I think what I've learned, and it's taken me a long time to learn it is you just gotta to do, you know, like you whoever you are. You have to figure that out first. That's important, like who are you? what are the things that are important to you? And how do you represent yourself? And then once you figure that out. Just do it like don't. And maybe it is part of why people are underrepresented is because in like across like whatever it is, you know, is because they don't see themselves in that place. I don't see myself as, you know, an office executive. I don't see myself as whatever, because there are like people for them to look. To, you know, like there are there aren't models for them to see. Right. But if you put yourself in that place, I'm like, I'm going to do this thing. I'm going to do this thing that other people will see you. And then they will be like, oh, here I can do it, too.
Fredous [00:00:02] Hello. Professor. Alice, thank you very much for being on my platform right now. Thank you very much for being here for me to interview you. And, you know, before I start this interview, I just want to talk about the project, which is called Breaking the Cycle. And we're talking about underrepresentation. And a lot of times, you know, some people are scared to be who they are because they feel like if they do that, they're going to be judged or like, no, they probably would not fit into a society. Take, for example, the media were like some females can't express themselves because they feel like, oh, if I don’t post a type of picture or if I don’t look a certain way, like people are not going to like me or people are not going to comment on me. So, a lot of people fake their personalities and they just go with the flow and go how people want them to be perceived. So technically, this project is about people who try to break that cycle and like people who are confident enough to be who they want to be regardless of what the society says. So, my first question is, can you, like, tell me about yourself? Tell me about your background. What do you do?
Alice [00:01:18] I start with like where I grew up. Even though because that kind of plays into the way I think about things. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and. Like for most of my life, my family was the only black family in that town. Wow. I was the only black person in school, like, until my brother came along. But he's five years younger than me. So, you know, it was it was weird. And we had, like, family and we had friends and we would go like to Pittsburgh or go like other places and be around black people. But like, for most of my life, like that's like my background. I went I got a bachelor’s degree in math education. Then I went on and got a master’s degree and higher ed. And then I been working at ODU for 17 years and I got a second master’s degree in communication. So, what I do, I work as career services person. I'm the liaison for the College of Arts and Letters, and I work with all the students in arts and letters on anything career related, as well as working with alumni, work with employers, with faculty to help like kind of make that transition for students easier.
Fredous [00:02:42] Thank you. That's pretty interesting. And my second question is going to be, when did you at what point in your life? I know we just talked about school, where it's like you're the only black kid in school before your brother came along. Like what other time did it spark to you like, oh, I'm black. Or like, you know, I'm treated differently. Was there ever a time that made you feel like you were different?
Alice [00:03:06] OK. I think there are a couple things that like stand out in my mind and I guess like. I realized I was a little different, like kind of really early, because you look at people and you see like, oh, I'm different. Like people would ask you, like, you know, they come and little kids would come and, like, touch your skin and, you know, stuff like that. So, like, I kind of always knew there was something different. But it didn't really necessarily affect me until I think I was in, like junior high school and high school. And I think, like, it was crazy stuff that they would stand out to me. So, like, one thing that really stands out is I remember we were taking a test. It was like the PSAT or the like one of those like I don't know if they do that in Virginia, but they're like, better assess kind of like precollege essay. It that. And there's a section on there that you could check if you were a minority, like any minority, so that you could be in the locator service. So, there were scholarships or schools were looking for candidates that met your profile, then you'd be included. And so, the person that was telling us about like what we're supposed to do was like, oh, we don't have any of those here. So, you can just skip that part. And I'm like sitting there going, oh, my goodness, do I fill this out or do I not feel like I literally didn't know what to do? And I just kind of sat there and then this other teacher came over and she's like, it's OK, you can fill that out if you want to. So, then it was like, oh, ok. And then it started me thinking like, well, if they don't think of me like that, then how do they think of me? And I'm like, how do I fit? So that was like one of the one of the big ones that I remember. And then the other thing was like, again, like it seemed like it was like majorly traumatic. It didn't have anything to do with, like work or school or anything like that. But just like social interactions with people, I knew that there was a prom. I knew that, like, all the kids, like go to the prom. And I'm like, I was in the sixth grade getting ready to go to junior high school and I was freaking out. So I'm like, who's going to ask me to the prom? Oh, my God, no. So it was like, really, you know, that sense of. I know that I'm different. I have friends and everything, but that's like on a different level. And it didn't really have to do with career or anything like that, but it was just that like do I really fit into the group? Are they going to like include me? And it was funny because, like, I don't think my brother had the same issues. He just asked a girl and she said yes. But maybe because I was a girl that I had to wait for somebody to ask me and no one did. And then someone did. But it was a joke. So I thought they were just, like, kidding around. And they're like, oh, go with Alice. Because they didn't and hadn't asked anybody. And so, I like I thought they were serious, but they were kidding. So, my feelings got really hurt. ] Yeah, that's it. You know, so like it was like those like social like. Kind of things and thinking about like, how do people, how do people here like really see me.
