By Martina Lampkin
Having just finished my first semester of grad school, I find this to be the perfect time to reflect on the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys of working on an advanced degree. One thing that easily made a big impression on me was the surprise and delight of not being the only black girl in my classes.
So, a little bit of background: I am a software developer, and for every project I have been on at work, I have been the only black female developer. Because the school I’m attending has become more diverse, I knew I was not going to be the only black person in the Computer Science Master’s degree program. However, because of my past work experiences, I thought I was going to be the rare black girl in a program and field dominated by white and Asian men. As I sat in the classroom waiting for my professor to come into my first class of the semester, it looked like I was going to be the only black girl in the class.
It wouldn’t be the first time I was the only person of a specific demographic in my classes. In an undergraduate Programming Concepts class, I was one of two girls, and the only black girl. I never thought about being the only black girl in class because I wasn’t as socially aware at the time;I didn’t understand that there were privileges that I would not get in the tech industry. In a CompTIA certification class I was taking after completing my Bachelor’s degree, I was the only girl in the class. I started worrying at that point because I didn’t know that I was going to be the only girl in the class until the instructor told me after calling my name during roll call. Will the guys try to be sexist and say sexist things? Will I be made to feel unwelcome because I’m not a man?
At that moment, a black girl walked in. My expectations, that were formed from past experiences, were broken instantly shattered into a million pieces that blew away in the wind. The surprises didn’t stop there: Another black girl walked into the class. No longer was I the only black girl in the class, I was one of three. For my other class, I was also one of three black girls; the two aforementioned girls were in that class with me. Ah, the joys of core classes where you’ll see at least some of the same people in your classes during that semester.
Just like other people in the class, we complained about one of our classes, we talked about our professors, I even gave one girl notes from a class I had previously taken. So why are we seen as the “other” in tech when we are similar to the people who fit the majority?
It is so important for any black girl who wants to work in the tech industry to see other black girls learning with them, or working in the field. We can face the unique challenges of being the minority in the field together. It’s why I’m getting my Master’s degree in Computer Science; I want to be the representation that is desperately needed to break the status quo. I want a young black woman to see me at school or work and think “There’s someone like me. I can do this!” The only black women I would see at work had the stereotypical administrative roles. I questioned if I would ever see another black woman like me working a tech job, and I almost left the industry because of lack of representation.
While one of the black girls I met in my classes will be switching to a different tech-related program after this semester, it was still great walking through the start of grad school with her. I will miss having another black girl walk with me on this journey, but I know there are other black girls in the computer science program who will gladly walk together in the grad school journey.
Martina Lampkin is a student at Towson University where she is working towards a Master’s degree in Computer Science with a concentration on Software Engineering. When she is not working or going to school, she can be found doing kickboxing, singing in her Unitarian Universalist church choir, or planning her 2020 wedding. Check out her blog where she records her journey in discovering who she is and finding her purpose in life at diaryofself.wordpress.com.