10 Thoughts for Black Girls Starting College This Year

This post is inspired by the work that @blackgirlproject is doing.

1. Meet with your professor to clarify your first assignment. Every professor is is different and you will get a better idea of what they asking for. They may be busy but this is your education to claim, they have theirs. As the first woman in my family to go to college AND as someone who is being trained to be a college professor. I know the power of such a meeting.

2. Never set your drink down at the party. Even with your best friend. It only takes one minute for someone to put something in your drink that can compromise your faculties. I don’t use the term date rape, because date softens the sexual violence of rape. However, in a rape culture you need to protect yourself and the culture needs to change.

3. If something traumatizes you, if you have a racist or sexist experience, tell someone preferably a professor or a therapist on campus. Keeping stories inside of you is harmful to your mental health. If you do not have your health, you cannot graduate. I had a hard first year with regards to my family during my first year at Mills. I went to a professor and let them know what was going on. Talking about it out loud helped. I had two part-time jobs and STILL earned a 3.5 that semester.

4. Make friends with girls. I know we are socialized to not like women. But your girlfriends will hold you down when your boyfriend/girlfriends/Lovers break your heart.

5. Send thank you notes to all the family members who do nice things for you while you are away. It means a lot to receive a call or a thank you note.

6. Party. I will never forget four of us packing into my homies BRAND NEW sentra and flying across the Bay Bridge to see the De La Soul show. We bonded that night. I did NOT say party all the time. I said party. Notice the distinction.

7. Think about your summer plans. Go to the internship coordinator and ask them for help in November. Then go back in February. These folks are busy, but they have the resources to help you. In my senior year I interned at VH1 because I was persistent and tenacious. Because of this internship and another with a smaller production company I landed my first production assistant job with Beyond the Glory. BTG was/is a documentary show about athletes.

8. When someone offers to help you with your career, thank them and take their card and follow up. I am not saying use people like a rug, because that is wrong. I want you to understand that college exposes you to social capital, which is just as if sometimes not more valuable than money. Access to people means access to relationships. Unfortunately, the world is such that people with institutional power may NOT talk to you if you do not know someone that they know. This is how institutional power works. I want you to understand it and have a language to describe it.

9. Keep a journal. It will help you process mistakes. Remember mistakes are assets.

10. Do not run up your credit card bill. Understand that higher education is a profit oriented system. The fewer loans you have when you graduate the more freedom you will have with choosing a career.

I hope this helps you little bear.

All the best.

To my readers, is there anything else that you would add to this list?

A Feminist Analysis of Sheryl Sandberg and the ‘Male Dominated’ Silicon Valley

In a society organized by and for men, it makes sense for women to be exluded from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

STEM research and jobs spur the innovation for our Capitalist economic system. You can’t have innovation, at least how we are thought to conceive of it, without STEM. Which leads me to ask, what is at risk by excluding women from this field. But, let me take a step back, as I just I got ahead of myself and will address that later in the post.

As a Black woman and a young scholar, one of my research interests is the inclusion and exclusion of women in general and women of color in particular from STEM careers.

Women are disproportionally clustered in jobs that pay minimum wage, (waitresses, cashiers, nurse aides, child care workers) yet they are expected to provide the resources to take care of children and do the work in the home to raise children- married or not.

In fact I have contended that the issue isn’t the fact that single mothers raise low achieving children or are bad parents, but that women are not paid enough to do the work that is considered “women’s work.” Lets not start on the narratives around Black and Latina single mothers, that is a dissertation and a few books and conferences in and of itself.

So, it was with great interest that I read Ken Aueletta’s profile on the Facebook executive  Sheryl Sandberg. There are a few things that struck me about Sandbergs social network, economic background, and educational background.

She came to Facebook from Google. She attended Harvard, majoring in economics and took a class with Lawrence Summers- Public Sector Economics. According to the article she did not speak or raise her hand in his class, but she received the highest midterm and final grades. Born in DC in 1969, her father was an opathamologist, her mother was a doctoral student who chose to leave school and focus on raising Ms. Sandberg and her little sister.

Summers eventually recruited Ms. Sandberg as a research assistant after she earned her MBA and worked for the consulting firm, McKinsey and Company. What is incredibly interesting is that as Larry Summers career evolved, so did Sandbergs. After working for Summers at the Treasury Dept she went to work at Google in 2001 and Facebook in 2008.

As I read the article, I wondered, where is the baby, does she have a child, where is the baby. Then bingo. Here it is:

Sandberg fell in love with Dave Goldberg, her longtime best friend, and the two were married in 2004. Their first child was born in 2005. She struggled with her own work-life balance, and developed a sense that too many women at Google and elsewhere were dropping out of the workforce after becoming mothers, in part because they had not pushed to get a job they loved before they began having children.

