What piece of advice would you give to future William and Mary women?
Be bold. I think it’s very easy for women to be intimidated into silence, especially in such an institution as William & Mary where there are so many brilliant individuals. There were so many times in class where I would have something to say but I would be too scared to say it. I did not trust my intelligence and strength as a person and student to be bold and just speak up. My other piece of advice is to seek out mentorship and presence from female faculty and staff ASAP. There are so many female professors and staff that I am in awe of their strength and brilliance; and I feel like, with all of the professors and staff that I consider to be my loves/mentors, I know that it took me some time to have the courage to speak to them on a one-on-one basis. So my advice is to tell the little devil to be quiet and be bold. Speak up, make empowering relationships, and just get out of your comfort zone.
In your interview, you spoke passionately about your research on disabilities in Latin America (I believe, I don’t quite remember the specifics). Could you describe this and how your personal experience affected this research?
So basically, this past year I was doing an internship for U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where in the fall I looked at the institutionalization of women with disabilities in Mexico City. Institutionalization itself threatens the wellbeing of persons with disabilities (PWD) as it isolates PWD in Mexico from society and leaves them vulnerable to abuse in protective institutions. Because women with disabilities (WWD) face discrimination for their ability and gender, they are vulnerable to greater physical and sexual abuse and limited sexual and reproductive rights. The Mexican government prompts this abuse by assisting in forced sterilization, funding these institutions, and providing insufficient resources to reintegrate WWD after their trauma at protective institutions. The community does not provide resources to reintegrate the patients into society, condemning them to a lifetime in the protective institution. And what’s unfortunate is that no resources exist to support the unique needs of women with disabilities as sexual assault survivors who also have disabilities, leaving them vulnerable to trauma and nowhere to go but a different institution. So the cycle of sexual violence and human rights violations continue against them. What I learned most about this experience is that we don’t often talk about the intersectionality of gender and disability/other personal identities with disabilities. What I gained most from this research is that it is so easy to discriminate against disability, and when combined with other marginalized identities, these individuals are further vulnerable to discrimination and oppression. I’ve been seeing more discussion about the experience of people with disabilities recently, but I think there needs to be more talk and more action, especially with how disability connects with intersectional identities.
What has been the greatest challenge for you as a woman at William and Mary?
Feeling like what I cared about is important within the campus community and to the greater society. I think it was difficult for me as a woman to stand out and be comfortable with my voice and the fact that my interests were not necessarily the norm, especially within my discipline. My region of interest was Latin America, partly because of my Cuban identity and partly because I was inspired by its culture and history; I received a lot of poo poo about it because several people do not think the region is strategically important. And then senior year I was interested in combining L.A. with my passion for disability rights. Disability rights is another topic that I feel like not many people care about given that the campus itself is inaccessible and so many people execute ableist actions without disregard for its consequences (I’m looking at you, people who park in handicap spots without a permit). So it took me a while to feel like what I cared about mattered. And I think that always hearing some of the men in our school speak their opinions so loudly and tell me that what I cared about didn’t matter, especially in regard to Latin America, that it made me question if I should care about what I cared about. But now those men are on my list of people that I must do better than in life.