Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Educated Women: Experiences in Higher Education

From professors to undergrads, women in higher education speak about their experiences in academia, their challenges and their advice
Parker Peters / Daily Collegian.

Women’s History Month reflects women’s accomplishments and struggles, both historical and current. At the University of Massachusetts, women make up more than half of the varying populations among undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff.

As more women pursue higher education and careers, their experiences and their journeys are unique, with all of them carrying a certain wisdom and unity that reflects a special experience.

Defining An Educated Woman

The question of what an educated woman is can be a big one, but a common theme that the women in this article described was one of choice. The choice of being able to engage with the world, the choice to take up space, the choice to stand up for what is important to them.

Youngmin Yi, assistant professor of sociology at UMass, said that an educated woman doesn’t necessarily have to be formally taught to be an educated woman.

“When I think about an educated woman, I do think of empowerment but not necessarily in a traditional, NGO development sense,” she said. “More [that] you’ve had the chance to acquire some skills and knowledge that let you engage with the world that means the most to you.”

In that same theme of engagement, journalism professor Kathy Forde noted the importance of intersectionality, and how multiple identities come together to shape the experiences of different women.

“I think that being an educated woman today means understanding one’s own identities and self and culture and being able to place those in relationship within conversation, within community, with the identities and cultures and belief systems of other people,” Forde said.

The ability to self-advocate was a common factor among those who spoke to the Collegian. Juniors Elena Moisidis, Sarah Rashid and Genesis Torres, biomedical engineering and kinesiology majors, respectively, stressed the importance of standing your ground and knowing the importance of carving out a path for yourself, even when things get hard.

Moisidis lists determination and perseverance as defining characteristics. “As an educated woman, you have to push through. You didn’t come this far for no reason, you are here for a reason,” she said.

Giuliana Loffredo, a junior environmental science major, said that being an educated woman is about developing the skills that will help you in your field. Being educated, however, also demands a greater understanding of your purpose and reason. “It’s a great thing that you’re a woman pursuing a higher education degree, but you’re kind of doing it for the greater good of other people as well,” she said.

As an older sibling, Sarah Rashid said that pursuing higher education is not only about her but also her family. “I’m also a first [generation] student. My parents never really got the opportunities to go to higher education,” Rashid said. “So, I also have to make a pathway for my younger sibling.”


Being an educated woman does not come easy. For professors and students alike, there are many challenges to face.

For professors, the glass ceiling is a common one. Getting stuck at the associate level for female educators is a problem both professors Yi and Forde discussed.

Forde explained this can happen due to the tendency of female educators to carry a lot of the service load, and at times the emotional labor, because of the time they dedicate and the support they offer to their students.

This tendency can impact their path to becoming a tenured professor, Forde explained.  “When you are spending your time on service and working with students and you’re not publishing enough to become a full professor, that’s a problem,” she said. Forde added that one way to shift this dynamic would be to equitably share the workload across departments.

As an assistant professor, Yi said that it is something that is on her radar, keeping in mind that there are inequities that exist across racial and gender lines, regarding the likelihood of advancement to a tenured position.

For undergraduate students like Loffredo and junior English major Danielle Marrocco, a lack of female leadership —compounded with the microaggressions that exist on campus— reflects the difficulties women still face.

The lack of leadership opportunities led Marrocco to start GirlUp UMass, a club to empower women on campus and create opportunities for women to advocate for themselves.

“I feel as though the UMass campus does not treat people who identify as women, or anyone who doesn’t identify as male, very fairly, given with the heavy rape culture here and with administration trying to put in new legislation that is not as effective as it should be,” she said.

As a woman in a male-dominated major, Loffredo said that having a lack of women around her makes it more difficult to be in her field. “They very rarely assigned female TAs to my labs,” she said. “And a lot of the men that I encountered in microbiology, and some of them that I still encounter in environmental science are very, very quick to put women down.”

Samikshya Dhami, a graduate student studying regional planning, said that there is some bias that comes with having feminine characteristics. Being soft spoken or being shy can impact how one is treated. “I think there [are] some setbacks you face right out of the gate. How you [are] approached, how you’re perceived. But I think that it’s very hard to also directly eliminate,” Dhami said.

Marrocco said that increasing the number of women in positions of authority and leadership would help women navigate academia better. “I think having someone in your corner who is a woman helps make it more accessible,” she said.

Advice Through Experience   

The women interviewed by the Collegian emphasized the importance of being unafraid to define yourself and find what makes you feel fulfilled. Professor Forde and Danielle Marrocco both encouraged women to try out new experiences, especially ones that are challenging.

“Try out being a leader in different ways. Start small and build up, and don’t sell yourself short,” Forde said, noting how important it is to be your own best advocate.

Elena Moisidis, Sarah Rashid and Genesis Torres, a tight-knit group of friends, emphasized the importance of community. “Don’t give up, persevere. It will get hard, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But you will get through it with the help of friends. So find yourself a nice little circle of support,” Torres said.

Yi wants female students to remember that it’s not always about grades. “Figure out who your people are. I think that’s really important. Who makes you feel like you can do things and get stuff done and dream big and be your best,” Yi said. “Figure out who those people are [and] what kinds of experiences make you feel like you can do the things you want to do.”

Dhami and Loffredo both stressed the importance of self-confidence, passion and perseverance. Loffredo wants women to keep their passion in mind throughout their academic journey.

“You have a voice and you have power as well, and nobody should take that away from you because your passion is going to be one of the main things that drives you to do what you do,” Loffredo said.

“If you lose your passion or if you give up your passion, I guarantee that you’re going to regret it in the future.”

Raksha Pokharel can be reached at [email protected].

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