Fredous [00:06:51] OK. That's interesting. And like growing up with, like all of the story you just told me right now. Did that make you feel insecure
Alice [00:07:00] Like, in certain ways I remember. Like, I went to like these different, like, summer programs or like they had these different things and it's like part of me always was really nervous and I was probably like a pretty shy kid, too. So I was always, like, really nervous to go because I'm like, what if the kids. What if they don't like me? What if they don't like me? And I went to one on time. It was at Lehigh University, which is in Pennsylvania. And I remember like, we had to introduce ourselves. So, like, I just like got it out there because I always felt like I was different anyways. I'm like I grew up, you know, I have to tell it like where you grew up on what school you went to and stuff. So, I did that. And then at the end of the program, we were there for like two weeks or three weeks or something like that. And we had like a wrap up session. And the kids were like, you know, we thought when you introduce yourself and said where you came from and all that, we thought you were going to be weird, but you're okay. And even when I went to college, it was kind of the same. Like I was just like I just sometimes had, like, a really hard time because, like, my experience was so different from, like, everyone else's. And so, I always felt like I didn't necessarily fit. And I had to work really hard to try to, like, pay attention to what people said and how people said things. And like I remember like going to visit my cousins that live in Alabama. And they would tease me like I'm like, why do you talk so proper? So, it's like those little things that you don't think like. Does it make a difference? It does, because then you always are kind of holding back or, you know, like second guessing everything and everything you say. And even now with all this stuff, it's going on. I have like two people from high school reach out to me. And they're like, you know, we just wanted, you know, one lady email me or Facebook messaged me and asked me if she could talk to me, she wanted to know, how I felt about what was going on. And I was really like, well do I want to talk to her, you know, like whatever. And so finally, I e-mailed her back. It took me like a couple of days because I really had to, like, think about like, why did she won't talk to me, like, doesn't she know anybody else to talk to me, whatever. I haven't talked to her in like 30 years either. So, I did. I emailed her back and I said, you know, like, I'll talk to you, but it has to be a conversation is not just you asking me questions like we need to be like on the same like plane. Right. So, she ended up calling me on a Sunday afternoon. And we had we talked for like an hour. And I think it was really helpful for her because she in the time that I knew her when we were in school, she didn't think about like, you know, like what's her life like or how is she you know, like fit into this, like, environment. So, I think it was really good for her. And then the other lady that emailed me, we were in the same grade. The first lady was behind me in school and it was kind of the same. And my brother had posted like this big, like, long thing on Facebook about like his experience and things that he felt were important and how he felt about things or how he responded to things. And he went like the route of being angry and thinking that it was something wrong with him. So, it made me work harder. And I guess also because I had like that double. So, I'm black and I'm a girl, you know, so like, I have to do everything like five times better. Yeah. And so but he, you know, he talked about like he got to a place when he was young there he just anything that was like two black and his words he didn't like, you know, like he like he said he learned to like hold in his lips so his lips looked thinner and stuff like that. And I was like, oh wow. You know, that like you know, like and so that was like whatever. But so, the second girl saw the email or the post that he put on Facebook and then that made her feel badly about herself. Because. I don't know, because she didn't think about those things, but you're like you don't think about those things. So, she sent me this big, long email about how, you know, she was sorry, and she respected my family. And, you know, she looked up to us and, you know, whatever. And looking back over her at her involvement and, you know, with me or with us or whatever, kind of some of the things that she fights. And I thought that was it was weird, but it was kind of nice. But it made me feel some kind of way, too. So, I guess I end up messaging her back. And, you know, one of the things I said is, you know, like I feel like that experience made me the person who I am. So, I don't regret necessarily like being underrepresented. I didn't let it stop me. I mean that like my motivation so that I wouldn't be the thing that or the, you know, the vision that people had of me or for me. And I would do as much as I could do. And I would always be the best at whatever. So, I think that was that was like really