197: Motherhood and Cultura in Graduate School with Dr. Melissa Abeyta

197: Motherhood and Cultura in Graduate School with Dr. Melissa Abeyta

 

In this episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast, I interview Dra. Melissa Abeyta who discusses the topic of motherhood and cultura in graduate school. Dra. Melissa is a mother, a partner, daughter and first-generation scholar. Her impact on the field of higher education has been demonstrated through all avenues of her scholarly identity, through research, writing, and/or practice. Her scholarship is significant to the field of higher education as the impact of her scholarship centers on the narratives of student populations that have traditionally often left in the margins of research and in practice.

In this episode, we cover: Dra. Melissa’s journey as a first-gen student and the challenges she faced in accessing higher education. The importance of community and cultura in dismantling inequitable educational barriers. How she navigated motherhood while pursuing a master’s program and the internal struggle she faced during her doctoral program application process. How motherhood ultimately empowered Dra. Melissa to speak up and advocate for herself, her daughter, and for more visibility and representation of mothers in academia.

You can connect with Dra. Melissa on Instagram via @academicsoul and @scholarhomies as well as on her website.

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Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 0:02

Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. This is your host, Doctora Yvette. And today we get to cover one of my favorite topics, which is the topic of motherhood and cultura in grad school. I even wore my Chicana Motherwork shirt today, honoring the topic because it's really meaningful to me. But our special guest is Dr. Melissa Abeyta. Doctora Melissa is a mother, a partner, daughter, a first gen scholar, her impact on the field of higher ed has been demonstrated through all the avenues of her scholarly identity through research, writing, and or practice, her scholarship is significant to the field of higher ed as the impact of her scholarship centers on the narratives of student populations that have traditionally and often been left in the margins of research and in practice. So welcome to the show, Doctora Melissa,

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 1:04

Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 1:06

I'm happy to have you here too. So I would love for folks to hear more about you about your your backstory. So tell us who you are, what you do, and how did you get to become Doctora Melissa?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 1:20

It was quite the journey, I will say, um, I think I always knew I wanted to go to college. But I didn't know what I would be when I was when I grew up or anything like that I am the first in my family and my immediate and extended family to go to college. And I felt like I scrapped to get here. But I will say, um, it started with just an inquiry and observation in, I feel like I don't wanna go back to high school, but I'll just, I'll just, I guess start there is that I would notice, you know it with my high school counselor, the meetings would go, my meetings would be very quickly would be very quick, I'd be in and out with the counselor.

And then I noticed that the some other students, they would be in there a lot longer, they would come out with like this whole plan for their life. And I'm like, where's my plan? Like, what about me? Um, and so then I would request another meeting with my counselor, and I would just inquire and like, oh, well, they're going to college. So, you know, I have to spend a little bit more time with them like, Okay, well, what about me? Where am I like, which college? Am I going to, you know, and it was suggested that I go to Job Corps, which was this was in San Diego, California. And Job Corps, if you look, if you look it up, it's probably for individuals who have dropped out of high school who it's like a vocational kind of stepping stone, I guess you could say. And so I was like, okay, I guess I'm going to jump where I have no idea.

I came home, I told my mom and my mom's like, immediately no. Why is the counselor suggesting job poor for you? And my mom thought it was problematic. So we requested meetings with the counselor, and then I started to Again, pay attention like, okay, I'm being tracked, right. I'm being tracked to this to this vocational program. And so then I kept just I was adamant like, I want to go to college, how do I get there? And finally, she said, well, there's community college, I'm like, oh, what is that? She, she goes, well, you don't have to take the SATs, or the ACTs you know, you go for a few years, and then you transfer to university. And I'm like, yes, like, sign me up. How do I do that?

