“I wear my identity as a Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking Latinx woman in STEM like a badge of honor.”
~ Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer
By Mallory Molina
Don’t shy away from your identity and truth.
We’ve made it to the last week of reflections on the bravery, burnout, and being a WOC in STEM show with Dr. Shine Chang! In our first two weeks, we featured Amber Lenon, a graduate student at the University of West Virginia, and Stephani Page, postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
This week, meet Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer, the community Engagement and Outreach Manager for iBiology and vice-director and news editor-in-chief of Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR). She works in the nonprofit world and uses online technologies to make science accessible to all.
Being a WOC in STEM
Dr. Feliú-Mójer does not shy away from her identity. She takes pride in her heritage, saying, “I wear my identity as a Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking Latinx woman in STEM like a badge of honor.”
She deliberately participates in common cultural practices, such as using both her surnames and pronounces all Spanish words correctly when she is speaking English. Even if these practices trigger stereotypes, Dr. Feliú-Mójer knows that owning her identity is important. “I do my best to be aware of my privileges and to leverage them to support fellow women of color in STEM.”
As discussed in the #BBBinSTEM episode, bravery in STEM includes joining social movements and being a voice for others. Dr. Feliú-Mójer recently experienced this first hand in a meeting about how technology will affect jobs and the workforce of the future. She was only one of three people of color in the room, and she noticed it.“The imposter syndrome and feeling of otherness was weighing heavy on me,” she explained.
As the discussion progressed, she felt uneasy about the direction of the conversation and the underlying assumption that technology would impact everyone equally. There was no consideration for how heavy reliance on technology could disproportionately affect communities of color.
While she was nervous, Dr. Feliú-Mójer knew she needed to address that assumption head-on. “I invited the room to think about how this plan could exclude certain groups of people from accessing jobs, and to tackle the issue head on before that future becomes a reality,” she recalled.
Everyone in the room was taken aback by the idea, but in the end, they took it into consideration. Dr. Feliú-Mójer was very uncomfortable in the situation, but she was happy she brought it up afterwards. “I was proud of myself for overcoming my self-doubt and standing up for what I believe is important,” she said.
Dr. Feliú-Mójer watched the #VanguardSTEM episode on July 5 and felt very connected to the themes presented, exclaiming “The #BBBinSTEM episode gave me life!” The two topics that particularly resonated with her were the importance of self-care and recognizing that you need help, then asking for it.
“Too often, we get caught up in our lives and work, and, as women of color, we often have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition,” she stated, reflecting on self-care. “That makes life much more difficult, especially if we feel the added pressure of carrying our communities with us.
“We need to stop and breathe, and do things that feed our souls,” she advised. “Without that break, we will forget why we are doing the work we do, especially when we feel like we are drowning.”
Recognizing the need for breaks and reflection is important to getting where we need to be, and having others help you get that rest isn’t shameful. “Learning to be comfortable asking for help and understand your needs are vital when you get close to burnout,” she noted.
Embracing Your Identity
Some of the most important words of advice Dr. Feliú-Mójer shares with others are to be true to yourself and to not let others define who you are. “Don’t let people say it’s too hard for you—own your awesome!” Some people may try to put you down because of your identity, but you should “flip that narrative.” Instead, think of what is positive about your experiences.
“The way I see it, being a WOC is an advantage because of the diverse set of skill sets, experiences and knowledge you bring to the table,” she explained.
We should always embrace who we are, because we will never be anyone else! Knowing yourself and not letting others control your feelings is vital to succeeding in STEM.
Dr. Feliú-Mójer concluded saying, “Surround yourself with mentors and role models that will make you shine in your own way, and help you when you need it.”
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
All rights reserved. The content above or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of #VanguardSTEM except for the use of brief quotations, with attribution, and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to #VanguardSTEM, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at email@example.com