eye opening. And when I told her, it's because I feel like what's happening now, too, is people are looking at all this and they're listening to all this and they're seeing all the stuff on social media and on TV and everything. And they don't know, like kind of what's real and what's not. And they take what one person says and then spread that across like everybody. And so, like, what I told both of them was like, you know, you can't really do that. You have to look at each person's life as an individual. And yes, there are some common things maybe that people have experienced, but their experiences are still like all different. So, like, you can look at me who grew up in the country and then apply situations to me that happen to people that live in the city or grew up and, you know, like, you know, some other kind of environment. And so I said, you know, and also what you can't do is you can't look at you now and then be like take however you behaved when you were like young and so, oh, I must be a bad person or. Oh, I must be a racist person or. Oh, I must be like this or that because I didn't do something when I was five. Like, that's not the same. What are you doing in your life now? And so, and basically what I told them both was, you know, I can't change them. They can only change them. And none of us can change anything unless we start with ourselves. So you have to know, like where you're coming from, what you what your motivations are, what those things are that, like, kind of trigger you or whatever and then deal with that before you can deal with anybody else.
Freedous [00:14:58] Thank you. And that just answers my second question. Like, I was going to ask you, what motivates you to, like, you know, be who you are to, like, break that cycle of underrepresentation what are some values that makes you stand out as a person?
Alice [00:15:24] OK. I think that I would say, one, is my ability to or look like that's not really a value. But I think that, like, one of the things that I try to do with everybody. Like whether you're black, whether you're white, whether you're Chinese, whether you're Latino or whatever, whether you're an alien is II try to, like, look at you for you. So, if I see you and I'm like, oh, so where are you from? What have you done? What's your life like? Yeah. And then I, I like judge you based on, you know, judging you based on. Oh, I knew this person that was from like whatever and they acted like this. So, you must be like that too. You know, like I try to like let each person stand for themselves.
Fredous [00:16:29] You know, that's interesting you say that because I get that a lot. Like because I'm from Nigeria. Right. Like, when people meet me, it's like, oh, I know this person from Nigeria. They do this thing. Do that also. And I'm just like, I know Nigeria is a country so like a different guy. He's like, I'm not from the West. That pricing works. So, I probably don't act exactly like act.
Alice [00:16:51] But yeah, I mean, I used to always use to bug me so badly. Like I'm from Pennsylvania. They're like, oh well, you know, I went to Pennsylvania once. I have family that live know there. I know. I get that. You know this person same like I don't know that person.
No. Or like you know, you're from Nigeria. Like, oh my brother is from cape Town. So, OK, that's nice. But like, they're not near each other. Wow. Right. So, it's different, you know? And so I try to not do that because I didn't like when people did that to me is like I don't like when people judge you or put like a view on you based on some other random thing. So, I try not to do that. And I think that's one thing that makes me stand out. Another thing that's really interesting, I think in terms of like values or what's important to me or how I deal with people is that I look at you. They asked me to be on the president's task force for Inclusive Excellence. I was like, oh, that's really cool. OK, I can do that. And this spring, we did like this assessment that was like I forgot what the letters stand for, but it's called the IDBI and it looks at your perspectives around diversity and how you how you approach things, how you like, look at stuff. So, one of the things that was really interesting in that is, you know, kind of what it said. And I wasn't really surprised by the results that I got. And it could be like seen as sort of like a negative thing, but it also could be seen as like. Let's just like a weird thing, so because one of the categories and I forget exactly the technical work for it, but it's like how you deal with things as sometimes you like. Well. Kind of play along to get along. That's not what it's called, but like that. So like in your dealings with people in the way that you look at things, you don't try to make like make trouble and you'll try to figure out like the best way to work through things so that everybody's like still OK. And so that was like one of my like things. But it was also interesting that it was one of the characteristics like with most of the committee. So, like, if you put everybody scores together, that's where they all kind of fell. I thought it was really interesting and I wasn't surprised about that because I feel like I do that, too. Like I like to downplay like something maybe to me so that other people don't feel offended or whatever. