“Sometimes stereotype threats can be crippling…but if you are on the verge of accomplishing something, sometimes it can in fact push you over the edge and motivate you to do more than you think you can…”
This morning, during my regular weekly breakfast meeting with my mentor, we discussed stereotypes (especially for women) in our careers and the professional world.
I was paired with De when I was a Resident Assistant, fall my sophomore year at Purdue University. I was told by my supervisors that we were paired because we were both women in STEM and in that way we were kind of singled out. It was my first time being an RA and it was also De’s first time being a faculty fellow (basically a Purdue staff/ faculty member who is paired with an RA to advise them).
Before the school year started we got to meet for the first time at a breakfast event hosted by the dorm I was working in. I knew from the first meeting we had that we were women made of the same material. While other pairs of RAs and Faculty Fellows were still trying break the ice and trying to gauge each other’s commitment to this program, De and I were already writing down dates and ideas for each event we were going to plan together for the girls on our floor. I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t ever shy away from any ambitions and goals that I had suggested we try to follow for the school year though they were lofty at times. As a mentor in this position, she would always give me valuable suggestions on everything from how to handle certain situations with people to interesting craft ideas.Even after I decided to step down from the position, De supported me in the decision and continued to meet with me on once a week to chat and catch up.
In the next two weeks we both had a lot of big events coming up, so today was really the last day I had to talk to her about anything, at least before the “storm,” if you will. I told her about the upcoming challenges with the MIT SSAC’17 Hackathon, and how I was the only girl, only Taiwanese/Chinese person, and only Industrial Engineer competing in this contest.
De’s job is to hire more qualified and distinguished women as faculty for Purdue’s college of Science so she understands fighting stereotypes in the workplace more than any else. She brought up a book she has been reading called, “Whistling Vivaldi.” De told me the novel had such a peculiar name because it is the author, an African American man, wanted to reference a time he tried to whistle classical music during his walk in the park to seem more intelligence/defy stereotypes. From this book, De read multiple case studies and that’s how she justified the quote above that she gave me.
I really hope De is right, and that I can use the stereotypes stacked against me to push myself to presenting my most brilliant and proud piece of work at the Conference.