Coming to Mines was a bit of culture shock. Growing up in Austin, Texas, I was accustomed to being surrounded by a variety of people and more people that looked like me. My high school was predominantly white, I still had a handful of friends of color and classes were fairly representative of the country’s demographics; I didn’t feel like I stuck out. At Mines, feeling like I fit in was hard. Being a girl at a roughly 70% male school was already enough to make me aware that I was outnumbered, and then you throw in race and ethnicity. I am mostly Indigenous (as opposed to Spaniard), so I am a brown, non-white-passing Latina. At Mines, I feel too brown to fit in with the majority of people on campus, but then I also felt too white to fit in with the Society of Hispanic Engineers.
I was super excited about joining SHPE going into my freshman year; I was looking forward to having friends that looked like me in a sea of white faces. In Texas, I had a couple of Latine friends that I really appreciated having (especially looking back), and I knew that having some at Mines would make a difference. I went to a few SHPE meetings, but I just felt like a total outsider. I had a pretty whitewashed upbringing (something not uncommon in colored households as people feel the need to assimilate to be accepted), and I did not feel “Hispanic enough.” A history of white supremacy and colonization led me to feel isolated in white spaces. But at the same time, it also led me to grow up knowing little about my culture and, in turn, led to me feeling unworthy of my own people.
Feeling like I don’t fit in is hard. It makes me feel like everyone else sees me and thinks I don’t fit it. It makes it harder to socialize, to take that first step and talk to a classmate, to take that first step in a friendship. It makes me always wonder if my classmates and even professors have an implicit bias towards me. It makes me feel like I have to try a little harder to be the perfect student because I’m not just representing myself but my people. It makes me dread going into a career that’s going to make me feel like this for the rest of my life.
As a senior looking back at my experiences and my friendships, I have some regrets. Sometimes I regret not trying harder with SHPE. Sometimes I regret choosing a major and field that is white even by STEM standards. Sometimes I even regret coming to such a predominantly white school in the first place and wonder how I would feel if I stayed in Texas.
In my life, I have been lucky enough to not deal with (or at the very least, haven’t been aware of) explicit discrimination towards me for my marginalized identities. Even so, I am still aware that I am a “minority” every day, in every space, and with everyone. And that awareness is heightened in a community lacking diversity as much as Mines and STEM.