Why Does Representation Matter?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by cool and educated friends, especially those who are doctors and lawyers in training. Can we say free medical and legal advise?!

What I love even more is that they are all young, black, and Haitian. One time for the culture!

It’s great to know that my friends are making it out here in these fields. But I know that the road that they’ve travelled to getting to this point has not always been the easiest. But with the guidance of students that came before them and faculty that had a vested interest in them, they have made it this far in their careers.

But I’m pretty sure we can all agree that from the moment we stepped foot on our respective undergraduate institutions, which were predominantly white institutions (PWIs), we knew that the odds weren’t in our favor. I’m sure academic advisors were deterring many of the pre-med and engineering aspirants of color from pursuing many of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors. Reinforcing the idea that people of color can’t succeed in these particular fields.

The environment of PWIs are systematically created to not work in support of us. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and love my alma mater (Go GATORS), but ultimately it was a PWI. *shrugs* I was the only black student in my BIO lab class, and 1 of the seemingly 15 black students in my Chemistry class of 200 students.

Thus, it has been an innate reaction to ask my friends at different institutions things like, “how many black students do they have in the program?” and “how many black faculty members do they have?”. More so for those of us that pursued graduate and professional degrees at PWIs as opposed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) where the minority is the majority and school is rooting for your success.

What many people who don’t fall into the “minority” groups (race, ethnicity, gender) fail to realize is that we sometimes search for that sense of community in order for us to thrive. For me, I appreciated having my Haitian community during my undergraduate career. When I make reference to something that is “so Haitian” I don’t have to explain myself because my Haitian people will understand. I felt like I had a support system away from home which helped me get through my first degree and helped me find my potential.

When I moved back to Miami to pursue my MPH at a private PWI, I hoped that I would see more black faculty, but also a lot more Haitian faculty members (because after all it is Miami). Boy was I wrong lol

I often had this conversation of “diversity” with my classmates from my Masters program and still do now. Thank goodness for faculty members like Dr. Kenya from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine who was always pushing us [rubs back of hand to reference skin color] to be great. And provided a safe space for us to “express” our grievances lol

Michou: “Black student need black faculty they can relate to. Because a lot of classes like Racism in the Law are better taught by black faculty. The law schools are already mostly white ,with white students and white professors, so the few minority students need mentors to talk to, look up to, and make them feel like they belong and give them guidance.”

This is why representation matters. I want to see that I’m sufficiently represented among faculty, administration, and the student body. As a future researcher, I want to see what I can aspire to become, I want someone that I can relate to, I want to see someone who understands me without me having to constantly explain myself.

Dany: “It’s hard to aim at something I don’t see. It’s almost impossible to hit a target I’ve never seen.”

We’re living in a society where we’ve trained ourselves to calculate every step we take, every action we carry out, and every word that we say because we know that all of these things will be attributed to the color of our skin. But when I’m in the company of black faculty, administrators, and colleagues there is a sense of you get me, and I don’t have to continuously “put on”.

When I meet individuals who are in school or just graduated, I always find myself asking anyone of color, “ever considered pursing some form of a doctorate degree?” We need more of us in academia, medicine, engineering, law, and so on. Who’s going to have your best interest at heart? Who’s going to better understand my circumstances? It’s more likely to be someone who can identify with my experiences and outlook.

Stevenson: “Faculty of diverse backgrounds in a medical institution provide future doctors an opportunity to grasp medicine through varied lenses priming them to service the constantly changing world!”

Sophie: “I think it’s important to have black faculty members in medical schools because they are the ones that tend to be the most passionate about the specific issues that affect minorities. In my experience, there are the things that we learn from our textbooks that teach us the anatomy, physiology and pathology, then there is what we learn from our lecturers who bring a more human aspect to the diseases, by giving us a better perspective on the actual impact of the disease. For example, we had a black forensic pathologist give us a lecture about the issues of mass incarceration and gun violence and how they affect his job.”

Also, take a look at our youth. How can we expect them all to develop the desire to become a doctor, a laywer, an engineer, or a researcher? The media does a good job at perpetuating the idea that people of color can only excel and overcome circumstances by pursuing careers in athletics or music.

How can we challenge this ideology if there are so few of us represented in the various STEM fields? And for those of us that eventually break into those fields, what are we doing to set up a pipeline in our communities to encourage more adolescents to consider college as well as advanced degrees?

Merancia: “As an advocator for diversity, It’s important to have black lawyers because the legal profession is the least diverse profession with only roughly 5% of African Americans.”

“All in all, we as black professionals need to be honest with ourselves and study how to better the profession. One step we can take is to move back to the communities where we all started and educate others to go obtain the education we were privileged to receive, but more importantly learn to support and mentor the young.”

Let that marinate.

I would like to know what you think professionals of color can do to increase representation in various fields, and how can we encourage K-12 students to consider STEM careers? Express your thoughts in the comment section.

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