Latina Researchers Network
Social Justice Essay Challenge
BY STEPHANIE QUILES-RAMOS
We asked the Latina Researchers Network, “How are you using scholarship or evaluation to promote social justice for Latinx, their families or community?” We are excited to feature the winning essays. They remind us that no matter the circumstances, the challenges or obstacles, we all have an important story. Stories that will open the doors to the next generation of investigators – stories that transcend geographic location and academic disciplines.
*Essays were edited for content and brevity.
Stephanie Maira Quiles-Ramos, Ph.D. Student in Engineering Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
Stephanie shares the life experiences that have shaped her interest in engineering to advance the Latinx community
Life experiences have shaped me into a developing feminist scholar; a scholar pushing the boundaries as a first-generation college student, who has triumphed over poverty and teen-motherhood, and who refuses to accept the staggering disparities largely felt by the Latinx community.
As a low-income woman maneuvering through higher education, I lacked a sense of belonging and community. I often found myself grappling with the notion of who I was in a higher education setting or even what that meant for me, my child, and my future. Well into my Bachelor’s Degree, after a daunting transition from community college to a four-year university, I slowly began to piece together my intense disconnection to the college community. I stumbled upon the Ronald E. McNair Scholar program for minority students, where I was submerged into a sub-community of racially diverse college students lead by a racially diverse faculty and staff. I began to realize my intense disconnection from the larger community was due to the lack of people that looked like me, spoke like me, came from a similar family life or class status as me, and who were also first-generation students (like many of us Latinx).
I began to realize that the large Latinx community I was born into and raised into was non-existent in the college environment.
The passion I always had for my community and my people, mi gente, along with my new found understanding of oppression and patriarchy, ignited a spark that still forges my efforts to fight for equity within organizations, the workforce, and academia. My experience as a McNair Scholar, where I saw many of my racial minority peers in engineering face unique challenges, solidified how I would enact a plan to help advance the Latinx community – by focusing on STEM, specifically Engineering.
It may initially seem odd to think of promoting social justice through engineering. However, when you break down the meaning of social justice – equity within our society through just distribution of opportunity, privilege, and wealth – and then you look at the engineering community, both in the academy and in the corporate setting (industry), latent themes of suppression and oppression surface. My advocacy and research are driven by trying to answer why the Latinx community is so underrepresented in engineering education, engineering professions, and in the workforce. Largely a male-dominated field, engineering has astonishing diversity disparities related to race and gender. The culture of masculinity is embodied through language, tasks, positions, and social interactions, all reinforced through a larger higher education system.
My scholarship promotes social justice for Latinx, our families and our community in various ways, both directly and indirectly. My lived experiences allow for the relatability necessary to identify and push back on inequitable situations.
My academic experiences shape the manner in which I critically analyze the advancement of the Latinx community, while at the same time providing an outlet to have their voices – our voices – heard.
Through conducting research in academia, engineering professions, and organizations, I work to not only advance the scholarship on our community but also to ensure that scholarship is placed into action to create positive change for our people. Deconstructing the barriers to education can open pathways for the emerging Latinx generation to advance.
My education has not only afforded me a degree, it has afforded me a voice, once silenced, that echoes well beyond my reach to support and advocate for Latinx.