By Amanda Martinez
The gentlemen around me burst into a guffaw of laughter. We are all standing in a circle facing one man with a shiny name tag plastered across the left breast pocket of his navy suit coat. It reads, “Johnathan Smith” followed by “Savior Health Hospital” underneath. A few of the men, a mix of classmates and strangers, shuffle their feet and nervously run their hands over their slacks, always smiling convincingly to the man in the Navy suit.
We are at a networking event. When I first approached Johnathan, a lone figure at the corner of the room, I felt exhilarated and confident with only a healthy dash of nervousness. I had been looking at Savior Health Hospital for a while now, and here was my chance to make a strong first impression to show them who I am, what I’ve got, and maybe get my foot in the door for a future career.
But that was ten minutes ago. And now, as I am being slowly pushed out of the circle that has formed around us, I feel small and negligible. I try to speak up and push my way back in, but the conversation has turned to last night’s Tiger’s game and I know nothing about baseball. At 5’3”, I suddenly feel as if the people in the circle – once fellow colleagues – are towering over me like vultures. I look around the circle and cannot find my reflection. I am short, brown, and a woman. I do not belong here.
What am I doing here? I ask myself. I turn away and slip silently from the group. I know I will not be missed.
As a Master of Public Health student in Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan, I have found a second home with my School of Public Health (SPH) family. My professors, peers, and school administration have welcomed me into the diverse culture that thrives at SPH. When I am at school, I feel like my unique background makes me an asset to the classroom. I can bring in the woman’s perspective, the minority and Hispanic perspective, and my own personal perspective that has been shaped through my individual experiences. However, as soon as I step into the real world that lies beyond the walls of SPH, the harsh realities of double-standards, sexism, and racism slam into me like a train careening off its tracks. A train that, if anything, has been fueled by the rhetoric and intolerance spread by recent political events and elections.
There are serious inequalities that exist in almost every facet of professional life here in the United States. We are well into the twenty-first century, and yet I will still be paid less than my white, male counterpart because of the color of my skin, the existence of my breasts, and my petite stature. But I’m not here to whine. Yes, it sucks. It absolutely sucks. But I’m coming to realize that while it is important to acknowledge inequalities, it is even more important to fight harder against them.
I lived in this world before I came to Ann Arbor and my eyes were open. I’d experienced racism, sexism, and many other “isms,” but for some reason it never felt like it does now. Like a soaked, heavy blanket thrown over me and always weighing me down, suffocating me, making it harder to take one more step forward. Eighty-six percent of C-suite hospital executives are white while onIy seven percent are black and 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino. Honestly, this makes me angry. Because I know I need to work three times as hard as others to get to the same place. But you know what? I absolutely will. My grandparents came to this country in the 1960s and faced much more hate, intolerance, and obstacles than I ever will. And yet they worked four times as hard to be stronger, faster and, above all, kinder than the intolerance that faced them. Then my parents, pursuing careers in the bureaucracy of upper-level university administration, served as my first-hand mentors by working three times as hard to push past boundaries and become accomplished and much-loved departmental directors and associate deans – all the while raising my brothers and me to believe we could accomplish anything we desired through the same values instilled upon them by their parents: education, hard work, and kindness.
Since starting my graduate studies, I’ve become more aware of the disparities in minority and women representation in Public Health Administration. I am unaccustomed to being so acutely aware of my appearance and background. How I present myself suddenly becomes much more essential in everything I do and that is a difficult burden to constantly carry.
So here I am, shuffling toward the big black doors that mark the exit from this networking conference and an escape from my personal shame and perceived alienation. As I reach the foot of the exit, I pause and tightly shut my eyes. You deserve to be here, I tell myself. Life isn’t fair, but don’t you dare lie down and take it. You DESERVE to succeed. In a moment of weakness, I was only a few steps away from losing an opportunity because I chose to feel like less, to let them win – and it is a choice, one of many small choices made throughout each day to pursue greatness and chase equality.
I stay. I stay for my grandparents, for my parents, for my future children. I stay for everyone that will one day be faced with the choice of walking out the doors or not. With one deep breath, I swivel on my heel and stride back to the cluster of suits in the corner. The glass ceiling exists, but we are pressing against it and gaining force. We will fight for what we deserve: equality, justice, and love. Yes, I will willingly and happily work twice as hard as my counterparts. Then, one day, the glass ceiling will shatter. Perhaps it will be my children or my children’s children that will live in a world in which they will only need to work as hard their peers of every size, color and gender to accomplish their dreams. Until then, however, I maneuver my way through the crowd to the man in the Navy suit, stretching out my hand confidently.