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. But sometimes you have to like kind of start things out to get people to move, like move where they are. But it was interesting that that came out. So when I talked to Lady about it, like we had like a debrief and I said, like, I had a really hard time answering some of the questions because it's like when you you're supposed to. The way the questions were written, you're supposed to, based on your culture. How do you approach this thing or how do you look at other people or whatever? And I told her I, so I had a really hard time with those because, like, I don't necessarily always, like, feel like I'm representative of my culture. Right. Like, what is my culture because of where I grew up. And so, she told me one of the books she recommended that I read is called Third Culture Kids. And so, I'm starting when I started reading, I'm not finished yet, but it's like really true in the book. Like, a lot of things that talks about is how like when people grow up in a situation or they live their life in a situation where they're immersed in one culture or one like way of being, and then they have to go somewhere else and try to like fit in. You have a struggle because you're not sure. Like, am I this or am I that? And so that she's the one the book was written, it was primarily they were looking at children of missionaries and like military people. But it applies in there. This is like I think the third edition, it applies to like a lot of other people, too, like. So you actually might be considered a third culture kid, because if you are from Nigeria, but now you're here in Virginia and United States like what are some of the struggles like where like, you know, what are the rules? So, your parents are from Nigeria. You grew up, you had some wife there, and now you're here. And so how does that, like, affect? So, I grew up in Pennsylvania and this community that was like one kind of people. And how does that change the way that I, like, look at things, the way that I like evaluate things and even figuring out like where I fit. So, when you talk about, like, being underrepresented, I feel like I like. My whole life, I was underrepresented. You know, I got out of this group that like I was part of the group, but I wasn't really part of the group. Your end. But you're not like you know, like you don't know. They have. There's like a backstory and whatnot. And so, wait, I think when I'm dealing with, like, situations where I'm in that underrepresented. Like, all of that, like affects the way that I think about it or deal with it, I guess, like I studied computer science and math underrepresented as a woman. You know, I took a class one time in the summer. It was the last class I had to take. And I was the only female in the class. Wow. Males. And top of that, I had had jaw surgery, so my mouth was wired shut so I couldn't talk. And, you know, so it didn't make me like I wasn't like, oh, I'm so intimidated because I'm in this class with all these men. I was like, I'm gonna kick butt in. And actually, that was the only math class in my whole college experience that I got an A. And wow. And it was supposed to be the hardest class. So, there's something going on here. Yes. In a different school. Don't know anybody, in the class with all these males.
[00:23:58] And there were even, you know, like the stereotypical like they're Asian people in the class. And, you know, they girls do well in math concepts, you know, the stereotype. But I was like, I got to a. And that leg was like, yes. So, I think it's still it's a challenge because I think sometimes. You like second guess yourself and you feel like you're not good enough and you worry about like how everything that you do is being compared. To other people, but on the other side, you can use that as a motivation and be like, you know what? I'm not going to be what they think I should be. I'm not going you know, I'm not the the dumb girl that can't do math or whatever or the, you know, the lazy black person or whatever, whatever it is they think that I have. I'm going to show them this is me like and that's why sometimes I get so annoyed with, like, students. Sometimes it really makes me annoyed sometimes when you see people and they're behaving a certain way and you know that it's making everybody like everybody is looking at them going.
[00:25:22] And it makes me, and I feel like as like a professor or as somebody that works at the university, like, what's my responsibility to try to help that person? I recognize that they should not be doing that. And I have had students I have a student in my class one time, and he was trying to be a class clown all the time. He was always like telling jokes and being funny and saying stuff and the speech topics and all that. And so, I put them aside one day and I was like, you know, why do you do that? Like, I'm just trying to bring levity to the class. I'm like, do you do it in everybody's class or is it just my class? He's like, no, you know.
