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.

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.