The Graduate Experience for Women of Color

Posted: April 20, 2006

By Lindsey Whitmore '07

Mount Holyoke College's Spring Mentoring Workshop Series Committee will host the third annual "The Graduate Experience for Women of Color" event Thursday and Friday, April 27 and 28, from 5 to 7 pm.

Two panel workshops, one focusing on students interested in sciences and mathematics and one for students interested in humanities and social sciences, aim to support, encourage, and provide resources for women of color at Mount Holyoke interested in pursuing graduate school. The science and mathematics panel will be held in Skinner 202, and the humanities and social sciences panel will be in Kendade 305.

"Our first goal is to offer the real possibility of graduate school to women of color at Mount Holyoke," said Cynthia Rocha Diaz '06, the committee's chairperson. "Although the panels are certainly open to everyone, our focus is on providing support and opportunities to women of color who might not have considered graduate school as an option before. Our second goal is to provide women of color with access to a wide variety of professors and academics who might then serve as mentors, providing crucial advice and support in both getting accepted to and being successful in graduate programs."

Faculty panel participants in the sciences and mathematics are Sean Decatur, Marilyn Dawson Sarles, M.D. Professor of Life Sciences, professor of chemistry, and associate dean of faculty for science; Jessica Sidman, Clare Booth Luce Professor of Mathematics; Sheila Browne, Bertha Phillips Rodger Professor of Chemistry; and Shubha Tewari, visiting assistant professor of physics.

"Any transition to a new job, new school, or environment is a time of vulnerability for anyone and even more so for underrepresented minorities," Browne said. "Self-doubt is considerably more of a problem at this time for women and for women of color. Understanding this and communicating about the important aspects of choosing a school and an adviser will make the transition more successful. I certainly wish I had had this opportunity when I was a student."

Humanities and social sciences faculty providing advice and mentoring opportunities include Patricia Schneider, assistant professor of economics; Lois Brown, associate professor of English and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts; Niera Marshall, a Five College fellow in history who is currently finishing her dissertation; and Nitasha Sharma, Five College visiting assistant professor of American studies. Marilyn Scott, assistant director and coordinator of diversity programs and outreach in the admission office, will moderate the panels.

"It was, in fact, the lack of positive female mentors and minority faculty mentors that profoundly shaped my graduate experience," Sharma said. "It even shaped my conviction in what I wanted to study: race and racism in the U.S. through the field of anthropology. I hope that I can provide just one perspective on the importance of finding mentors and allies in graduate school. Graduate school can be a difficult and alienating experience--but it's also incredibly rewarding, provided you understand how the system works, what you need to get through it, while pursuing work that is important to you."

The annual series was originally conceptualized three years ago by two Frances Perkins students, Stacy Pringle '05 and Kim Cameron Dominguez '04, who felt that women of color at Mount Holyoke lacked adequate mentoring regarding graduate and postdoctoral programs. Pringle and Dominguez approached the African American and African studies program with a proposal and from that the Mentoring Workshop Series was born.

The series is supported by the Office of the President, the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, and the African American and African studies program. Both panels are free and all women are encouraged to attend.

Related Links:

President's Office

Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts

African American and African Studies Program