Kiarra Lavache '18 - Real Talk on Women in Stem

As part of the Real Talk presentation series I’m here to share a personal story about something that happened to me at Hopkins and how it made me feel. If you don’t know what HARPS is, it stands for Hopkins Authentic Research Program in Science and it’s a research science course that was first introduced to Hopkins last year. It’s a course that you can only take during your junior year and it requires you to fill out an application and be selected. So, as you can imagine, it creates a somewhat competitive atmosphere among the students who are applying.

I remember when I applied to HARPS, I was so nervous because I didn’t think I would get in. Since the seniors this year were the first class to experience HARPS, there were a lot of applications, so I didn’t think I was smart enough to stand out among my peers. Science was and still is one of my favorite subjects and this class was the perfect opportunity for me to cultivate my passion for STEM. Lucky for me, my intellectual abilities shined through my application. I surprised myself and got into the program despite my self-doubt. I had the amazing opportunity to participate in hands-on scientific research along with 15 other students.

But the one thing I remember most was what happened after we knew who was selected. Of course there were a lot of “Congratulations “ and “Good jobs” going around, but there was an interesting student response that I don’t think a lot of people noticed. After acceptances went out, I paid attention to what students said. A lot of them expressed the opinion that some of the female students who got into the course, shouldn’t have gotten in simply because they were female. They thought that there were plenty more male applicants who put more work into applying and were more qualified for the class. Something about those comments I was hearing rubbed me the wrong way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but hearing what people said, the girls shouldn't have gotten in, it made me feel bad. It made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough to be in the class because I’m a girl. It made me feel like I couldn’t be successful in science even though it’s my favorite subject, because I’m a girl. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong by following my heart and taking a risk, because I’m a girl. I didn’t get into HARPS just because I’m a girl. I got it in because I worked just as hard as every other applicant, male or female.

My experience with HARPS made me think about Hopkins as a whole. And how even though we may not see it all the time things like this happen a lot and sometimes it may be difficult for us to talk about. Despite all of the progression that has been made throughout history, there is still a gender disparity in STEM fields. Because of the lack of female representation in these fields, it’s difficult for young women like myself to see themselves succeeding in these areas. I hope that after hearing my story, you all will think about how we, as a community, can better confront this issue. I hope that when you’re sitting in your classes, you learn to value the contributions of your classmates no matter what gender they are. I hope that classes like HARPS continue to push both female and male students to be successful in STEM. And I hope that every student in this room is inspired to follow their compass no matter what challenges may come your way. Lastly, I want to leave you all with a quote from Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, a female medical physicist, who was the winner of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1976 and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977. “We cannot expect in the immediate future that all women who seek it will achieve full equality of opportunity. But if women are to start moving towards that goal, we must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us; we must match our aspirations with the competence, courage and determination to succeed.”
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