survey!! I created this survey to see what you have all gained from this, but also to help me create ideas on how to change the dynamics of classrooms. I would love everyone to take this! Thanks so much.
— this image portrays the stereotypical male and female minds and what “should” be on them.
How can I help?
Don’t allow your classmates to talk over WOC.
Validate WOC’s points whether you agree with them or not.
Say names, and make it seem as if we’ve been heard.
Make WOC feel valued.
Make eye contact when you respond to WOC.
If you notice a teacher often dismissing students comments, approach them about it and bring it to their awareness.
Just because no-one else is trying to change, doesn't mean you shouldn't. That means that we NEED you.
- “Women of Color in the Academy.” University of Illinois Press. N.p., n.d. Web.Mcdaniel, Rhett.
- “Notes from the CFT Library: Women Faculty of Color in the White Classroom.” Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt University, 19 July 1970. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
- “Women of Color and Feminism: A History Lesson and Way Forward.” Rewire. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017. Lombardi, K. S. (1993, March 13).
- Easing Bias Against Girls in the Classroom. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/14/nyregion/easing-bias-against-girls-in-the-classroom.html?pagewanted=all Gender Bias in Education. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2017, from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/papers/genderbias.html https://oma.ku.edu/ku-women-color-retreat-registration