And I remember going on my own taking, I had like no support from the educational school, like the educational system. I went on my own figured out how to like, I think I took the ACT's. The results came in, I didn't even know how to read the scores. I didn't know what they meant. But I remember taking the envelope back to the counselor like, Okay, I did it. I did what everyone else is doing, like, what does this mean? Do I get into college now? And she's like, no, you have to apply to college. And like, Why do I keep having to ask these questions? Like, why don't you just tell me like, what it is like, give me the whole roadmap so I can get there.

Um, so kind of a long story short, I actually, and I'll share this because um, I feel like it came up recently, and in a different conversation with some of my students here. But I went to I came to this was in California, I came to Texas, and I started at the community college here. And in the state of Texas, if you didn't graduate from high school, you have to take this sort of like graduation exit exam. And because I didn't graduate from high school in Texas, I was immediately put in remedial classes like remedial math, remedial English. And I would ask, like, can I be tested out of this? They said, No, it's, you know, it's again, it's gatekeeping. Like, you have to go through these courses. I did that for a year, I realized I didn't like it here. And so I moved back to California.

And then that's when I learned that all those remedial courses I took for a year didn't transfer. And so then that's when I first had that experience alone, I think was my pathway into higher ed because I'm like, what, why? Why are we doing this to people? Right? And why are we, why do we have these barriers? And these, like, these, these inequitable access, right? Like, why are we doing this to like, not just everybody, but it's specifically for communities of color, right? We're gatekeeping them out of college. And that's not fair. That's not right. And so that sort of led me on this like long path to to where I am today.

So I ended up I finished at Southwestern Community College, in Chula Vista, I transferred to San Diego State University for my bachelor's. And then I went there for I was regionally bound at the time. So I went there for my bachelor's, my masters and my doctorate. And that took about 10 years. And then during the pandemic, I with my family and I, we decided that I would do a national search for the professor. And that brought us back to Texas. And so now I just finished up my second year of tenure.

And I know I skipped a whole bunch. I think that that's generally is, you know, is essentially what motivated me to kind of focus on the research that I do and focus on education inequities. And then now that I'm in the state of Texas, oh, my gosh, I just, I just last week, my students were telling me about these, these additional exams that students have to take. So not only do you have to take the like the high school exit exam, but when you're accepted into a Texas University, you have to take another exam, and I'm like, they're the there are all these barriers that they have that are written into legislation, right, that are like Texas laws. And it's just, it's ridiculous. So I'm here to dismantle all of it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 6:46

Yes, yes. And also, like, how interesting the differences in the barriers based on different states? Yeah. And how that just places more barriers, like you said, to communities of color. And then I know you skipped all the way to like present year, you know, tenure, which felicidades, that's huge. Thank you. Also, I know that, you know, there was, at some point in your higher ed, or educational journey, you became a mama. And yeah, I would love to hear more about that side of your story, too. And, you know, at what point did you become a mom, and maybe even how that shifted or impacted influenced your thoughts on what you've already been talking about, which is like the barriers to reaching kind of higher education for communities of color and underserved populations?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 7:42

Yes. So I applied to my master's program. Around the same time, I found that I was pregnant. And I first thought immediately, like, things like this don't happen to me, because of what it took to get me there. Right. Like, I just, I'm not a person that applies to programs. And I get into all of them, like, I scrapped to get here, like, I scrapped to get there. And so then when I found that I was pregnant, I remember thinking like, oh, my gosh.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 8:11

Had you applied? Or were you about to?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 8:15

I had already applied. And then I found out that I was going to that I applied, I had got, like the first interview, and then I was like, oh, my gosh, but I'm pregnant. I'm showing. And, and I don't share this part often. But I think I clearly remember panicking and stressing over what to wear to the interview. Because I didn't. I was showing at that point, I was probably four months pregnant, five months pregnant. And I was scared that if they saw me pregnant, they wouldn't pick me for the program, they would assume that a new mother couldn't finish the graduate program, and they would give my spot to somebody else.

And so I remember literally finding clothing that would hide and cover my pregnancy. And I felt really ashamed about that. Because I was pregnant for the first time. And I felt like this is a point like, this is something in your life that you should be happy about. You should be proud about it. You know, you're bringing life into the world. And I was hiding it for this program, right? Because it was there was like this conflict of myself of, I want this, but I'm also like, I'm a mother, and I want this but I also want this like, I want the the extra degree and you know, the career like I want both of them. And so it was a really, it was a deep internal struggle that I had, and it would be the last time that I had it, to be honest.

When I started my master's program, my daughter was seven weeks old. She was a newborn. And everything completely changed. Like, I think for like the first 30 years of my life. I was quiet and I was silent about things, nice. I am still finding my voice but, that, it was at that moment when I became a mother where it was like now it changes with me, like it stops here, like everything that I took before like, that I was silent about previously, like, I'm no longer going to be silent about because now my daughter is watching me, and she's gonna, like, reflect and look at this. So motherhood and being in this master's program completely changed. I think like a fiber in me forever.

But after that I would show up to my doctor to my master's programs like unapologetically with her. Well, I won't say that entirely. I'd say I moved into the space unapologetically. So there's a story of one of my professors who was a mentor, who was a mentor of mine. And I had my childcare at the time kind of fell through. So I didn't know what to do. So I remember, I had to go to class. So I drove the class with my daughter in the backseat, and I was crying on the way to school, because I'm like, what am I supposed to do? Like, I'm supposed to be in class right now. But I, you know, I don't have childcare.

And I remember going into his office, like, maybe 30 minutes before class starting. He's like, what's going on? And I explained to him, like, I don't know what to do, like, I we have class, but my daughter's here on prepared, like, I read this, I read the chapters, like I'm prepared for class, but I don't know what to do. He was like, so let's just sit in the back. And I'm like, well, what if she cries and goes, well, then she cries, you step out, and then you come back in, it's fine. And I was just, like, realizing I'm taking up space in academia, right? Like, and what the classroom looks like, it doesn't look like a mother with the baby in sight. You know, it was it was very clear moment.

And I tell him this to this day, like, if he had said something differently to me, it would have changed the trajectory of my life. Like that moment, I would have went home, if he would have said, like, come back next week, I would have never came back. I would have been like, okay, maybe, maybe this is not for me, maybe I'm supposed to be an at home mother, or I'm supposed to pick something else. Like, maybe I'm not supposed to be trying to do graduate school and motherhood at the same time, and I was working. So like, maybe, maybe I shouldn't be doing all of this. And so I tell him, it really, his empathy at that moment really changed the trajectory of my life. And that was also like a really huge milestone that just kind of made me step into academic spaces unapologetically, as a mother, right.

And so, there's a lot of times where I will bring my daughter, I started to bring my daughter, you know, as she got older, when it was appropriate to study groups, or, you know, like to presentations when, when it was feasible, right. Like, I felt like when there were more, you know, sometimes for for two reasons. One, it was if I needed to as a childcare and for two if it was a moment where she could see me in that space, like as she got older. And yeah, she's just everyone who I've met since then, it's like, it's a package deal. You have me and my daughter, like, it's everyone, you know, knows about me and my kid like, it's no longer. It's no longer like two separate things. It's not something that I'm not willing to, to kind of hide or to be ashamed about at all.

One thing I mentioned, I jot down was, was NASPA, right. There's this National Student Affairs organization, and I just a couple years ago, they had they had registration for their, their annual conference. I know what you're gonna say. Yeah, yeah. If you bring a guest, you know, they charge for the guests. And then at for one year, I don't know why they decided to charge for children. And it really, really bothered me and I did it. I posted it on my stories, IG stories, like my safe spot, right? Twitter. I don't know about Twitter, sometimes. I do stories. I go off on IG stories all the time. So I posted on my IG stories one weekend, and I got like a really big response from it. And I'm like, you know what, because it's not right, right. It's and Melania my daughter had been to NASPA with me before as like a four year old. And I like I can understand if they had childcare places for our children, or they were going to do like children activities. Like there were reasons to charge.

