|My grandmother and me|
Many people associate Title IX primarily with women’s opportunities in athletics. They don’t realize that the same legislation which has empowered countless female athletes also requires that women and girls be given equal opportunities to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields free from discriminatory barriers. To better understand the obstacles women in STEM encounter, I interviewed my grandmother, who was educated and trained as a biochemist.This is her story.
My now 85 year old grandmother from Costa Rica defied familial and societal expectations to pursue a career in biochemistry. She had the means to pursue a university education but her father did not support her ambitions. Women of her social class were supposed to get married after high school. So she ended up working in a lab to pay her own way through school.
My grandmother’s impressive work at the lab won her a scholarship to The Ohio State University and a rare and important opportunity to acquire training in Canada extracting and analyzing tree samples. However, the male research director of this project wanted to revoke my grandmother’s scholarship because of her sex. He justified canceling her scholarship, claiming he “did not want to risk her catching cold in the Canadian winter.” My grandmother made clear that he invoked stereotypes of women as the physically weaker sex to justify taking away this important opportunity in her career. Losing her scholarship forced my grandmother to devote time she had planned to spend receiving further training to instead find alternative funding for her U.S. education.
Her path was not an easy one and she continuously encountered discrimination and harassment from male professors and colleagues. Eventually, after marrying an American physicist and having a family, she went back for her doctorate but did not complete it due to still prevailing attitudes that she could not be both a good scientist and a good mother.
I keep thinking of how Title IX could have helped my grandmother, who had so much ambition and talent in the sciences. I am grateful that if I ever have a daughter with interest in STEM, Title IX will help support her ambition with the training and opportunities needed to succeed.