STEM, Student Life

“Fucking Bitch”

A week ago in my Physics lab class, I was told by a classmate that “my tight ass would need a good fucking” and that somehow, he’d able to provide the service. I felt my hands go clammy, my breath stop as I held my position in place, my fingers rolling into a tight fist in my pockets as they grew damp with sweat. My head throbbed as I struggled to hold back the tears welling in my eyes; the memories of harassment as the only woman on a robotics team flashing images against my skull like a bad horror film. My voice shook as I scrambled to collect myself, the words spilling awkwardly into disjointed sentences and trembling vowels.

This wasn’t the first time he’d verbally abuse and harass me in class. Two weeks ago, we had first met, joining their group. Right from the start, I headed a game plan: let’s get this done, and leave an hour early. They all smiled in agreement.

It started with talking over me. Whenever I tried to keep our group on track with the instructions of the lab, he’s speak over me and challenge what I was saying. He’s rally with the other men in our group, showing goofy videos off his Facebook, laughing wildly. Then, he started to mock and demean me. Anything I said became a joke, as he mocked my pronunciation of words and undermine the work I was doing. Any calculation, experiment setup, or theory work would be questioned heavily to the point where I couldn’t answer his question and he’d copy my work anyways.

The microaggressions took a dangerous turn when they became actions. From the corner of my eye, as we were working through the calculations of our experiments, I could see him looking at me, up and down. I felt a chill up my spine, as words started to melt into one another. My body felt into a numbness, as my cheeks filled with hot blood, spilling through the entirety of my face. In that very second, I was on fire. As he tried to grab my notebook to copy my calculations, I questioned his understanding of the lab’s theory. I questioned if he knew anything at all, snapping back in a fit of rage. “That’s right,” I said, my voice booming in the seemingly empty room, “you don’t know, because you haven’t done shit. All you’ve done is dicked around, expecting to leech off everyone else’s work. Don’t expect any help from me.”

“Fucking bitch” he said, “don’t even talk to me.” The anger I felt in that moment swelled, filling my lungs with smoke, cheeks flushed. This anger, the same anger and numbness I felt a week ago, the same anger I felt being constantly harassed and verbally abused in robotics, the same I felt in the 1st grade when a boy in my class told me I couldn’t do math, fails to be anomaly. Women in STEM, black women significantly more, face constant harassment, through darting eyes and demeaning comments. Our boundaries are always crossed, our work stolen, and our bodies treated as entertainment instead of being seen as equal partners in the world of STEM.

But somehow, in all of this mess, I’ve found some kind of community within my classes. As we slave hours and hours over Physics homework, I’ve met a vast amount of people. Friends in both of my physics lecture and lab classes, friends during office hours, and now, just friends. Predominantly, they’re men of color. The same men of color who defended and comforted me when I hit my breaking point during lab. The same men who have a deep respect for the work I do, the person I am, and my many aspirations as an Astrophysicist. The same man of color who is my adviser, rooting me on to apply for internships. It is through the protection, care, and strength of the men of color within my classes that helped me through the hardest days. They are the reason I don’t live in constant paranoia, their company always something I look forward to every week.

Social Justice & Organizing Work, STEM, Student Life

The Importance, Power, and Warmth of Femme Spaces in Academia

There is no way to repay women of color for the burdens we’ve carried on behalf of men. Historically, we’ve always been pushed into some kind of mold that caters to men, leaving only the shell of a woman, not driven by her own passions, militancy, or happiness but by marriage, the coddling of grown men, and the further reinforcement and upholding of the nuclear home.

In junction with all of this, I think about my own struggles as a woman of color. Within my respective field, I am consistently surrounded by men and masculine energy that chips away at me. These spaces are unsafe for a brown woman like myself, in which I become vulnerable to disrespect and sexual harassment. I am undermined, questioned, and my work, stolen. I get side comments about being on my period, being a bitch, and taking everything too seriously. Never am I seen as an equal in these spaces, consistently talked down to, having to work ten times harder to prove my ability and worth.

