Monday, November 4, 2013

Guest Blogger Sherlene Ayala: Angry Latina with a Balancing Act and an Added Dose of Microaggressions

This week’s special guest blogger has a story to tell about her balancing act of being a full time employee, doctoral student and family member.  This struggle would seem pretty typical for any person trying to achieve many goals, but what makes this story different, are the day to day microaggressions that Sherlene Ayala has to endure as a Latina on a journey to do great things.  As someone trying to do the same thing with the balancing act, and enduring many of the same microaggressions, I literally feel her pain.  I send this extraordinary young woman positive energy, strength and the courage to persevere and use all support systems available for her to achieve her goals, complete her doctorate and advance in her career. Sherlene, we are all rooting for you and can’t wait to add you to the Galeria de Doctoras Latinas as the future Dr. Ayala.  Pa’lante hermana! 

Sherlene Ayala: Doctoral Student and Emerging Scholar

Sherlene Ayala shares:
Angry Latina with a Balancing Act and an Added Dose of Microaggressions

As I enter my fifth semester as a doctoral student, I still struggle with making this work for me. There are times when I feel like I am losing my mind. I didn't get the memo on how to make this enormous responsibility fit in with the rest of my life. I can barely get myself looking decent these days; the thought of hanging out with friends seems like a daunting task, and when my partner reminds me that I am always studying, I feel like I've failed at the concept of multitasking. I'm a Latina, shouldn't I be able to "handle" my own and not let others see me sweat?

Outside of my role of a doctoral student, I work at a university in the northeast and my responsibility includes diversity programming and training. I struggle with making this exhausting role appear simple. I'm expected to manage my emotions, not take anything personal and ensure that I make others comfortable while I broach the topic of diversity. How can I do this when most of my time spent is reading and writing about institutional racism? How can I disconnect myself from a literature that speaks strongly to my experiences and names my day to day struggle? Why should I soften the topic of privilege and institutional racism? When I do such things, it’s at my own expense!

One day, a sorority sister posted on Facebook, "I’m fighting microaggressions one day at a time" and it reminded me about my conversation with a White student, who holds a significant leadership role on campus. He told me very bluntly that our school should only hire "American speaking faculty." I can’t blame him for thinking this way when a colleague a few weeks earlier told me a Senior Student Affairs Officer of Color was hired not because she was qualified with a doctoral degree, but because of affirmative action requirements.  These racist and negative messages are pervasive.

If leaving a seemingly “color-blind work environment” wasn't enough, I then have to spend my evenings sitting in a classroom with majority White peers who want to ignore the concept of racism, yet preach that they “get it.” I smirk in amusement as they talk about the “softer” topics such as gender issues, disability and Hurricane Sandy - the storm that destroyed their vacation home on the Jersey Shore. These are our future leaders of America who will sit in positions of leadership and go unquestioned because of their privileged identities.

Being a Latina who is passionate about social justice is a very difficult experience for which I was unprepared to tackle. In my years of education, not once have I been taught how to take care of myself in this process. My experiences of always having to "be on" and face the insults by students, colleagues and classmates is wearing me down. Navigating this difficult terrain is lonely, and at times the consequences of tokenism, racism, and stigmatization are psychologically and emotionally damaging. I sometimes wish I could turn off and tune everyone out, but it’s that moment when I have a student in my office telling me about the “N-Word” that was written on a classroom chair that gives me the fuel to keep fighting through.

I realize that I am earning those 3 special letters after my name so that one day I can be in a position of power to ensure that I am bringing these issues to the table. It is important to name the experiences of marginalized groups and push society to address inequalities. And while I may not have the answer to making this doctoral experience less stressful, and while I may never change someone’s mind about racism, I do know that with the doctoral degree I can inspire more People of Color to follow. I can be the one in the front of the classroom bringing real issues to the table.

So if this means I don’t get around to ironing my blouse for work, or that I forget to get my partner an anniversary gift, or my birthday consists of sitting in my office with sweat pants, a sloppy bun and my 3rd cup of coffee, I will do what it takes to get through this degree. I have to remind myself that there are many people standing behind me pushing me in this process, and that despite the challenges that are put in my way, I chose the road less traveled and it WILL make all the difference!