|The heart with a mind of its own.(Be present.)||The mind with a heart of its own.(It's past.)||The dream that is your waking life.(Go there now.)|
Feminists have long recognized that the personal is political. I came to Phoenix hoping that the SACNAS conference organizers might know this as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. And although I learned a few new things at the conference, I have to say that ultimately, I was disappointed.
First, and most pettily, for a conference which is intended to further the advancement of minority students to be held during the school semester—and at a time in the semester when professors are generally planning to give their first tests of the semester—is poor planning indeed. I would suggest that future conferences be held during breaks between the semesters so that students will not have to decide between attending classes and attending the SACNAS conference.
Secondly, I think that SACNAS has to decide whether the conference is intended to be a scientific conference or a networking conference. In trying to satisfy the requirements for both, SACNAS fails to satisfy the requirements for either. For example, when I informed professors on campus that I would be missing classes to attend a SACNAS conference, a few responded, “Oh, that’s not a real conference.” Of course, I could attribute this to ignorance on the part of the professors, but if SACNAS is known to hold conferences that are not “real,” then something needs to change so that professors and other educators and potential mentors see SACNAS as a “real” opportunity for minority students. In terms of the conference being a networking opportunity, I have to say that I am glad that I had the chance to meet with representatives from the universities, but I would have been even more pleased had I had the opportunity to speak with someone in the (always empty) mentoring room. I signed up for a mentor on Friday, but by Sunday evening (the time I had signed up for) no mentor had signed up to speak with me. The SACNAS conference organizers obviously know that mentoring is important—otherwise why set up a mentoring room in the first place?
Finally, I was disappointed that only one speaker (on the final night of the conference) was willing to acknowledge the experience that I and countless others live every day: that socially, educationally, and economically, minorities do not have the same opportunities that non-minority students have. The other speakers to whom I listened never once addressed the fact that minority students every day face a myriad of prejudices that spring from the very people who we are supposed to seek out as mentors or from those who would otherwise be our peers. I have met many educators and scientists who see minority students as a half-step away from Cadillac-driving welfare queens or drug-addicted street people looking for handouts. Because of this, it is my belief that for SACNAS to be truly useful in advancing minorities in science, those who come to speak to us must speak honestly about stereotypes and prejudices and their effects on our futures.
I do not mean to be an ungrateful—after all, I did receive a full scholarship from SACNAS to attend this conference—but ultimately, I think that the criticisms that I have of the conference are those that, were others to be honest, would surface in nearly every student essay—or at least in the essays of the students to whom I spoke at the conference. Minority students need more than fancy catering and high production value performances to reach their goals as scientists, doctors and researchers. We need honest dialogue about why SACNAS is even necessary. And we need to have, as a collective goal, an end to societies like SACNAS—not because they are useless, but because, through their work, they will have ultimately rendered themselves obsolete. The personal is political, and if SACNAS is to be the society that helps advance minority students in science, they must realize this.