Rachel Nguyen ’19 uses imposter syndrome to describe her struggles as a scientist of color at Kenyon. Common symptoms of this are persistent self-doubt and the fear of not belonging in one’s field.
“Throughout the years, I had noticed a lot of cases of imposter syndrome amongst the younger students of color in all of the sciences,” Nguyen said.
Now, thanks to Nguyen and Ezra Moguel ’21, scientists of color at Kenyon have a space to talk about their experience: a chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). The new student organization, which began holding consistent meetings in April, became official last week. Associate Professor of Chemistry Simon Garcia, a mentor to many scientists of color at Kenyon, will serve as the club’s advisor.
“You’re sitting there, doing your problem sets with everyone else, and everyone seems like they’re getting it,” Nguyen said. “And you’re just there, struggling. You’re like, ‘Well, could I really do this? Should I be doing this?’ And then you look around. You don’t see anyone who looks like you. It helps that feeling flourish inside, even though it shouldn’t.”
Fellow physics major Moguel shares a similar perspective: “I was talking to Rachel about how there were, like, four people of color in my year in physics,” Moguel said. “And she said, ‘That’s so many!’”
Moguel and Nguyen were inspired to start a chapter of SACNAS at Kenyon after attending the organization’s national conference last October in Salt Lake City. Kenyon’s Department of Physics sponsored the trip.
“It was the first time I had heard of SACNAS,” Nguyen said, “and I just found the conference really empowering.” Nguyen, who was dealing with an intense workload, said that the conference inspired her to get through her junior year.
Moguel, who was a first year when he attended the conference, said that “it was really important to get to see other scientists of color out there … surviving and thriving.” Later this month, Moguel will fly to San Antonio to attend the national SACNAS conference for a second time.
SACNAS developed its members base during consistent meetings it had last April. “It was really important to make the connections with the seniors who were scientists of color at Kenyon before they graduated, rather than waiting until now to start something. Because now we have alumni connections out there,” Moguel said.
SACNAS is currently planning a host of events for the coming year. They will be present along with other affinity groups Out in STEM (OSTEM) and the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) at next week’s STEM Activities Fair. The group is also developing follow-up discussions to last year’s “Can We Talk About Race in STEM?” dialogue. SACNAS will hold its next biweekly meeting this Sunday, Oct. 6, at 4:00 p.m. in Hayes 215; all are welcome to attend.
This year’s first SACNAS meeting ended with a discussion about building an identity at Kenyon and what it means to be a scientist of color.
“Professor Garcia made a very good point in emphasizing that you can change the culture if you want to,” Moguel said. “Because it’s very easy to feel like we’re stuck in the [way that things were] when we first came to Kenyon, but we can always change it ourselves. And that’s what we’re working to do.”