By Rachel Bittman
It happens. One semester down, one more to go until summer (and internships, jobs, and whatever comes next). Classes seem tedious, homework endless, and all you want to do is don your sweatpants and curl up in bed with a bag of chips and the newest season of your favorite show on Netflix.
Problem? The semester is nowhere near over! There are still classes to attend, activities to get involved in, maybe an internship or a job to seek out and obtain. You can’t afford to sleep the semester away.
So then what do you do? Here are several tips to keep yourself motivated and avoid falling into the ‘Spring Semester Slump’.
1. Set small goals
What is it you want to accomplish by the end of this term? Is it a certain grade in that class you’ve been struggling in? An internship or a job with a specific organization or company, or in a specific location? A student organization you’ve thought about joining all year but never got around to?
Once you have the big goal, break it down. How can you achieve that grade, how can you get that job, what do you need to do to join that organization? Could it be attending office hours, sending out emails or cold calling companies? A large goal can seem daunting, but by breaking it down to small actions, you can make that ending seem much more reachable and attainable.
Organization might seem impossible at times. You’ve got so much going on in your life, nobody ever said grad school would be easy. There’s classes, homework, extracurricular activities, and let’s not forget about keeping an active social life outside of school. Organizing your calendar can help you keep track of assignments and classes, so that you can avoid the last minute panic of having a ten-page paper due with only a day to write it. Whether that calendar is electronic on your phone, tablet, computer, or all three, or if you keep a paper copy, just remember to update it when you first hear about that final presentation, test, or project! Set small intermediate objectives: if you have a project due at the end of the semester, what steps do you want to have done by midterms? Break down assignments to smaller tasks to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and remember to keep track of what you need to complete and the dates they should be done!
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Whatever year you’re in right now, whether you came straight from undergrad to grad school or took a few years off in between, don’t forget why you’re here. Those reasons are different for everyone – it could be a need to obtain a higher degree to advance in your chosen career path, or a change in careers, a step on the path to another degree, or any one of a thousand reasons. It may be more than one reason. Whatever challenges you face in school or in life, remember why you chose to pursue this degree. That inspiration can carry you through the semester, and remind you of that bigger picture: even though it might seem tedious and trying at times, you’re here for a reason.
4. Life exists outside of school
I know, it might not always seem it at times, right? When you’re taking so many classes, and there’s so much homework and reading to get done, tests to study for, projects and assignments with looming deadlines. But it’s important to put down the textbook at times, and just go out and have fun (anyone who knows me will know that I’m writing this in more of a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ kind of fashion, but it’s still a good point to make).
So spend a Saturday night with friends at a bar or a club. Go hiking, or skiing, or whatever other activity you might enjoy. Find a cooking class, or a spinning class; maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try but never got around to it. You’re here for a degree, but what’s more important is that you enjoy getting it. If you spend all your time in the library or buried in your homework, it’s very easy to lose the passion that got you here in the first place.
5. You’re a part of something
Here in SPH, we’re completing different degrees, we’ve got different program requirements, different reasons for why we chose to come to this school above all others, but I believe that the underlying motive for being here, what draws us to public health, all boils down to a desire to help people. Maybe we just want to make a difference. So reach out, make new friends, and don’t be afraid to try something new. We might not all have the same interests, but we’re far more connected than we are different.
6. Believe in yourself
I learned about the term ‘imposter syndrome’ in one of my first classes, in my first semester at graduate school. I didn’t even know there was a specific word for it. The term is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Basically, even though you were accepted to an amazing school, and even if you’re doing well in your classes, you still feel like you don’t really belong here. I felt it, I still feel it. And I know I’m not the only one. And neither are you. Even if you have moments of doubt, remember that you’re here. The University of Michigan wants you here. They looked at thousands of applicants, and they chose you. Just keep believing in yourself, no matter how hard it might get at times. Use all of these tips: set small goals, organize efficiently, remember your inspiration for pursuing a career in public health, don’t forget to relax and have fun at times, and connect with your cohort, your fellow SPH-ers.
And most importantly, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. It can seem like a never-ending journey at times, constantly studying and reading, so much to do and not enough time to do it. If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not the only one. There is a whole network of classmates, faculty, and staff, just waiting, ready to help you if you ever need it.
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