[00:25:58] Well, sometimes I do other classes, too. I said, well, like. How do you think that is making people look at you? He goes I don't know. Like, I'm just like lighthearted and fun. I'm like, no, they're looking at you as he doesn't really care. He's not really trying to be here. He's not trying to learn whatever. And so, they're judging you and probably everybody else that comes after you by what they see in you. And then if you have trouble or need help, they're not going to be seriously trying to help you because they feel like you don't care. And he's like, oh, I don't think about that. I'm like, yeah, the stuff you like. Can you try to stop doing doing that? Because you are. As bad as it is, you are representing everybody. So, what they see in you is what they apply to everyone else, even if they say they don't. They do. They'll remember you joking and laughing and having fun and telling jokes and just being crazy in class. And then they're gonna, like, kind of super impose you on every other student that even remotely reminds them of you, whether it's true or not. And I felt like that was my responsibility. Like not as just an instructor or a professor, but as a black person to tell her to stop doing that. Like when you walk around with your pants down and your hat backwards and they don't use proper English or do you know or don't try like it’s not just you. You're carrying other people with you people that work really hard to not have that image. Now. How we think about, like, how that impacts the work that they do. And so, what advice would you give to somebody out there trying to break this cycle of underrepresentation? What advice would you give to someone who is really struggling or trying to look confident
[00:28:17] I wish somebody would have kind of talked to me or help me or like been that person for me is like find somebody that you can relate to that can help you. You know, like don't feel like you have to. I have to be like doing everything by myself. And I can't talk to anybody. I think, like, you know, it's big now, and like, oh, get a mentor, you know. Yeah. When I was in school and even before that I might get a mentor like that, wasn't it? I mean, people were doing it I guess, but it wasn't like it was a thing like it is now. But I think that's one thing that I would say, whether it's a mentor or if it's just somebody that you can talk to or somebody that you can, like, bounce ideas off of or that even somebody you can go to and say, you know, I feel really bad today because this happened and maybe they can't fix it, but they can listen and they can relate, you know, like I think that is so important. And I just like I don't know; I think that that's something that a lot of people don't do. You know, like they don't talk to anybody. They don't tell anybody and they just, like, struggle through it by themselves when they get discouraged and they get disappointed and they know they're doing badly in school or wherever at work, you know, they're not getting the cracks, you know, and I think that's part of it because they can't get out of that, like, pit that they have put themselves in. I think I also would say, like, you know, I think that it's human nature maybe to, like, worry about what other people think about you. But like, I think what I've learned, and it's taken me a long time to learn it is you just gotta to do, you know, like you whoever you are. You have to figure that out first. That's important, like who are you? what are the things that are important to you? And how do you represent yourself? And then once you figure that out. Just do it like don't. And maybe it is part of why people are underrepresented is because in like across like whatever it is, you know, is because they don't see themselves in that place. I don't see myself as, you know, an office executive. I don't see myself as whatever, because there are like people for them to look. To, you know, like there are there aren't models for them to see. Right. But if you put yourself in that place, I'm like, I'm going to do this thing. I'm going to do this thing that other people will see you. And then they will be like, oh, here I can do it, too. And then so sometimes you have to be the first model. You know, sometimes you have to be that first person. And I think people get, like, caught up in like, oh, I can't do that because there's nobody there for me. Yeah, it's hard. You have to work harder. Maybe you might have to put up with a bunch of crap that you shouldn't have to. Well, if people see you then there will be more, and they will help support you like you help support them. And I think, like, sometimes it just takes like, people stepping out, like I think about like, you know, Rosa Parks sitting on a bus like, you know, and she just was tired and didn't want to go all the way to the back. So, she sat in the front seat, if she like. She had to be the first the first one, you know, like Martin Luther King. People were speaking out and people were leading protests and people were doing things, but they weren't really. So, he's like, all right, you know, this is wrong. I mean, I'm going to be the first one, you know, Malcolm X. We don't like all of those people that like they weren't like a ton of people doing it with them until they started, until they started, you know, like so I just I mean, even like if you think about President Obama was the first black president. Right. So, we haven't had another one yet. But now you look it's like the first black senator or the first openly gay whatever, the first. So, like, once one person does it, even if you don't get there, you are trying sets the tone for people that come after you. So, like, sometimes in a field of underrepresentation, the only way for us to be represented is for people to try to try, you know, like if you just sit back and go, oh, I can't do that, then no one will ever do it. So, you try, and you don't make it. You learn some things that you can share with the people that are coming behind you and maybe one of them will make it. So, it's like, you know, you're building we're building each other up. You know, kind of I learned a lesson. I'm going to tell you the lesson, so you don't make the same hard. You might get a little further even if you don't get all the way to the top. The lessons that you learned, you can tell somebody else and then they'll get a little further than you. And that what I think.
Fredous [00:34:07] Thank you so much for that. It's really inspiring. Thank you very much for sharing your story. I hope this can be modified and might inspire somebody out there to break the cycle of underrepresentation.