When I was born, someone should have marked on my birth certificate, “Female. Destined to be nothing. Don’t encourage her for her future is bare.” I would have gotten the point. Instead, everyone decided to encourage me to be the best of the best, to never let anyone get in my way or put me down. From the smile on my childhood pictures, one could tell that I listened well. I was convinced that I could do anything. I saw no roadblocks.
Slowly, my view of the world has changed. The roadblocks get larger each year and I question my hirdling skills more and more. Every step becomes more painful and the people are inherently more evil. I trust too many people and everyone wants to get in my way (as though I am a threat or something!). Tonite, I was advised to keep a note of all my hirdles for the future. Rather than starting at Day 1 (which would take a goddess forever to digest), I am going to start with college.
I guess you could call me a punk. I was so proud to enter Brown University. I could not believe that they accepted me to attend their prestigous university. I wanted to work so hard and prove to everyone that I belonged. I had always loved math and figured that computer science woudl be the best place for me. The brochures looked interesting, the woman who introduced me to the department gave me every hope in the world. It seemed like the perfect community. Everyone knew everyone else and seemed so helpful. I could not wait to be a part of that.
Knowing full well that I needed to get involved fast (I needed a job as soon as possible), I made every effort to befriend my classmates and professor. The prof seemed intimidating but I was told that he was not so bad when you got to know him. They were right. If you weren’t terrified of him, he seemed human enough. In addition, his student advisee was so cool. She immediately helped me acquire a job within the computer information portion of the university (separate from computer science). I put all of my energy into my introductory course (which I loved) and into getting to know more than what they taught (UNIX and HTML were fun play-toys!). I started making appointments with the prof and we got to know each other.
Midway thru the semester, the professor decided to hire a student as an addition to his audio/visual group and I applied. By some miracle, I got that job. And that is where the problems began. I never considered that my hiring was due to my gender but apparently many members of the department spread rumors about who I was sleeping with (my sex life is far more interesting within those contexts!). Apparently, my promiscuity landed me the job. I ignored it. I figured one of them must have applied for the job and I had seen jealousy before.
It was then that I found out about “rumor,” an anonymous forum used to publicly ridicule other individuals. Having always considered myself a proponent of free-speech, I brushed it off thinking that it was just immature nonsense. Nothing in my body budged when I read “I want to rape dmb.” I just coped.
The following semester, I secured a position as a CS4 TA. My interview went extremely well. I was psyched about the job.. until, only hours after the announcement, a fellow classmate reminded me that I only got that job because of my gender. I was crestfallen. It didn’t help that I was starting to date the HeadTA. I realized rather quickly that the comment made by my classmate was common sentiment. Throughout the semester, my achievements soared and recognition followed. I was hired for two new positions: CS15 TA and Bridge Leader for a summer program aimed at minority students. With a great deal of vigor, I began preparation.
After weeks of preparation, I found out that I would be teaching a group of 4 women and 3 men, all of whom are minorities. From our earliest meetings, we got along. On a personal front, I was having difficulties with some people in the department who felt as though I was using my boyfriend for power and that the Bridge program was a hoax. I did my best to ignore them. In addition, personal mixed with work and the result was uncomfortable.
Shortly into the program, we started teaching the students HTML. One day, when they were logged in, working on their websites, a message popped up. It said, “Get out of here while you can.” Confused, I worked on tracking down the message. One my classmates owned a project that the students were using to recognize colors. Aimed at annoying myself, the program checked to see if my students were using it. If so, the message appeared. I confronted him and he removed it immediately.
Rumor had been escalating in cruelty. On the last day of my summer program, I sat down right before class only to see the following rumor appear, “I have a piece of dmb’s mail.” Haunted and confused, I tracked down my boyfriend. He ran all over the place and found out that I had left a printed letter from my mother in my home. Apparently, someone had seen it. Two hours later, the entire letter, complete with spelling mistakes and pine-alignment errors appeared on rumor. There was no doubt that the message appeared electronically.
I was horrified. I maintained composure as I finished the day with my students. By the time my class was over, three more letters appeared, all conversations between my mother and myself. Dazed, I went to see the one faculty member that I trusted, my advisor. Many hours were spent trying to track the information down. I realized that my knowledge of UNIX was far more extensive than I first believed. Every step made me more angry. Finally, the pressure got to me and I went home to Pennsylvania. As the week continued, the department head started a mad search and hysteria filled the department. Town meetings started and the department split into for and against. It was sick.
When I came back, those “for” me were rather supportive while the rest of the department was outright hostile. Apparently, it was my fault that the department was doing this. How frustrating! I did everything possible to make my life appear normal. I just wanted to learn.
As the year progressed, the harassment calmed down. Other people became targets, including a first year woman who only wanted to express herself. The incidents continued to disgust me. The people who harassed me are still in power and their clique is as large as ever. Graffiti still appears on the elevators and crushes me every time.
I am trying very hard to overcome this and be a person again. I am forever indebted to a group of amazing women for being tremendously supportive and reminding me that it doesn’t need to be like this. I can be my own person and learn to gather strength out of every incident. They are right. I will. I need to for my own sanity. For now, I just need to express my frustration…