By Gabriela Flores
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Brooklyn College’s Women of Color hosted a panel of three black women leaders to voice their professional, academic, and personal experiences becoming the people they are today. Whether it be undertaking challenges in their workplaces or being mentors for the next generation of leaders to follow them, the panelists laid it all out for participants to hear honest retellings of pivotal life moments.
The panel formed part of the many events Women of Color hosts since its start in 2013, when members began actively pushing the voices of BC’s minority women at the forefront, with an emphasis on black women.
“Our mission is to provide the necessary resources needed to succeed academically and socially,” said Samantha Saint Jour, the club’s president who hosted the panel alongside her advisor Isa Mitchell. Through bonding activities, such as retreats and sister circles, WOC has continued to uplift the community of women they serve.
In its latest discussion on Tuesday, Mar. 22, WOC was joined by BC Professor Lynda Day, who teaches Africana Studies and Women and Gender Studies; Crystal Schloss-Allen, a higher education associate at BC’s School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences; and Medgar Evers College President Patricia Ramsey. Together, the three women delved into their past and imparted life advice to those who tuned in.
To kick off the discussion, the panelists discussed whether or not their college roots sprouted into their careers today, with most admitting that it somehow did. For Schloss-Allen, however, her work in science labs did not come about from her English bachelor’s degree.
As an undergrad, Schloss-Allen was adamant about not stepping foot in the medical field as her parents hoped. Though she was interested in anthropology, she settled for a major “that was acceptable” to her family. As time went by, she worked in different labs and eventually landed at the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, where she currently works.
“I think this is what I’m supposed to do because, at the same time, I get to work with anthropologists and even do different things, like help design labs and even study different things [in] my free time,” Schloss-Allen said, noting that BC has enabled her to grow professionally.
On the other hand, Ramsey, who is the first woman and scientist to take on the president title at Medgar Evers, always carries on her botanical passions that she formed during her graduate days. Though she intended to become a medical student, she quickly left that possibility behind once she found out medical schools worked on dead bodies. After her undergrad years, she went off to Howard University, where she pursued her master’s in botany.
“That was when I really began to start my love for plants because I was in an animal physiology lab and discovered I could not stand holding the small animals in my hand with them wiggling when we were trying to do things to them,” Ramsey said, noting that those lab experiences pushed her to talk to Howard’s plant division head. “And I’ve been with plants ever since.” Today, despite her administrative role, she manages to incorporate her interests in plants throughout her career.
For Day, majoring in comparative history during her time as an undergrad, came after she did not find space in the political science department at Howard University, which was “full of men seeking power.” During those days, she found ease through her love of African history.
“But I loved reading African history. I would go to the library, to the sections with African history, and just sit there and read, and read. So when I went to graduate school, I said, ‘This could do. I like this – I could do this for a long time,’” said Day, who found that becoming a professor suited her skills the most. With her fortes laying in writing, reading, foreign languages, and other skills, Professor Day discovered that she belongs in front of the classroom early on.
“When I stepped in front of a classroom, I felt like this is for me. Because growing up, I used a lot of big words, a lot of vocabulary, and often people would say, ‘Why is she talking like that? She’s talking so white,’” Day recalled. “And when I was actually in front of a classroom, I’m not sure if I was actually talking ‘white,’ but in using all vocabulary words, it was perfect – it worked well.”
Despite leading the lives they envisioned and worked towards from the get-go, these three women tackled a variety of obstacles. Whether it be dealing with colleagues who were discriminatory against them on the basis of gender and race, or demanding a raise for the immense work they contributed in their former jobs, each woman was prepared to confront their issues head-on.
Ramsey, for instance, recalled a time when she worked at a different institution and was earning much lower wages than the male counterpart she replaced. When the time came to sign a contract with the unnamed college for her to remain employed, she was adamant on speaking with the president and making her case for a raise. After much discussion and pushback from administrators, Ramsey attained her raise.
“What I would say to anyone in a situation like that, really don’t let anyone dissuade you, stick to your guns. Because for me, something like that is all about principle,” Ramsey said.
To achieve the accolades they garnered today, all three leaders were mentored along the way. As the tables turned and they became mentors to upcoming leaders, the panelists emphasized the importance of remaining connected to different professors, opportunities, and networks. For letters of recommendations specifically, Schloss-Allen imparted her two cents of just how important it is to build meaningful relationships.
“Everyone has a template of what they write in your recommendation letters, but you want someone that’s going to write something that they actually know about you and base it on what they see in you,” she said, mentioning that conferences could help with networking.
As the event came to a close, the ending note that participants received was to ultimately push for their respective goals and empower themselves to pursue what they want, just like the three panelists have done thus far.
“[…] Life is too short, and we really need to focus on those things that we are passionate about because we are going to be better at those things than what someone else decided what we should be,” said Ramsey.