Hello Everyone! My name is Felix German Contreras-Castro, a Black Studies Major with a Pre-Med focus at Amherst College. I will be sharing my experience at Yale’s DiversTea – a daylong event promoting diversity and inclusion in the STEM field. I’ll start off with the wonderful ride I shared with Dr. Jaswal to New Haven. Before arriving to Amherst College (Community College Transfer Student), I had never met a STEM professor of color. As we drove to CT, I clearly saw the importance of having mentors that share similar backgrounds. Dr. Jaswal is in a special position for students like myself. As a Queer Woman of Color in STEM, one can only imagine the many obstacles she surmounted. Her plethora of experiences allows her to present genuine and thoughtful advice that a Queer Black Man can apply to his life.
As we arrived to New Haven, we were greeted by Yale students and went straight to business. I was not surprised that Yale’s STEM dilemma is similar to ours in Amherst. My experiences at Amherst have been very challenging, and at times discouraging, which seems to have resonated well with Yale students. In sum, Students of Color—especially from disadvantaged backgrounds—are left behind in STEM. There is not one objective solution because it varies from student to student.
My experience is not unusual. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I registered for physics at Amherst College. I was perplexed by how an introductory course could be taught with such haste. Furthermore, it is disheartening to know that many of my colleagues found this course to be a review. This explains the unexpected lightning pace of the course. My performance forced me to withdraw and reconsider an alternative path to medicine. Yale students’ continuous head nods hinted that they too have faced this sort of challenge. Accepting failure after giving it your all can force anyone to an alternative career path. We have to have been the brightest of the bunch to gain admittance to institutions like Amherst and Yale. Institutions like Amherst and Yale have the audacity to boast on their diverse student body, but fail to provide the services for such a vibrant community. Not all of us hail from affluent families that can provide a rich preparatory education for elite colleges. I have depended on Google for the majority of my life as I sat in my family’s living room studying for hours while juggling jobs, and extra-curriculars, with no mentorship or guidance.
There are few points that I would love my reader to take away from this blog. First, STEM is field where cultural understanding must be included in order to have the vibrant diversity we aim for. Second, students from disadvantaged backgrounds—especially in elite colleges—want to do well in STEM…many of us just do not know how. Third, if a professor gives up on a student, there is high probability the student will give up on himself or herself. Lastly, everyone has the potential to be a STEM person. If you do not believe this notion than you are part of the problem why so many students from disadvantaged backgrounds opt out of STEM.