But I'm like, there's no reasons there's, there's no reason to charge a minor who's not doing anything. And who's actually it's the the decision to take a child to a conference is such a difficult decision that a parent's making. And it's they're probably making it because there's no other choice. Like there's no childcare like I don't think they understand like, it's 10 times harder to travel with kids to a conference than it is. And then the fact that you're going to charge them it was that was just over the top for me. And so I ended up tweeting about it. And by and I'm not gonna say it was my doing, because I will say that thankfully, there were senior faculty that backed it up. And I think it was their voices that kind of elevated the situation, that by Monday, they had completely removed the charges and like taking it down from the website.

And so it's like that advocate like, like just advocating for student parents, I think is what's critical, like even Yeah, but what's ironic is that I went to the conference, and my daughter didn't go my daughter, I had no intentions of my daughter going, but they were asking like, Hey, where's Melania? You tweeted about the thing. I'm like, Oh, she was never coming. That wasn't for me. That was for, because it's deterring a parent who potentially was going to go, or student parent who was going to go and had no other option. And you just made it harder for them. Right? You're creating these barriers for them. But at that, at that particular time, like I had no intention on taking my kid, but I just, I was just I felt like, I just had to say something because it was it was wrong. Right. And I try to think about that in in kind of, like different aspects. Like, we don't think about our parents, our student parents often, right, we don't think about if we're having events for them on campus, like, is there childcare? Or is it are there children activities? Like, is it feasible for them? We just, we kind of ignore this, this population in general. And I think I went on a tangent, but,

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 16:24

Um, no, no, no, no, this, it ties in? Because, I mean, that's another question that I was going to ask you, you talked about how motherhood completely shifted things for you. And you're like, Okay, I'm a different person. From here on out, I'm going to be speaking up more showing up more, taking up more space, advocating war, and then talking about, wow, the power of mentorship and how if it hadn't been for that professor and his supportive response to you, maybe, I don't know, maybe you might have been pushed out, like so many other mommas have been pushed out of higher ed.

But then yeah, that that prompted me to want to ask, like, how did this experience of becoming a mother and mothering in graduate school, then impact the way that you now advocate on behalf of student parents and you support parenting students, mothers, who are, you know, in your own surroundings now as a professor, and you gave a perfect example, because that was actually so big that I remember seeing that. And I remember we reposted that on the Chicana Mother work IG too like, it was a big deal. I was among, all my mother scholar friends, I know, we were all kind of like, what is going on? This is not okay. How dare they like, what, why? Why would they do this? And we're already struggling so much to even have any spaces that provide care or childcare options. But then to add an additional barrier, that's just nonsense. So yeah.

Are there other ways that you find yourself advocating on behalf of student parents? Because it's, you know, it's been I don't know how long since you were a graduate student. And there are more conversations, and I see more folks talking about this and being embracing and kind of having more active conversations, especially online about being a student parent about being a mom and being a mama scholar, or mothers scholar. But there's still a lot of barriers, and they're still, I mean, institutions of higher ed still don't necessarily always support or provide services that that support parenting students.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 18:41

They really don't. And for some reason, I feel like there's a stigma that just exists about it. Last fall, or last like winter graduation, my daughter had a school events. And what happened was the commencement they changed the dates, arguments, and it used to be on Saturdays, they changed it to Fridays, like right in the middle of the day. And we're required to go as faculty, and my daughter had a school event and after her event, they're dismissed. And they they rarely get dismissed early here in Texas. And so I had a dilemma one, I had to go to her, her event, but then two, I had to, like, bring her with me to commencement, because I, again, I'm always in these spaces where I like, I don't have childcare. And he's at these random moments. Usually I do, but it's just there's these pockets of times where I don't.

