Struggles of women in academia discussed during panel

By Kimberly Chinchilla

Women speakers share their stories and experiences, on fighting a systemic change for a more inclusive workplace in the world of academia. 

The Sociology Club hosted a speaker series for Women’s History Month for the “Celebrating Women Who Tell Their Stories” theme, which included East Los Angeles College professors: Dr. Lisa Vartanian, Elizabeth Ortega, Kelly Velasquez, Amanda Ryan-Romo, and Cal State Dominguez Hills  professor Rosario Martinez-Pogar. 

Each woman on the panel was driven into academia by the connections they built throughout their journeys. They all connected by sharing their stories on what it’s like being a woman in the educational field, which they agree, is a work in progress. 

Women in any field have long been marginalized by men causing them to think their capabilities are limited. Society expects women to behave and portray a role created by men, making it difficult for women to accept their virtues. 

These challenges and limitations that women still face are causing them to suffer from imposter syndrome. 

Ortega said that imposter syndrome is when you are a qualified person, but you still don’t believe that you are good enough for a job. 

“That followed me all the way from my first years as a community college student at Rio Hondo College all the way until now,” Ortega said.

Women are often looked down on because they have long faced discrimination due to their sex and gender. This has created an identity threat, where women often doubt themselves despite knowing they can achieve the same things men are capable of. 

Though changes have occurred throughout the years and people have become more accepting, we can’t move past the fact that there still needs to be a systemic change implemented towards women’s liberation and gender equality. 

“One of the struggles I face is being true to myself. At one point, I was rejected because they didn’t like what I was wearing. I had just had a baby and my clothes were really tight and they thought it was inappropriate,” Vartanian said.

“As women we are expected to do a lot of things. I am very soft and kind yet sometimes I am expected to be tough and they don’t see that I can be,” Vartanian said. 

Martinez-Pogar who identifies as both queer and a trans-woman, also shared that she wants people to recognize her as a woman. She says she is constantly negotiating how well she  represents herself so that people read her as a woman. 

“I’ve heard this from many women, comments on professor women’s clothing. I joined some of them because for me they are gender blending and I self-consciously try to. I want people to read me and recognize me as a woman, so I gain through that,” Martinez-Pogar said.

Professor Velasquez said, “Women tend to be caretakers and sometimes [when] you are in a professional setting people will turn to you and have this expectation to take on this motherly role. Because you are a woman, sometimes what ends up happening is that you do it once and [it becomes] an expectation.”

It seems that regardless of the years that women have fought for equity in a workplace, it becomes a loop, a continuous fight for gender equity in the work setting. 

Ryan-Romo had a similar experience. 

“I first started here about 18 years ago and I had a baby 16 years ago. The mentor that was assigned pulled me aside and told me “don’t ever talk about your kid, don’t talk about your family if you want to be respected. That stuff has to stay behind the scenes. You can’t ever let a kid being sick disrupt your ability to teach or go to meetings.

“That can’t ever be the excuse that you use or you’ll never make it. You’ll never go far,” Ryan-Romo said.

Mothers suffer with this battle of guilt when balancing work and life. There is a guilt that when a mother shifts her focus solely on her children and family, she is judged for being irresponsible. In reality, women are the caretakers but society should take that into account. 

Women have more necessities, and it is not to discredit men but it is a reality. A mother should have the right to work and take time off to care for her family without any repercussions or judgment. Shifting this mindset would be a liberation to many women and can help create a more inclusive worklife. 

“I think shifting some of the mentality like how do we welcome women in the academy and make sure women feel supported if they chose to have children or chosen not to have children? Either way they are also a caregiver to someone, making it more realistic to anyone. Fathers experience this too, balance work and family life,” Ryan-Romo said.

All sexes should be able to embrace the entirety of themselves and that is by addressing systemic bias. 

“Something that needs to happen is something more internal. Our male colleagues need to reconize they are all biased and try to perpetuate sexism. We are on a college campus and for the most part people are more accepting,” Velasquez said. 

Women deal with the constant battle of microaggression and gender insensitive remarks. “Then you think, am I crazy, did this really happen? Those tiny things build up and it makes women feel a specific way. I think a way the campus could address gender inequality is by creating something like that,” Velasquez said. 

“I agree that a lot of it is microaggression and there is simply no awareness of it,” Ryan-Romo said.

Microaggressions are subtle, hostile and offensive remarks made against someone intentionally or unintentionally in a marginalized group. The important thing is learning how to recognize it when it does occur and how to veer those interactions in a more introspective way. 

One way to imply changes to address a systemic bias is by creating a culture where everyone, regardless of sex, creates boundaries that apply to everyone along with a more inclusive gender campus.

“We need to have more support at saying “no” and “no, that’s too much,” Ryan-Romo said. 

“It is important to be able to set those boundaries and knowing that it is OK to set those boundaries is the other critical discussion. My dean does not need to reach me at 8 o’clock at night,” said Ryan-Romo.

Professor Velasquez also agreed that we need to not make it just about women. We need to fight for parental leave, not just maternity leave. That’s how we can start to change the culture. Right now there is a big emphasis on how women don’t have this and women don’t have that but [that] creates two different sides. I think that when we do that we are by accident creating more exclusivity.”

Professor Velasquez said that we live in a hustle culture and for women, it can be more challenging because they are being pulled in so many different directions. I think [if] men recognize that and also set boundaries, [it will help], but if all the women are doing it and the men are still [responding to the dean] who does that make look bad? Therefore standing in solidarity is what is important,” says Velasquez. 

Speakers ended the discussion by sharing how they empower their students to advocate for themselves and other students with words of encouragement. 

Professor Renato Jimenez, sociology club director, summarized it all too well.

 “Navigational Capital is underlooked and we take it for granted. We’ve been through these places and we feel that [students] should be able to figure out themselves by helping guide students to address some of these issues they’ve faced, and again to empower them to advocate for themselves.” 

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