On Monday May 16, the Kalamazoo College Arcus Center welcomed Patricia Valoy, an engineer and project manager, feminist writer, and STEM advocate, to speak to students, faculty and community members about the difficulties that women and minorities face throughout their education and workforce experiences.
Melba Flores K’18 introduced Valoy as an inspiration to her for the “work she is doing advocating for women [and minorities] to be more a part of STEM.” Valoy has her B.S. from Columbia University in Civil Engineering and speaks out about the issues that women of color and underrepresented minorities face in the STEM field and other male-dominated professions.
Valoy explained her experience going through the education system and working in a male-dominated field.
“Even though I’ve made it…[I’m the] only woman and person of color in my department [and] I don’t have anybody to talk to about my experiences.”
“The idea that you’re allowed to not like math or not be good at math [is accepted] but when you are a girl or a minority then that’s grouped together,” Valoy continued. “If you are a girl [and/or] a minority, you are automatically bad at math… We are already telling our children that they are predestined for this.”
Valoy showed examples of commercial products and media images that are telling children that they aren’t going to be successful at STEM. She showed the “Timeline of Failure” which explained the stages that women and minorities go through in their educational and professional STEM careers, which ultimately lead to about 50% of professional quitting their careers by their mid-30’s and early 40s. “[Women and minorities] don’t have a lot of mentors. Companies are starting to see that they need to hire more women and minorities. It’s changing but bosses are still white men.”
The key to fighting back against these discrepancies, according to Valoy, is to be “actively aware”. She explained that some solutions include recognizing bias and implementing training; supporting equal pay and maternity leave; refusing to sit on non-diverse panels; reconsider gendered wording; and know your Title IX. When the floor was opened to questions from the audience, one person asked “How do you not get burned out by the racism and the sexism?”
“I do get burned out,” Valoy confessed. “[But] the way that I avoid wanting to quit everything is talking to students, like you all…I see all these young women and people of color still fight and [I remember] I’m fighting for [and with] them. Maybe it won’t change for me but it might change for them.”