And so I remember telling my department chair, I'm going to be about 10 minutes late, I'm going to sneak in the back and I'm sneaking in the back with my daughter, okay, because, again, I'm in this space in this region where I don't we don't know anybody. I don't know. Anybody here and I want I don't know anybody and I don't even trust anyone else to touch to like watch my child especially because I don't know anyone. And so she's coming with me. He's like, Yeah, sure, no problem and I will never forget the death stares I got from my colegas who were just like, like the whispers like though whispers, she's got her kid with me, yes I do turn around and like, watch the front, and she's gonna sit there and not bother anybody. She's 10 years old and she can eat, you know, it'll be fine. And one it was to her, kind of like, come to like, work with mommy day, whatever. But it's also like, just reminded like, I'm gonna continue to decolonize academic spaces. Yeah, make it completely uncomfortable for everybody.

Because why? Why should it be uncomfortable though, right? Like, we are humans, and we are mothers we have we have other identities other than being a professional, and it's okay, that they blend sometimes. And so I just, oh my gosh, that it's really I think we really realize what people are in moments like that, like, he was supportive, and he was not supported and like, okay, got you. Like, you know, um, but it was, it was also kind of, again, for her to she like, this is what mommy does, like, this is mommy's work. And then it's also not even for that I also intentionally take up that space, again, for this, like student mother's parents so they can see it too. Like, no, like, if you need your kids to come through commencement and sit next to you, it's not gonna, it's gonna be okay. There's plenty of chairs, there's often empty chairs, like the world's not gonna end because there's, you know, a child sitting next to somebody.

And it's also it's kind of like, I think hypocritical of how we like treat our children like, have like what society says about children to like that they should be able to take up space. And I feel like they're often not given that permission, right, just to kind of coexist amongst us. So, given my positionality now, I am definitely more purposeful or intentional with taking up that space. Other times I will also, I do two things in my classroom. First, the beginning of the classes I sent out like this, like survey before class starts, and I want to know who they who my students are, like before my classroom. And I think that's almost for me, like, it calms my anxiety. Like, who like it's like, the first day of school, but like, I don't know who they are just off the list of names.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 22:23

Do you ask them like yeah, like, who are you? Or like, describe yourself?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 22:29

I have a whole so this is the one thing that I do good. This is the one thing that I streamline that I do really good.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 22:35

Cuz I'm thinking of the folks who listen to my podcast, who are also instructors and professors.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 22:41

Yeah, so I, this is from my my femtor, Dr. Vazquez. Because I like I think I tweaked it a little bit. But it's like an intake form. It's like your name, your pronouns, your title, institution that you are, and then you're like, what other identities you have? Are you a caretaker? Are you a parent? And I asked that because I feel it's important to know the student holistically, right? Because it to acknowledge that, okay, you are a student, but you also are these other, you also were these other half in different variations, right. So it's, I think it's just important to know, one, I have a whole another like, thought about grading, and that being a social construct. But in the event, somebody's going through something and it's like, oh, well, yeah, remember, there, there are a caretaker for their elderly parents. And they're a mother of three, right? Like, they have a lot going on. So just to have just like to have some empathy, right, like, as we're moving through the semester. And so I asked that.

And then going in, I also introduce myself, it's also like a shared space, it's also reminder that we, we both have multiple identities, like they're sharing their peace with me, but I'm also going to introduce myself and Melania like on the first day of school, like, you know, through an image, but also to know, like, if I guess if two ways one, if we're having class online, that is completely okay. And should be normalized for children to be in the background, or, you know, like, don't feel embarrassed that you have to do you know, cam off or whatever, because you are taking care of things at home, like I completely understand. And then also, if we have our face to face class, if you ever need to bring your children to class like it's, it's completely I want to normalize that space, or like that from the jump.

