Home > Daily Struggles, Positive Actions, Race Matters, Role Models > Central Florida’s Mujeres Universitarias Asociadas

Central Florida’s Mujeres Universitarias Asociadas

Since I brought up the X-Gals, I’ve been thinking of another model of group support in academe, the Mujeres Universitiarias Asociadas at Central Florida. They were featured in an article in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education special issue on diversity.

The Mujeres (pronounced moo-HAIR-ays) typically gather over lunch each month. They share tips on such issues as which campus administrator to approach with a problem and which to avoid. They have coached one another on compiling tenure portfolios and offered pointers on applying for the university’s $5,000 teaching award. They have consoled one another through difficult times — the hurricane, one woman’s bout with breast cancer, the illness of another’s young child…”Men have been doing this for decades,” says Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, an associate professor of English. She says the networking, mentoring, and support the Mujeres offer one another is particularly crucial for minority scholars.
“A lot of us feel like we’re interlopers in academe and, you know, like the gig will be up and someone will say, ‘You don’t really speak English, you don’t really deserve this job, so get out,'” she says. Many of the Mujeres felt isolated before they began meeting. “A lot of us never realized that there were things we could do about this feeling,” she says. “We fortify each other.”
Only 49 of Central Florida’s 857 tenured and tenure-track professors are Hispanic, and of those, only 17 are female. For years a group of Hispanic men in the sciences and engineering has met for lunch on Fridays, primarily to socialize. But until the Mujeres, the campus had no group for Latina professors.

There are approximately a dozen women group, and they come from many different disciplines as well as many different nations (Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru were some of the countries listed in the article). They may all be viewed by outsiders as the same, but they are not. Yet

while their Spanish dialects may differ, “we share a culture,” says Ms. [Maria de Jesus] González. The women refer to the group as an anchor, a comfort zone, and a safe space for Hispanic women, who make up just 2 percent of Central Florida’s tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

Group members support each other around issues related to both race and gender, and where race and gender intersect:

“With Latino families, there are certain gender expectations, and one of those placed on the female is that everything within the family comes first,” says Diane Alvarez, an assistant professor in the university’s College of Education who is Puerto Rican and African-American. “You’re supposed to be this amazing mother who can do a million things.”
Annabelle Conroy, an assistant professor of political science, has felt that pressure. It was the Mujeres who advised her to carve out time to write for a couple of hours every night after putting her two young daughters to sleep. Finding time for her research had seemed impossible, but the advice seems to be working, she says. The Mujeres also advised her to stop teaching courses during the summer and instead devote those months to writing up research she had completed during the academic year.

Although the Mujeres are from different countries, the fact that they are all Latina brings them together. “We talk about committee meetings and our feelings about being the only Hispanic woman, always,” says Maria Cristina Santana, an associate professor of journalism who was born in Cuba but grew up in Puerto Rico. Most of the women are native Spanish speakers, and some have mastered English better than others. At lunch they typically speak in Spanglish, mixing both languages.
And they talk about how their language barrier can separate them from their non-Hispanic colleagues. “I have heard other people talking behind my back, saying, ‘Oh, I can never understand her,'” says Ms. Santana.
But the women are proud of their heritage. Their acronym — MUA — isn’t an accident. It is pronounced “Mwaa,” the sound for a kiss.

MUA is proof that excellent group support need not arise within your own discipline; you can go outside it to gather up your fabulous interesting women. And MUA is a very fine illustration of the power of a good group. The phrase “old boys’ club” has a bad sound to it, and when a network exists to privilege its own group to the exclusion and disadvantage of others, it is indeed bad. But when a network exists to help you understand how to cope with the existing system that is designed to exclude you and disadvantage you, then it is a very good thing indeed.
Belonging to a group like MUA just might reduce your daily need to puke on somebody’s shoes.
Either that, or you’ll learn which shoes you’d best puke on and which not. And how to puke most strategically. Which is just as important to know as how to write a successful R01.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: