2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Celeste Gonzalez

As a first generation, low-income, Hispanic, daughter of immigrants and female pursing a degree in Mathematics, I have experience microaggressions countless of times. I vividly remember one of these microaggressions that occurred in Summer 2016 when I took Discrete Mathematics because it was the most awkward and distasteful experiences in my mathematics’ career. One of my white, male peers approached me saying, “It must be really hard to be Hispanic and majoring in math. I mean look around you are the only Hispanic female in this class. Do you even know any math professors?” Although this student pointed out the obvious, it was the sarcastic tone that made this situation unbearable. This student implied that I did not have the skills to even pursue mathematics due to my gender and race. He then questioned my connections to professors, assuming that if I did not know any math professors then my chances of succeeding in such a field would be impossible. Although this was not the only distasteful experience, it is the most memorable.

Furthermore, my peers are not the only ones who contribute to these microaggressions. My Mathematics Advisor has told me countless of time that I do not belong in the mathematics department making many assumptions saying, “You will fail. You will feel like drowning and there are no resources that I can provide to help you succeed.”

In view of these microaggressions, I decided to apply to the Women in Mathematics at UC Berkeley Diversity Committee, which I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of their interns. The Diversity committee seeks to promote the success of all mathematics undergraduates but pays close attention to the narratives of underrepresented groups. Every semester we hope to publish a report on the progress of our goals, state options to support women in mathematics, and evaluate the options that can be improved by using mathematics education research and publicly available data. The goals of this Diversity Committee are as follows: enable staff to make better decisions about where to direct students who seek support; determine what research is already being conducted to investigate the attrition rate of underrepresented groups in mathematics; understand how decisions regarding supporting mathematics undergraduates at UC Berkeley get made; and develop options to support mathematics undergraduates where there is a demonstrated need for a different type of support.

The reason inclusion and equal representation in mathematics is very important is because nationally there is a 21.9% gender pay gap which is caused by industry choice, while another 27.4% is caused by choices in occupation (Blau & Kahn, 2016). Additionally, the university’s mission statement places the university as a “force of upward mobility for low-income Californians” which allows this report to be a stepping stone to improve the representation of women in STEM fields, specifically mathematics at UC Berkeley.