A Reply to “Academia, Love Me Back” by Tiffany Martinez

Between 1981 and 1988, I was trying to do something similar to what Tiffany Martinez was doing in her essay, Academia, Love Me Back. I was trying to earn a doctorate degree. Tiffany was trying to earn an undergraduate degree on her way to a graduate program. The degrees we were trying to earn don’t matter. The discrimination both of us faced in academia does matter. The reasons we faced that discrimination matters. Tiffany alleges that academia is broken and her essay is current. Tiffany, academia was broken when I was trying to earn my doctorate between 1981-1988. It was broken because of discrimination. You faced the same discrimination I did. You just faced it 35 years later. That is quite an indictment of academia and a legitimate indictment.

I entered a doctoral program to earn a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) in the Fall of 1981. That was 35 years ago. I find it terribly disturbing that what was broken in academia 35 years ago has not yet been fixed. Tiffany, you faced discrimination because of your last name and because you are a woman. You say it was because you didn’t look like everyone else. Of course, that is true.

As for me, I am a white female who was in my late 20s at the time I entered the doctoral program. I was of American descent (Northern European). I did look like most other American women. What I did not look like was a man. In 1981, few women entered my field, the field of finance. It was seen as a man’s world. Only one other woman was in the finance program with me. Sometimes, I felt I was treated like a pet. Even worse, I had to work twice as hard as the men in the program for half the credit. Why? Because I didn’t look like everyone else in the finance program. I was female. I couldn’t possibly conquer finance. Bear in mind. Tiffany, you are facing exactly the same problem 35 years later.

I want to give my fellow finance students in that program credit. The men who were my fellow students were wonderfully accepting. There was no discrimination there. We studied together. We socialized together. I made lifelong friends who are still very much in my life. It was the administration and the professors in the program who discriminated. Not all of them and I don’t want to indict all of them. But enough of them to cause a problem for me.

You might have expected this 35 years ago. Women had just begun breaking into fields that had typically been male-dominated. I suppose one could say that it was more understandable then. Thirty-five years have passed and women are in many male-dominated professions. We have had a woman run for President of the United States. What are we doing discriminating against a female student because of her appearance and her last name?

My biggest problem came when I was finishing my degree. The last step in obtaining a doctorate degree is writing a dissertation and defending it to a committee of your professors and an outside reader. There was an older, very traditional professor on the committee. It was well-known that he did not think it appropriate for a female to have a doctorate in finance. I knew he would vote against me when I defended my dissertation. I was very prepared but I was also scared to death.

I defended my dissertation and stepped outside the room as asked. I don’t know exactly what happened in that room, but I knew that my dissertation chairman was on my side – a more progressive, younger professor. Some time passed and my dissertation chairman stepped out and congratulated me. I had to really control myself to keep from crying with relief.

The time I spent in the doctoral program were some of the best years of my life – and some of the worst. Yes, I faced discrimination but I also had support from my fellow students, mostly male. It disappoints me greatly to think that, 35 years later, a female student like you, Tiffany, is facing the same discrimination in her quest for higher education. I, too, love academia, Tiffany. I, too, wanted it to love me back and went on to become a college professor myself. I tried never to judge a student based on anything but their work.

Tiffany, keep on fighting. Your fellow students will help you. Most professors will help you. There are bad apples in every bunch. You ran into a bad apple who is still caught in the discrimination mindset. Academia needs students like you. Students who will speak out. Students with your credentials. Students with your smarts. Academia will eventually love you back. It is like most institutions. Very slow to change. #amwriting #amblogging #writing #academia

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