Reflections of a Dissertating Latina Mami Scholar
The following was featured in the NASPA Latinx Scholar's Corner in 2019 about #LatinaMamiScholars
As a first-generation transfer student, I felt I had to always take advantage of the opportunities to advance my education. When I began my master’s program my daughter was seven weeks old. The first time I had ever left her with someone was to attend my first class as a graduate student. I remember when I was being interviewed for the program, I was about 4 months pregnant and was desperately looking for an outfit that did not expose my pregnancy. I was afraid there would be perceptions about how a new mother could handle the demands of a graduate program. Fast-forward six years later, I am a third-year doctoral candidate and my daughter is a half-way through the first grade. For me the identities of a Latina Mami Scholar developed simultaneously and continue to grow as I become more established in these identities.
A recent story that highlights how I have navigated both motherhood and the demands of a doctoral candidate/researcher happened last month while at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Annual Conference in Tampa. It was my first ASHE, I was literally moments from the session I was scheduled to present at and I received a call from back home in California. It was a call from my partner and he was having a difficult moment with my daughter. As a mother, I am trying to be reassuring from across the country, but my presenting session was going to begin. I had to make the quickest yet firm assurance for my daughter who needed to hear my voice and transition back into researcher mode. In the moment it was very emotional for me because I recognize my schedule had been demanding and I was feeling ‘mom guilt’ for not being home to comfort her. Simultaneously, I needed to remain in control of my emotions push through for the presentation, essentially without allowing the situation at home to become a distraction. The presentation went well, and my daughter went to school content after hearing my voice. It is those moments of navigating motherhood and the role of a doctoral candidate/researcher that frequently occur and probably remain unspoken.
The modes of support that promote my persistence and success have been the faculty of color in my program. I think back to our summer courses which are completed during a two-week intensive. This last summer, we were near the end of the intensive but a faculty member checked-in with me because he could tell that I was not engaging as I normally would be and even though I was reluctant to share that I was missing my daughter, my professor immediately realized that was the issue and invited me to bring my daughter the very next day to the next class session. I later realized how powerful it was to share my doctoral experience by having her in class with me. We know the Latinx community represents a fraction of all the doctoral degree holders, but it was an incredible moment that her and I will always have. It was moments like this that have been critical in supporting my academic success.
For other Latina Mami Scholars embarking on this journey I would suggest having a support system in place. When I was applying to the doctoral program I sat down with my partner and my parents, I felt it was a familial decision for me to apply to the program. I needed to know I had their full support. At the beginning of each semester, I check-in with them and provide everyone a calendar. These calendars have both my schedule and my daughter’s scheduled, it allows our family to be organized and to not miss important school functions. I am conscious of my traveling schedule for data collection and conferences, whenever there is a slow week, I try to have lunch with my daughter at her school or attend a school activity. The check-in with my support team was critical to ensure the lines of communication remain opened. I also found a way to occasionally remind my support system, how appreciative I was for their support as I pursue the doctorate. Lastly, I would advise to document your journey in some form. I began to document my journey on Instagram (@academicsoul) because I was felt isolated as a mother and commuter doctoral student (60 miles one-way). It was a platform that allowed me to find community and I was connected to other doctoral students across the nation. Hopefully my journey can inspire someone to pursue their dreams and not be held back by social constructs of what it means to be a Latina Mami Scholar.