What Representation Means to Me

Majority of my life I’ve struggled with self identity. I was born to an Asian mother and a Caucasian father. I’m often told I look more Asian than white. I’m also told the stereotypical “But really, what are you?” Usually, it’s easy to brush off but sometimes it gets under my skin. Being in a world divided by race and how you look affects how people will interact with you. It’s our ugly truth.

During my senior year of high school, I remember getting nervous about applications. They had me choose what race I identified as. I was conflicted about how it would affect my acceptances. It wasn’t the fact that I had a great GPA or test score. It was the fact that I wasn’t as smart as the other Asians in my grade. My acceptance to college was one of the proudest moments for myself and my family. I’m first generation, meaning I’m the first in my family to go to college. It was always plugged into me that I was going no matter what. I had never thought about not going.

In the beginning, my college career was no short of a hot mess. While being accepted to Mary Washington and attending, I had no interest in actually being there. My original intended major was BIT – business information technology. UMW only had BIS – business information systems. I figured I would work towards what the school had and would transfer out eventually to a school that had what I wanted. When the time came to declare my major, I had decided to stay at UMW and complete my degree. Coming to my advising appointment, I was excited! Everything was falling into place…Then I found out the school had gotten rid of the program. My general advisor steered me towards pursuing a computer science major. I had no interest in a general business degree. I was really thinking to myself “Why would I be going into computers?”

One of my major personal push backs of becoming a computer science major was not being smart enough. I never had the courage in myself to believe I was able to become successful in my career or let alone graduate. I was intimidated. Nobody in my family was into any sort of tech. I knew no one to guide me. I had no role models. It was me and I was alone.

At least that’s what I had thought.

Walking into my classes, I was outnumbered. I was maybe one of two other girls in attendance. My classmates has seemed like they already knew what was going on even before the professor had said anything. Even in my beginning coding class, I felt stupid and left behind. I found refuge in the internet. I found communities of other college women who were struggling just like me. Sharing my struggles opened up a new world. I began to feel confident. I realized that the other students in my classes weren’t that much more advanced than I was. It was just how they made it seem to be. Coming closer to completing my degree, more and more girls were leaving the program. They were smart and talented but they didn’t continue. Looking back, I wish I had a stronger sense of community earlier. If I had established that group within my own school’s program, then maybe some of the others wouldn’t have left.

UMW CPSC at CAPWIC 2017 at Georgetown U

During this past spring semester, I had attended CAPWIC – Capital Area Women in Computing Conference with some other women in the department. In the short weekend, I was surrounded by others just like me. The others and I wondered “How can we feel like this all the time?” Eventually this came to the idea of starting our own group. In the end, we created DiverCS (said like diverse). We wanted to create a sense of community in the computer science department surrounded by the idea that we are diverse, yet united. There is no exclusion. You are welcome no matter who you are. When push comes to shove, sometimes you need to take charge. Make your own home. Don’t wait around for someone else to do it for you.

This article originally appeared on tiffanyelower.com.