On Being a Woman of Color and an Immigrant in Academia – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. [It is a company mission of TPII to support black women in the academy, and if you are a black woman in need of career help, please get in touch. We can work with you to make it available].

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s author prefers to remain anonymous. Her bio: the contributor is a female scholar, a person of color, and a native of a South American country. She came to the USA to earn her doctoral degree at a large public university in the Northeast. After finishing her doctoral degree in a social science field, she is now starting a new job as a faculty member at a liberal arts institution.


As my peers are preparing for the beginning of classes in two weeks, I was wasting yet another day on visa and immigration matters. This time it wasn’t about forms, but about calls, emails, and meetings that I needed to make, write, and hold to explain my new employers why I wasn’t yet able to complete the hiring paperwork and officially start my new job as an assistant professor. I should have been prepping for my courses, finishing the last touches on my syllabus, and submitting another paper for publication. I desperately needed to be productive before the academic year starts. But no, academia was finding another subtle way of telling me that I don’t belong here.

I wished so much that my main concern was to balance my time between teaching and researching, like most of my fellow junior faculty. I wanted my worries to be about how to better model some statistical relationship, or how to frame this paper that I’m struggling to write, or how to promote my work in social media. But my main concern was to be able to officially start a job that I was offered based on my own merit. The fact that I was selected from a pool of hundreds of admirable applicants, wasn’t enough accomplishment. Accepting this job offer didn’t really allowed to start my academic position as a junior faculty. I wasn’t authorized to run this new race that I so much desired to run. It felt like the academic job market wasn’t over. If my working permit wasn’t approved, I could lose this opportunity at my dreamed job.

The ways in which the system works against underrepresented minorities are countless. Particularly in academia, you can find several eye-opening analyses that report how implicit bias holds women back here and here. Most of the time we think that the system denies them jobs and wages that they deserve, or that it prevents them from competing for promotions and tenure on an equal footing. And it does. Fewer times, however, we think about when the system denies them the opportunities to participate in the contest in the first place, even when they won a ticket to it. To my identity as a woman of color, I realized, I needed to add the layer of migrant.

I fulfilled a cherished professional aspiration when I earned my first academic appointment at a liberal arts institution. Two years ago, I had started applying for dozens of academic jobs, while finishing my doctoral dissertation. In addition to the fears of being unable to persuade my committee that I was ready to become a doctor, I dreaded that if I didn’t find a job, I was going to be kicked out of the country. I faced this type of existential anxiety almost every day. Specially during the hard moments in grad school, but also during the easy ones. My life in academia could end up at any moment, no matter how well I performed. Someday, authorities will come out in the clear and finally declare out loud and shamelessly that immigrants were not welcome here. I didn’t need to wait too long for that day, though; republican supporters are already chanting “send her back” at Trump rallies.

The racist chant made me relive a recent trauma. It reminded of that time earlier this year when a CBP agent jokingly yelled at me and my partner “Don’t let them in!” when approaching us in the immigration checkpoint in the airport. Good morning, sir. I wish I had the courage to tell you it’s not funny to play with the lives and hopes of immigrants. Your joke is not amusing, it’s cruel. Instead, I followed his lead and smiled nervously. Then, I proceeded to answer every intrusive question they asked about my personal life, why did I travel to that international conference, why did I attend that family meeting, how much money was I bringing with me, etc. In spite of the humiliation, I answered with a submissiveness unknown to me. Or at least it felt to me like that. I thought I was showing respectful obedience. As my partner reveled to me later, I was not. I was bold and confident, may be even too brave. You can’t piss off the boss, he told me. But, listen, I cannot let them get away with disrespectful treatment of immigrants! If they abuse me like this, an educated immigrant, fluent in English, living for years in the USA, wouldn’t they feel entitled to insult those whom they see as more vulnerable? I have a responsibility. Long story short, they finally let me go after I spent the most terrifying 30 minutes of my life in a little room that smelled of despair. I cannot begin to fathom what the migrants are suffering in detention centers at the southern border.

Back to my current situation. I should have completed the hiring paperwork two weeks ago. My working permit was recently approved after a high-ranked government official made inquiries to USCIS on my behalf. But the employment card is taking forever to be shipped to my address. I have spent countless hours and dollars in immigration paperwork already. Not including the number of visas that I had to pay for over the years, I’ve spent well over six hundred dollars in migration-related matters only this summer. I’m broke. Not just because of the already expensive out-of-state moving ordeal but also because of the more than 5 years I lived on a graduate student stipend. That takes a heavy toll, folks. I won’t even touch on the subjects of expensive conference fees and late reimbursement policies.

The consequences extend far beyond the economic realm. Anxiety kicked in because of the unavoidable waste of time on immigration matters, and because my obsession with making my working days the most efficient and productive (fixation I probably share with many folks in academia) could not come to terms with this additional complication. But, most importantly, I was afraid that I was losing opportunities to get to know my colleagues and staff, and to gain an early grasp of the responsibilities of my new position by attending faculty meetings, getting settled in my office, and taking part in new faculty trainings. All those activities would help me perform better at my duties and would be crucial to let the feeling of belonging sink in. How could I truly be a “newly appointed faculty member” if I could not even occupy my new office? Was there a better way to exacerbate my feelings of inadequacy?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the skills that I developed in jumping all these obstacles throughout my life. But I refuse to get used to them. And no one should either. 

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On Being a Woman of Color and an Immigrant in Academia – WOC Guest Post — 4 Comments

  1. I am an artist born here in Montreal a Canadian citizen. I absolutely do not have access to the many opportunities that my fellow female immigrant peers have. They are prioritized for Calq grants, Canada Council grants and hosts of other opportunities. Important Art Magazines will only show immigrant and native art. Being white is the new lowest rung on the ladder; being white is the new black, brown, red, yellow.The universities go on and on about inclusion but it does not include who I am…I am the first one to champion the inclusion of all my sisters from all over the world but Can’t we include all of us – can we not be inclusive including ALL of us. Does including the new people coming to a new country entail shutting out the people already there?

    • OMG!!! You have to be kidding me!!! You read the story of an immigrant, one that had struggled to get her paperwork to work and live in the US, one who has spent countless amounts of money to ensure her continued presence in the country, and who had to experience all of this while starting a new job, and all you can think of is how this affects people like you?!?!? Immigrants are prioritized (I guess) because too often they have been, and still are, at the lowest rung of the pole. Did you read what this woman said about implicit bias?? You may have suffered it as a woman, but do you know what it feels like when people assume having an accent (as the writer may likely have) means you’re not smart? Bias against immigrants can be both implicit and explicit, which is much less the case for women nowadays. If you really want to be a champion of inclusion keep your white fragility in check and listen to the stories of those that are different from you, carefully and without replying. Take your time so that those stories sink in. These people have been doing it for centuries by now.

    • This is racist and you are peak white-womaning. White women love to make EvErYtHiNG about us and play the victim. This is why white women fail as allies over and over. I’d delete this comment except it already has another response so will leave it up as pedagogical examples of #WhiteWomanTears

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