So I think I haven't taught basically, in a minute, like probably a year, but the last class that I did teach face to face, I brought my daughter too. So like we have this, this in disrupting academia. Our last class was at a restaurant. And so instead of doing like, formal presentations, we just had like a platica like a discussion while eating. And I brought my daughter in that sense, because I want her to see she does see me away and travel, like a lot. So again, anytime that I can incorporate her, or I can bring her in like that, that evening class, it kind of worked out. I was like, perfect, hop in the car. Come with me, let's go to, class is just an hour away. Yeah. And then, um, you know, just kind of I don't know, just sit amongst the classmates and just like, kind of listen and tune in. But it's also something for the students for you know, because they're all educators, they're all probably, you know, at kind of like administrators in their, in their senses. Most of my students are K through 12 administrators. And then I have some students that are in the higher ed sphere, but um, it's just a normal life and to kind of give them I'm also in a region that's very traditional. So it's like less like 98% Latine and it's, it's very different. And so I'm,

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 25:55

What do you mean by traditional?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 25:58

That's a good question. I would say, traditional Mexican American, that the women should be at home.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 26:08

Oh, I see, si.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 26:10

Yeah. So it's, it's very, it's not normalized, it's still like, not normalized that or it's still a new thought, for like women to be in doctoral programs. That pushing the envelope. And so then even furthermore, when you have parents that are like, you know, student mothers that are going to these programs, like I feel, they are also in this tug of war with the families and with, you know, the institution. And so yeah, I tried to break that by saying like, it's okay. It's okay to incorporate family, with your academics and whatnot.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 26:45

That's really good. I love everything that you share, especially of like, shifting the norms of like, what a traditional classroom looks like. And having this like final, final class in, you said, like having dinner or in some sort of restaurant setting, or eating setting, I love that. But what you what you were just sharing right now about how like you're in this more traditional space with folks who, especially if they're women may not be expected to be pursuing a career especially even less if their moms, it reminds me of, of this concept of cultural straddling, so it's like both straddling different identities and also like straddling different cultures and the different expectations. And I wanted to ask you about that too, because it's not, you're not just talking about the experience of motherhood in academia. There are plenty of books about motherhood in academia that focus on white moms. But in your case, you're talking about mothers of color, Latina moms, and in the space that you're at, you're you're you know, in a primarily predominantly Mexican area. So how has culture impacted the way that you have navigated higher ed, and also the way that you currently support students? So yeah, your cultural background, and also the background of your students?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 28:14

I think I personally had a different experience in that my mother, so I would say, I was a military child. So we moved around a lot. And so and that my mom, if I'm an only child, so my it was me know, my mom, and I would often have to learn these spaces on our car on for ourselves, right. And so I think that gave my mom a lot of independence. Right. And so then my mom taught me that like, so in that sense, I think culturally, I was raised differently, right? I wouldn't raise

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 28:53

That's so interesting. I didn't know that about you.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 28:56

Yeah. And so like, one of our first duty stations was in was in Puerto Rico and my like, my, the, which is another thing, that language while it's Spanish, it's very different Spanish in Texas, where my mom was born and raised. So my mom had to learn almost a whole new dialect and like navigate. I mean, everything like learning how to get a driver's license and learning, you know, the banking system, learning the schooling system, which is different from the US mainland. And so I think in her having to kind of navigate that for herself. She kind of went through her own independence, and then, like, kind of instilled that into me. And so I mean, when I saw them, I guess back to when I was challenged with like motherhood and higher ed, I remember her saying, or even probably when I was going into the doc program, because I applied, and I go, I'm throwing my name in the hat. I'm applying this year but I don't expect to get it this year. I am applying to go through the process to learn, but I really wanted, I really had thought I would get it the following year. And I didn't know I ended up getting it that first year that I applied.

And I was like, oh, no, like, I want this. But again, I wanted it next year. And I call it like, we have a family meeting, like because my parents live with us. So in my household, it's myself, my partner, my daughter, and my parents. And my mom says, no, you're gonna do it now. Because your daughter Melania is younger. And she goes, it's, quote, unquote, easier to do it when they're younger than when they're much older. She's like, when she's older, she's going to need you more, you know, she's going to be going through emotional development, like she's going to, she's going to need her mom's attention a little bit more, right now is the perfect age for you to be gone, and you to focus on your studies, because she's not going to remember this kind of part of, of you being gone. And so in that sense, I was like, okay, I'm trusting, although every semester, I'm like, I'm done with school like, this is, I'm putting this, they'd be like, okay, are you done rant? Like, are you done? Like, are you done ranting? Did you get it all out your system? I'm like, yeah, like, okay, go finish. Go, go finish.

