Challenges of Gender and Racial Bias in College

Title

Challenges of Gender and Racial Bias in College

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Identifier

EcungW_01_20160921_Clip02

Publication Date

9-21-2016

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Transcript

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Now, I did have one experience that I would, if I were labeling "good" versus "bad," it was a bad experience, but there was a life lesson in it. During my period there, in order to graduate, you had to take a Research Nursing course. And we had a professor, Dr. Sanchez, that I'll never forget. First time—I always sit in the front, no matter what class. Walked into the room—she walked into the room. And she proceeded to let us know how many of us in that class would fail, how many of us in that class would pass. And I found it terrifying. And I left the class, and I dropped it. The next semester, I re-enrolled in the class, because you couldn't graduate without the class. And she started along the same lines. And I left the class, and I dropped it. And the third time, I had a discussion with myself that, "You cannot let her stand in the way." And I enrolled in the class, she gave her standard talk, and I made a point to focus even more—I stayed. I didn't leave. But I made a point to focus and buckle down even more in that class. Even in doing that, I'll never forget, I think there were some biases operating for her. Even though there were minorities at Texas Woman's University, there were very few. I was actually one of two in my class.

And I'll never forget, during a test, one of the other young ladies in the class that later ended up also working at MD Anderson, Cathy Meshaw, we had our Research test, Research Nursing test. And during the test --Cathy and I were friends-- I sat in front, Cathy had sat to the side, but to the back; there was 25 of us, kind of like auditorium or theater style. [Cathy and I] made the same grade on the test. And I'll never forget, I was accused of cheating on Cathy, which was literally impossible. So administration decided that she would have to retest us. And she did. And this time, she set us far apart, which was—and I'll never forget my mother telling me, "This is life. And you have to do what is necessary." She sat us far apart, and I actually scored considerably higher than Cathy on the test. And it was obvious that it irritated Dr. Sanchez, but there was nothing else she could do. So I finished that class. That was the only untoward experience that I had at Texas Woman's University, even though I knew bias was operating. I think all my other professors appreciated who I was, and what I brought to the table.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What were some of the other indications within the culture there of bias?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Well, I keep saying I was one of two in my class. It started out with far more minorities in the class. But I think there was active weeding out. So that, even back then, I was aware of. It was very—I'm not going to say "clique-ish," but the few minorities that were there were pretty segregated. So there were [five of us although] we didn't graduate together. One girl, Patsy, was ahead of me. But we would congregate, and it was that little foursome group that would have lunch; Yolanda, myself, Patsy, and Elaine, and Patricia. So there were five of us. We were at different points in the program. But we found each other. So I didn't really—I didn't have a lot of friends that were non-black, although I had a few. I guess that was also a signal to me. Then the fact that most were weeded out.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Were you politicized at all at this time?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

No. No. Not at all.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Do you consider yourself to have been at any point? Politicized? Yeah, just curious.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

I really don't.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah. Okay, yeah. Interesting. I mean, I was just curious, because—

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Why? Yeah, why do you ask that?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Well, I was just wondering because I was in school in the north around this time. And African American students were becoming very politicized at that time. So it may be—some of it may be personal differences, some of it just may be regional differences. You know? You never quite know.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

If anything, the difference was, I think, that I had been exposed to other cultures with my dad being in the Air Force, and with our travel.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Even in San Antonio, the schools I attended were mixed. And they were predominantly white.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Interesting. Yeah.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

This was new to me to experience this type of bias. I hadn't experienced it before in the junior high or high schools that I had attended. And the high school was predominantly white. Yeah. Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So what were your attitudes when you were confronted with it?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Anger.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Anger. Very much so. But determination that if this is what you need, I'll prove to you who I am, because my mantra pretty much became, I want what you have, and you're not going to stop me from getting it. Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So tell me how your ideas about nursing as a profession began to evolve? You know because you said he didn't know—your counselor didn't know he was doing you a favor.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Yeah. Well, it just goes—I didn't know there were so many different facets to nursing. It was kind of like, nursing is nursing is nursing. And I think what I came to realize—well, I know what I came to realize, is that it's not. And there are so many different areas that you can go into. And I actually fell in love. I fell in love with my—not literally, you understand—but my OB professor. And so there was a point where I thought, this is what I want to do. Then when we started going out into the clinical arena, I was at Methodist, and I was on the cardiovascular floor with [Michael E.] DeBakey [MD]. And that was really what I wanted to do. So there were just so many disciplines to choose from for nursing, to where it didn't [feel like a job but an actual career]. And I was always disappointed in people that saw nursing as a job. I really thought, why can't we be thinking of this as a profession, as a career? As something, a segment, a discipline that we could focus on and really develop deep knowledge in, like the physicians do. So cardiovascular nursing was what I thought was to be my area to do that. But it turned out not.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So you were already thinking in career terms, a pretty young woman. So how are you starting to visualize that? Were you taking steps to develop yourself?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Well, I can't take credit for that. I think that was something TWU instilled in us. They weren't developing—at that time, men did not attend TWU. So they weren't developing women to go out and do the hard labor of working the floors. Their stance at that time was, we're developing nurse leaders. So being young enough and embracing that, that was the direction I saw my career taking. We were to be the leaders out on the different floors. We needed to know the skill, but that wasn't our focus. That wasn't a hundred percent of our focus. It was developing those leadership skills.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What were some of the ways—what were some of the skills? And how were they beginning to do that at TWU?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Well, there were the task-oriented skills, like insertion of Foleys [catheters] and IVs, things like that. But there was also development of teams, introducing us to Leadership Theory. So there—I haven't been back to the school. But their stance, I think, was somewhat more enlightened than a lot of the nursing schools at that time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Why do you think that was?

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

I don't know if it was because it was all women—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah, it may very well be.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

I mean, it could be. I mean—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Was there a need in Texas for that? I mean, was there kind of an absence of women leaders in nursing in Texas? Now, I 'm just—

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

No, I don't think so. Although I do think men progressed faster in nursing as leaders, and I think they still do to this day. But no, I don't think there was a lack of at that time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Maybe just visionary leadership at TWU.

Wenonah Ecung, PhD

Maybe so.

Challenges of Gender and Racial Bias in College

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