This constant abuse comes home with me. The constant guard I use to shield myself through these classes trickles back down into my safe spaces in which I often find myself stepping on toes. I become the very person I resent, forgetting to reach out towards my collective and the support of women of color. More so now, its become even harder to surround myself with feminine energy due to the amount of masculine spaces I spend large amounts of time in: at home, in class, with my partner, etc. I find myself re prioritizing now, shifting time where I can to make sure there is a balance of energy present in my life, with enough space to reflect, breathe, and re energize.

My career is only one portion of a bigger picture┬áthat every woman of color I know experiences. Each and every one of us carries the unique experience of race and gender in junction with one another. We don’t experience these two facets of ourselves as independent of one another, but occurring simultaneously, in ways that white women and men of color will never understand and experience. These experiences are so unique to the point of there being a variety of women of color feminist theories and ideologies, specific the the conditions of different races. The way in which a pinay would experience her race and gender is vividly different from the way in which a black woman experiences these facets, but rooted in the same issues of class stratification in junction with gender and race.

More and more, it becomes clear that the need to surround myself with feminine people and energy is vital to combat the detriment and overall toll that masculinity takes on me. Whether that be investing time with the women of color within my STEM class, time within the women’s sector of my collective, or simply studying around other brown femmes, the balance of energy is vital towards keeping everything I feel emotionally and mentally stable, even when faced with the many facets of oppression that are present in my chosen career.

And now, as I type alongside one of my closest queer pinay friends, as I feel the warmth and reaffirmation of bell hooks’ talk on campus, as she and I giggle in between my dancing and vent our frustrations with identity politics, I feel more whole than I have in the past two weeks. I feel ready to tackle my daunting load of Calculus homework, I feel at peace with my current conditions and state in classes. My complex femme identity not only is reaffirmed around the presence of other femme folks, but a space has been created, claimed, and full of our energy without worry of misogyny and racism to enter. My defenses are dropped, and I find solace between the eggshell, concrete walls that border the library.

Spirituality, STEM

The Empress and The World

During the day, I ping pong back and forth between my social science and STEM classes. In both my Calculus and Physics courses, we work with raw numbers, drawing endless diagrams to somehow interpret a 3D plane on a piece of paper, recalling everything we learned in Calculus I, and doing direct applications of Trigonometric identities and the unique qualities of the angles and sides of triangles. I take a lot of comfort in these classes, especially since finding a community of brilliant women of color, and feel a level of emotional connection and comradery to the other femmes in our classroom. We gush over our favorite albums, Solange’s newest release in particular, and bond over the common struggle of being brown/black and femme in spaces full of toxic masculinity and suffocating whiteness. We check each other’s work, never failing to share our answers with one another and talk through our processes. After full days of analytical thinking and processes, I come home at the end of the day to a house that smells like sage and palo santo, shedding my hard exterior and allowing myself to be centered for the first time that day.

More and more, holistic health is what’s been keeping me sane and grounding me through one of the roughest couple of weeks at school. I’m still pinching pennies, almost always on a verge of a breakdown whenever I think about the hoops I’ve had to jump through to receive the blood money that continues to add to the weight of my ball and chain. As someone who’s lost in the world of equations, diagrams, and the language of math and physics, digging deeper into myself has been the relief that’s keep me level-headed and able-bodied to tackle the stress of school. More recently, I’ve started to soften my hard exterior and let people in, connecting emotionally and spiritually with the ones I love through gifting blessed crystals and interpreting their cards. The practice and art of tarot in particular has kept me not only in tune with myself but those around me, reaching a deeper meaning of self and love for those around me.

