“Oh, good! The translator is here.”

I looked up from the stack of papers I was holding to see an older white woman beaming at me. She had a stethoscope wrapped around her neck, and she wore a white lab coat with the University of Chicago Hospital crest neatly stitched onto the top pocket. It was about my third week working at the hospital as a clinical research assistant under a Yale Alumni Community Service Fellowship.

I quickly looked around, but seeing no one but nurses and visitors bustling about, I looked back at the doctor.

“Oh, I’m not a translator,” I told her, looking pointedly at my ID card, which clearly marked me as a research assistant. Her eyes followed my gaze. She paused, nervously, before she let out a short and awkward laugh. She quickly apologized before turning back to the medical students standing around her.

I continued on my way, my dark, tan skin and black hijab contrasting harshly with the sterile white of the hospital. This was not the first time my position in research was questioned because of the color of my skin and my hijab. Entering Yale as a prospective Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry major, many of my peers back home saw me as a product of affirmative action, a minority woman entering a male dominated field, a convenient narrative for an elite institution.

The lack of diversity within STEM at Yale did not necessarily surprise me, but the complete lack of support for students of color, particularly woman of color, in STEM did. My inability to find support for myself was not merely the result of representational issues. Though, indeed, I did find myself losing interest in STEM as I lost the ability to see myself in it. I ultimately decided to leave MB&B because of core issues with how the discipline defines itself as an objective field.

The belief that science is divorced from concerns of identity is, quite frankly, false. Gender, class, sexuality and religion are all characteristics of a person that vastly impact their ability to succeed within the field. The course “Being Human in STEM” that was offered in Fall of 2016, took a look at this issue. It surveyed students in STEM and found that women reported having more negative experiences in STEM than men. More so, women of color found that their negative experiences within STEM were not isolated events, but these experiences actually applied to a large number of women. Why was this so? To me, these results highlighted systemic issues within elite institutions, like Yale, where women of color are tokenized but conversations about how to support these women aren’t even addressed.

At Yale, I have experienced this lack of support time and time again. I found myself in a string of introductory courses taught exclusively by white men. I had difficulty communicating with these professors, some of which expressed that their course was intended to weed students out, and other professors who made their students seem secondary to their research. I missed Islamic holidays for labs that could only be missed via a dean’s excuse — a dean’s excuse that would only be recognized by the lab if a family member or I were sick. I eventually wound up sitting in the emergency room of Yale New Haven recovering from a debilitating panic attack after a string of labs, midterms and problem sets became unmanageable. This instance resulted in the only dean’s excuse I got that semester.

Science is not an apolitical field, and it is irresponsible to continue approaching STEM classrooms as objective spaces. Professors and professionals alike need to acknowledge this, and foster more honest conversations with their students about what an inclusive community looks like. Instead of ascribing low retention rates of woman of color in the field to successful “weeding out,” professors should consider why some students feel that their only option is to leave. They should consider how the needs of their students exceed beyond sick days, and must further consider how mental health is just as valid a reason to not finish an assignment as the flu. White professionals must recognize that microaggresions are just as damaging as other forms of racism and should be cognizant of the white privilege that accompanies their white lab coats.

More than anything, acknowledging that a problem exists in the first place needs to be spoken about candidly. I deserve to be legible to the scientific community for the work I have done in STEM, and I deserve to be seen as more than the sum of my appearance and language skills.

Noora Reffatis a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at noora.reffat@yale.edu .

  • mostlyharmless19877

    Grow up.
    The fact that white men taught you and that your schedule was busy does not mean that this is somehow easier for men to deal with.
    What a joke.

    • missingthepoint

      It’s not about it being easier for men, it’s about men having more support and the fact that the way courses are taught in male-dominated fields was designed specifically with (white) men in mind without regard to the social or cultural differences that often exist because of gender, race, etc. There is no support system that effectively addresses the needs of women of color specifically, whereas the entire system was built with the needs of men in mind.

      I don’t say this to attempt to change your mind, but because calling the life experiences of women a joke and dismissing structural problems in elite institutions as immaturity without any reasoning behind those claims is harmful. Such dismissive comments are harmful. They disrespect the experiences of women of color, and shouldn’t remained unchallenged or be allowed to stand without criticism.

      • mostlyharmless19877

        “the way courses are taught in male-dominated fields was designed
        specifically with (white) men in mind without regard to the social or
        cultural differences that often exist because of gender, race, etc.”

        Differences you of course have no interest in specifically pointing out because they, in general, don’t exist. If your interest was in STEM, but only to the extent that it would be taught to you by people who are the same sex race and religion as you, maybe you should have taken that into account before going to Yale.

        “They disrespect the experiences of women of color”

        You don’t speak for all women of color. Or all women. Or really anyone but yourself.

      • mostlyharmless19877

        The “point” that i’m missing here, as you seem to see it, is that your “life experiences” should be accepted as universal and that the act of challenging them in and of itself is somehow offensive to all “women of color”. Who, once again, you don’t speak for.

  • ldffly

    MB&B was like the Navy Seals or the Army Rangers or the Marines. Some took the stress and some didn’t. I never entered that program, but it used to have the reputation of being a program for the geniuses and near geniuses who have a gargantuan appetite for work. I can see that not much has changed.

  • Shaun Tan

    From this article it doesn’t seem like this student has actually been disadvantaged in any way apart from some nebulous, probably imagined, feeling that she’s somehow been discriminated against. Yalies should be stronger than this.

    • ldffly

      They used to be stronger than that. I suspect most of them still are.

  • Frankie Leung

    My relative was a medical specialist, an Asian. When she walked around in her hospital, some patients called her Nurse. When I attended law school and asked for directions on campus, people told me where the engineering school was. So much stereotyping in USA.

  • Frankie Leung

    Did you see the Million Dollar Boxer about that female boxer. At that end of the movie, she was attended by an Asian medical doctor. My black friends told me: aren’t you lucky that the stereotype of an Asian male is a medical doctor. My rich friend went to Mayo Clinic and asked if I knew Dr. Lam there. I said I had two hundred Asian friends who are called Dr. Lam.