Natalie Murdock is one of my students. She has been passionate about science and specifically Chemistry, for as long as I’ve known her. I’ve been teaching for over a decade and for most of that time I’ve focused on the atomic theory and scientists who contributed to the evolution of the atomic model. Well, as you know, that story is very European, very aristocratic, and very - well - white. I recognized this, but I always told myself it didn’t matter, my job was to help students understand the content of Chemistry, not provide a lesson in multiculturalism or diverse perspectives. That could be left to the humanities classes. I mean, this is science. I have facts to teach and quantities to calculate! In this blog post, I’ve asked Natalie about her journey as a woman of color along the path toward a future in a STEM field. I can’t begin to understand her perspective, so I’ve asked her to lend her voice to this issue. I believe it is important that we, as educators, take some time to reflect on what she has to say. Sometimes, the things we don’t say are resonating just as loudly as the things we do.
"Still I Rise"
by Natalie Murdock
I'm sorry this is a lot like a journal entry, a personal one for me. But I'm just thinking about my future today. I'm thinking about graduating, going to college, becoming the woman I'm supposed to be. I'm thinking about the odds I even have of making it...those odds, they are against me.
I'm blessed to have a family who loves and supports me. But it's still tough to look in the mirror and take away all the societal expectations of me, and force myself to create my own. It's hard. I have to tell myself "I will not become a statistic." Society shows me that I'm not expected to graduate, not expected to go to college, not expected to become a successful black woman. I'm just not. The media does a stellar job...I mean five star...at making it look like I'm not expected to become what I am hoping to be.
You see, I want to be a pharmacist someday. I want to get a PharmD., become a clinical pharmacist, and I want to become a professor. But...what do I see? Nothing. I'm not even there. The typical science textbook shows a white male...a white male getting the PhD., working in a pharmacy, and becoming a great professor. It doesn't show me. I don’t see me. I don’t see my image reflected in the text, or in news articles, not even in movies. No - I’m relegated to the “highlight of a minority” box to the side of the text in the book. At best, I am a footnote.
This makes it kind of tough, you know? Every time I look in the books or on the TV screen I have to use my imagination and place myself in the position of somebody who looks nothing like me. For some kids who don't have the support system I do, imagine how difficult it is for them. They may not know they can do it. They may not know they are capable of becoming one of those amazing people in the science field because all they ever see is someone who looks nothing like them in that position.
Maya Angelou, a wonderful poet who recently passed, wrote a beautiful poem "Still I Rise"...I believe it speaks to this situation directly. The fact that despite the odds, I still will rise. It is very unfortunate that the odds are against me, but still I rise. Even though the media is only showing black girls getting pregnant and black men robbing stores, still I will rise. Although my dream of becoming a pharmacist and working as a professor is not something that society expects of me, still I will rise.
The unfortunate part is that I have to say "still". If you ask me how I feel about all of this, I will say I'm hurt. I have the minor urge to scream and shout because it's not fair - it's not fair. It's. Not. Fair. Why can't you see me too? Why is it that society doesn't really have a positive view of me? Why does the media only show the bad side of my people? If they are even shown at all, which constantly fuels stereotypes of me? Why? And I could get mad and cry and scream for days, but I can't. I have to work toward reaching my goals. To those of you who understand, I encourage you, I encourage you to keep pushing.
Though the odds may be against you, it is required of you to not allow those to stop you. Because it is when we beat the odds, which we will, that we make history. It is through the work that we do as marginal members of society that we change the way society views us. I always try to look at things from the positive side. Perhaps we were placed in the position to have to rise on our own, to show others that they can do the same. Perhaps we were placed in this position to transform society ourselves. Perhaps.
I don't know...this whole idea is sad. But I don't have a choice. I can't go to all the media stations, wave my finger, and say "Stop it. Stop it right now! What about me? What about us?" I can't do that. I just have to continue to work toward that beautiful dream of mine. And shock the world when I beat those odds. Though they are against me, they will not beat me. I encourage teachers everywhere, especially teachers with students who do not have strong support systems, to encourage all of your students. And remind them that they are more than capable of reaching the goals they have created for themselves, no matter what other people tell them. Push them to work harder, think smarter, and become stronger as a result of their lessons and experiences so they can pursue and fulfill their dreams. Because in some cases teachers, it starts with you. I must say, at one point, I was very scared to ask for help. I was very nervous about admitting that I needed help. Often times for minority students, people expect you to fail, and so to ask for help was somewhat a signal that you had failed. Making it clear in your classroom that asking for help IS NOT BAD, is so important. I would strongly advise you to encourage your students on a daily basis, and make yourself available to them as much as you can. My teacher did a stellar job of showing me that my success was her goal. When I saw that this was what she wanted for me, it became much easier for me to want it for myself also. I knew I was not alone. Showing your students that you care, and you are there to help them is so important. Because many times, students believe their professors are there just to collect a paycheck. But my teacher made it clear to me that she was truly committed to my success as a student. Thankfully, I was successful in the rigorous courses I took. This was ONLY done, through my commitment and the commitment of my teachers showing that they were open to help me.
Anyway, I am so honored to have been able to share a snippet of my thought process with you. And no matter what, still, I Will Rise.
I believe it is important that we, as educators, take some time to reflect on what she has to say. Sometimes, the things we don’t say are resonating just as loudly as the things we do.