Tarot reading works as spiritual therapy. Someone is entrusting me with their fate and problems in a way most people will never experience. The emotional connections I’ve had every person whom I’ve read their cards for, regardless of how well I know them, hangs as the cards force you to look and feel deeper. The act of chance and fate within tarot itself is what’s so unnerving but effective, since my role is simply interpretation. The energy of the cards themselves, as the individual allows themselves to bond to them, is what guides a person. Tarot is more about the person being read digging into themselves in a way they never had before, with the interpreter regulating the energy of the cards and making their overwhelming power and knowledge digestible, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Whether or not anyone believes in tarot isn’t my concern. I don’t do tarot because I expect some kind of validation from those around me, and I especially keep it hidden from the cold, stone-faced world of STEM. I do tarot for the emotional connection it brings with those around me. Every single person I’ve read has reached some kind of clarity and emotional relief when doing tarot. It could be that it’s simply a deck of cards that just have clever, open ended meanings. It could be that tarot is complete bullshit, with no mathematical basis to prop it up in the world of STEM. It could be that I’m just very good at reading from a tiny book of explanations. Tarot is less about whether or not it’s true but more so about what it does do: heal.

Tarot forces the interpreter and the one getting a reading to talk through their problems. Tarot forces you to take a long hard look at yourself, pushing for change and growth. It gives comfort to the direction you’re taking with your life, or guides you to a new path and chapter of life. That’s what’s so special about tarot; regardless of who you are and what you believe, it cradles your heart and helps to give you some sense of direction moving forward. Tarot, whether or not it’s “real”, is the most emotionally vulnerable, grounding kind of coping mechanism one could take up.

I probably won’t tell my friends in STEM that I do readings anytime soon, since it’s hard enough to be brown and femme in those spaces, but it’s not something I’ll actively hide and tuck away. Tarot has helped me round myself out and lower my anxiety down to a happy, functional level, better than any medication or therapy session ever has.I look forward to the people I’ll meet because of my readings, and those I have yet to help guide and comfort, as I continue to carve out what spirituality means for a brown femme like myself, caught up in the world of stars and planets.

Mental Health, STEM

A Blink in the Universe

I woke up today with a heaviness that weighed down my entire body. This feeling isn’t new; throughout the entirety of winter break, I’ve felt my depression looming over me. I haven’t been writing, eating, or going out as much as I should, and instead, have been combating it with more weed, and more booze. I’ve let myself waste away, covering it up with the excuse of last semester being one of the most stressful and challenging times. The relief I thought I would have from being on break has yet to wash over me, and instead, I’m left with myself and my unchecked mental health. I can get lost in my depression sometimes, and forget why I’m working as hard as I do.

It wasn’t until this morning that the ease of writing came back to me. I was flipping through a journal my mother had given me for Christmas. “99 Things That Bring Me Joy”, each illustration prompted by a number and writing task. The entries tend to be short, since the pages don’t accommodate much space, but I don’t plan to write much in them. As I flipped through I came across number 59: “An aspect of nature that inspires you.” It wasn’t the prompt that had me fixated on the page, but the illustration: a blue page filled with constellations and a tiny observatory at the bottom of the page. I felt my heart swell in ways it hasn’t for the past two weeks; the kind of heart swell that fuels the majority of my writing. It reminded me of the reason why I love Astrophysics as much as I do: the security and uncertain certainty of space.

I was eight years old when first confronted my own mortality. I owned a ton of books about space, including a tiny, pocket encyclopedia that I had read cover to cover and kept on my person whenever anyone had a question about the universe. I was reading about the lifetimes of stars, the same flaming balls of gas that continue to intrigue me today, and how stars die. For the first time in my youth, I was confronted with the mortality of not only humans and my many pet fish, but of great giants, like stars. These same great giants perished too, and in many cases, took everything with them. I knew that our Sun would one day die, swelling into a red giant opposed to a supernova due to its relatively smaller size, and whether it was into a red giant or a supernova, it’d take with it any form of life along with it, including me. My whole world would be reduced to cinders, and I was okay with it. The price of life was one that was great, because the experience of life is something unimaginable.

So when I do wake up on days like this and feel the weight of my depression, I remind myself part of the weight is gravity. I remind myself of planetary motion and Enceladus, the moon the could support life. I remind myself of everything we don’t know, and how the universe is out there just waiting for someone to find it. And when I do remember all of this, I’m reminded that it’s okay for me to have bad days. It’s okay for me to step back, because I do have a lot on my plate. And when things really get bad, it helps to know that humans probably won’t make it to the death of our Sun. Our lives are a blink in the universe, and I plan to love this blink with all of my ability.