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In the fall of 2017, Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative for California’s 43rd congressional district, had an exchange with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a House Committee on Financial Services hearing regarding letters sent to him during a Trump Administration hearing to which he did not respond.

When Mnuchin was given the floor to respond, he stated that he had in fact received the letters and continued to compliment Waters. As he strayed from the question, Waters responded: “Reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time.” Mnuchin asked the chairman to not be interrupted, and Waters stated, “What [the chairman] failed to tell was when you are on my time, I can reclaim it. He left that out, so I am reclaiming it. Please respond to the question…”

#ReclaimingMyTime went viral on Twitter and has become popular among teens and young adults. It has also been words of power embraced by women of color who, like Waters, are often misinterpreted and/or seen as inferior.

Lately, I have found myself exhausted – not due to the nature of my career, but rather the constant battle of learning how to say “no.” Several times a week, I will get demands regarding my time, not asks. I recently read Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, which discusses her personal growth of embracing “yes” when she is most scared. While I admire Rhimes’ tenacity, I could only think, “What about the ‘no’s?’”

I am hopeful that I will write Years of No: How Latinas Can Protect Their Time on the Tenure Track that answers the question of how do Latinas say “no” in academia when there are so few of us.

Waters provides us a language to do so. I am #ReclaimingMyTime and saying “no” as a Latina academic for several reasons.

I am left to revisit the first piece I wrote for Diverse with statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics for 2015. Less than 1 percent of Chicana and Puerto Rican women attain a PhD. More startling, Hispanic women make up 1 percent or less of full-time professors in the U.S. When I wrote that I had yet to secure a tenure-track position, now that I have I am reminded about the complex realities of these statistics.

As I begin my tenure-track position in the fall, I have been warned to protect my time and that it is okay to say “no.”

This advice I received from tenured women-of-color faculty who speak from experience. Women of color often take on more than what is necessary and are more likely to experience reprisal for doing so. Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure by Patricia Matthew is an edited book investigating the unwritten rules and sacrifices faculty of color go through in attaining or being rejected tenure. Matthew concludes that the “hidden” truth is that faculty of color are held to a higher standard than their White counterparts.

Specifically, for women, our tenure tracks are complicated if we want to have children naturally or by other means. I often ask myself: Should I put off having kids before going up for tenure? Is having children possible given the amount of stress we are under? What kind of family sacrifices will I have to make to sustain my career?

Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, and Marc Goulden state in Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower: “Put simply, there are far fewer women than men at the top of the academic ladder, and these women are much less likely to be married or have children than are the men at the top…Mothers are more likely to sink to the second tier of academia or leave higher education altogether.”

Is this my fate if I have children?

I wish to leave this piece with the words of Michelle Tellez, a Latina scholar who was denied tenure after eight years serving as an assistant professor. In her piece, “Why We Must Write: A Reflection on Tenure Denial and Coloring Between the Lines,” she states: “For me, it means that we have to ask ourselves in what ways we want to contribute to our world. I am even more convinced that we must do work that we are politically, spiritually, and emotionally connected to, work that is accountable to the communities that we represent and are tied to. When we lose this, there is also a loss of joy, creative freedom, and the ability to self-determine and shape our lives.”

What I am writing here today is nothing new. As I learn how to say “no” every day, it does not go without care. I need to put my best foot forward and be the best possible version of myself. As difficult as it is for us to say “no” as women of color in academics, I will as I #ReclaimMyTime.

Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia

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