June 14, 2020
The late Malcolm X once said "the most unprotected person in America is the black woman." In a patriarchal system that actively enforces oppressive ideals, little to no opportunities are presented (and often denied) to those that belong within the minority. The maltreatment of the minority can be seen in the hierarchical makeup of American society. Typically, we see men in positions of power. More times than not, these men belong to a specific set of characteristics that entail privilege: white, able-bodied, heterosexual and upper-class. Privileged attributes allow a very exclusive group of people to excel within society, and those that do not belong within that class are subjugated to systemic oppression. A few examples of this can be seen within specific aspects of society. In regards to the workforce, if we were to examine demographic statistics within STEM industries, numbers would largely indicate that these fields primarily consist of men. And in relation to economic class, we can blatantly see within American society that many impoverished people are black.
Our cruel and unjust system is absolutely disheartening as we witness unfair treatments in our everyday lives. However, that does not mean that those who belong to minority classifications are perpetually confined to inferior roles of exploitation and maltreatment in our society. Jedidah Isler, famous African-American astrophysicist (and the first black woman to achieve a PhD in astrophysics at Yale University) certainly defied the odds through her impressive feats.
Isler's work and studies exist within the field of astronomy, specifically the examination of hyperactive and supermassive black holes. Isler had developed an interest in astronomy at the young age of 12. From there on out, she intensely followed her passions and later on attended Norfolk State University (a historically black university located in Virginia) and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in physics. At Norfolk State University, Isler had the opportunity to attend a program that allowed minority scientists to complete graduate-level work. Isler later went on to Fisk University to attain her Master of Arts in physics, and subsequently, Yale University for her Ph.D. in astrophysics. In her 2015 Ted Talk, Isler states that "... only 18 black women in the United States had ever earned a Ph.D. in a physics-related discipline, and that the first black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in an astronomy-related field did so just one year before my birth" (citation needed).
Not only is she an astrophysicist, but also a passionate educator on women and people of color in STEM. Isler regularly advocates for inclusivity within the sciences. She is also a TED Fellow and has garnered several million views on her TED talks. Isler founded "Vanguard: Conversations with Women of Color (VanguardSTEM)," a monthly web series that features a wide range of women in color within STEM that discuss many topics such as wisdom, intersectionality, and advice.
Bio: Leah Edossa is an aspiring technical writer and intern at WITI. She is an undergraduate student studying English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and watching classic films.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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