Women of color talk about their experiences in academia, systematic obstacles

Saachi Subramaniam

Faculty members gathered at a panel Monday to discuss the challenges they faced as women of color in academia and how they persevered through systematic obstacles in their careers.

Presented by the UT Senate of College Councils Faculty Affairs Committee, the panel served to educate and inform students on the experience of women of color in academic careers spanning from sociology to journalism. 

All of the professors that volunteered to speak at the panel shared their life stories. Kathleen McElroy, former New York Times journalist and director of the School of Journalism, said being a woman of color definitely comes with its struggles when institutions are based on white patriarchy. 

“I am always aware of what it is to be the other,” McElroy said. “When I was starting out, I never had a professor of color, and I never had a woman professor of color at all.” 

McElroy said she is in academia to let students know it is important to see those with and without privilege find common ground. She said it is a powerful thing to be a woman of color in academia, especially since it is a predominantly white, male field. 

Sharmila Rudrappa, sociology professor and researcher, talked about her background in India and the pressure immigrant culture still places on students to pursue fields in the sciences. Rudrappa talked about how she switched from studying medical science to studying social science and the struggle that came with that decision.     

“My parents were really worried I was going to be jobless because I wanted to become a sociologist in America,” Rudrappa said. “But parents worry for you because they want a better life for you … it does shape one very strongly, being a woman of color.”

Vivek Pokkula and Kevin Kim, co-chairs of the Faculty Affairs Committee, said one of the things they lacked in events last year was representation for minorities. Pokkula, a finance and government sophomore, and Kim, a psychology and neuroscience junior, said the Senate of College Councils wanted to promote diversity.

“It’s a really good way for students to get experience and interact with professors and talk to them about their experiences, especially if they’re interested in academia in the future,” Pokkula said.