I don’t expect a media writer to have a gendered critque of labor. So let me unpack this a bit.

Aueletta and ostensibly Sandberg are basically saying that the reason why women DO NOT have more institutional power is because they fail to get the jobs they want because they don’t strategically choose when to have children.

Is it possible that the reason why women do not have more institutional power is because society needs women to bear children, in order for our population to continue to replace itself.

The article does go on to offer a critique of Sandberg stating,

Critics, however, note that Sandberg is not exactly a typical working mother. She has a nanny at home and a staff at work. Google made her very rich; Facebook may make her a billionaire. If she and her husband are travelling or are stuck at their desks, there is someone else to feed their kids and read to them. A more sweeping critique is that it’s not enough for women to look inside. Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, which promotes women for leadership positions, attended Sandberg’s TED speech and knows and admires her. But, Wilson says, “underneath Sheryl’s assessment is the belief that this is a meritocracy. It’s not.” Courage and confidence alone will not compensate when male leaders don’t give women opportunities. She adds, “Women are not dropping out to have a child. They’re dropping out because they have no opportunity.” And she doesn’t agree that new attitudes can close the gender gap. Wilson points to Norway, which requires that all public companies have at least forty per cent of each gender on their boards.

So there are some folks who understand that it is one thing to say “women need to work harder, speak up, and be strategic about family planning.” It is something completely different to say “I am in a privileged position, I have support staff at home and at work and because of this I have other opportunities available for my career.”

Keep in mind that Sheryl’s mom left a doctoral program to focus on raising her and her sister.

I understand the instituational exlusion of women. As I sit here with my stacks for readings for my doctoral comprehensive exam in August, trying to wrap my head around feminist research methods, feminist techno science, intersectionality and  various epistemologies I am well aware of how the day to day constraints of life (working, buying groceries, laundry, caring for loved ones) can influence women’s abilities to pursue elite careers and paths of study.

I am glad that this issue is being discussed, but it is short sighted, disrespectful and ahistorical to blame women for their lack of advancement within STEM research paths and careers.

To put it another way, if men had the child bearing capacities of women, federally subsidized childcare would be available, accessible similar to Starbucks and McDonalds on nearly every major intersection in this country. I kid you not.

When women are given the support and expectation to soar, we do. I am proof of it. The women bloggers, engineers, professors, lawyers, graduate students, biologists, filmmakers and editors are all proof of it.

To blame women for their “lack of achievement” is short cited, individualistic and it fails to consider that raising children is work and that mothers who work both inside and outside of the home are penalized for it with lower wages and fewer promotions.

Girls and Math

Last month I spent 30 minutes of a 50 minute tutoring session
trying to teach a 12 year old year the common denominator.

Often times, as a tutor, it is hard to teach a young person
you take for granted for knowing, almost intuitively.

But somewhere in the distant past, someone hung in there
me, so show me the common denominator.

When I noticed that she just started guessing answers I said,
“I know that you can do this work, you just have
to take you
time and follow the rules. Math is a language, and it
is linear,
you cannot guess at the correct answer.
Learn the steps,
and follow them every time
and you will get the correct answer.
I know that you know how to do this.”

A week later, I was tutoring another young lady, 12, with a higher
math capacity, but get this, she was still visibly
doing the work.

I mentioned this to another tutor and her response
was, “Yeah, the girls think that math is for boys.”

The more I paid attentive the more I noticed, that the girls,
regardless of capacity to do the work, looked really uncomfortable
doing the work.

So I started paying attention to the boys. Some of them, ranging in
ages from 9-12, were better than others, many were on grade level

and many where by behind.
But, what stuck out to me was
their tendency and will to sit there
through the tedium of doing 12
triple digit multiplication problems, 15 fraction conversation
problems, and 10 long division problems.

Page after tedious page, some grumble, some were right at home.
I realized that doing math problems is a kind of meditation.
When I told Birkhold about the distinction he said that math is
masculine gender performance and that there have been
of studies on math, girls and gender performance.

He also said that girls being scared of math is part and parcel to
the maintenance of women being oppressed and maintaining
I just looked at him like whhhhutuuuuuuuut?

He responded saying that the two engines of capitalism are
entrepreneurship and scientific and techonological advances.
You need math in order
to do all of these successfully. So, by
making it the domain of men,
we undermine the future
prosperity of girls.

Who knew?

Math and Girls any thoughts?

Teach any young people math lately?

What was the outcome?

What are three material changes that
we can make to change math education for
children in general and girls specifically?