I mean, I will always have this like, moment with myself where I'm not gonna finish school. But, um, so I think for me, it was different I was given it, I had a family unit that it was, um, I think goes back to that cultural piece, right. And it was, it's kind of like, it's all of ours, right? It's not just me going through it. So in that sense, like, I had help, I had a village, with, and with raising my daughter, so even to this day, like, when my daughter starts school, I would meet the teacher, and then I let them know, like, there's gonna be points throughout the year where I may not be available, or I may not be able to go to something, but somebody from my family will be there. If it's not my partner, it's my mom. And if neither of them are available, like my dad will go, but at some point, like, trust me that they're all reporting back to me. And so it just know that there will always be some family member to support my daughter at anything if I can't be there. And so I think that's the difference in cultural is that, and I tried to, I see that here with my students, right, is that there's these family units of support that we have, and that that's so critical. And I also want them to kind of also like y'all realizes, like, some of my students have never read like Yosso's community cultural wealth.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 32:28

Yeah, that's exactly what I was about to say, that's that cultural wealth right there.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 32:32

Right. Yeah, they never been introduced to it. And I'm like, Oh, my gosh, like, y'all have to see this, because this is you all are living this, right? Like, I even one of my students, she actually said that she's going to be my first doctoral student who could advance the candidacy. But the day before she was advancing, she's the mother of three. And her husband works kind of, like not always in the region, right? He travels for work. And so she has your mom there to support her and her sister. And I remember, she, just like I kind of like, didn't know what to do. And I said, You know what, because it was online, I'm like, if you need to come to my house, and your kids need to stay, you know, in the living room, and I need to put you in a different room so that you can present your material to the rest of the committee, we will she lives actually right down the street from me, I was like, we will do that. And this was during a time, this is just two weeks ago, where we had like, really bad storms. So a lot of the area has not electricity for like, for like days. So I'm checking with these students, it was really hard to kind of schedule them. Right. So it's like, do we risk rescheduling it and then further delaying their process? Or do we just like, what support do you need entirely, like not just you as a student, but I understand that there's the other family like, you know, there's.

And this is the middle of STAR testing for us in Texas with our students, our kids have, you know, these standard state exams standardized test? Yeah, and they cannot be rescheduled. So we have, we're in the middle of a storm, there's power outs, we have STAR exams. And so I'm like, what support do you need? Like, you need to come to my I have electricity. If you need to come here and we need to like put people in different rooms, we can do that for an hour. But it's just letting the students know that they're, like, at least on me, like they have, they have like community. Like I'm here to support and however that I can. But I think the students who I who I've um, who I chair and who I are in my classroom, they're amazing. These peoples events in the valley are so special in such a beautiful way like I'm, I've learned a lot from them and I continue to learn a lot from them. But and I, I then we have we, we have these moments of you know, of frustration with legislation and whatnot. But it's like, I know that, that at the end of the day, we're in community.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 35:07

That's amazing. Thank you, thank you for sharing that. And for sharing such a powerful example. Because that's real. That's like life, you know, life happens, storms happen, all kinds of things happen and your students know that you have their back and that you see them, like, as a whole person you see all you know, all of their circumstances, not just like, Okay, you got to figure it out no matter what, and I don't want to hear about it, which is what some of us experienced, unfortunately, in our higher ed journeys. But also that goes to show that you have an awareness of like, where they're coming from, and like the type of support that they need and the the value of community too. I wanted to ask you, we're gonna get close to kind of, to wrapping up. But I definitely want to hear your thoughts or words of advice or consejos that you have for any students, specifically, mothers, mothers, who are also first gen moms and even parenting students who are listening to this episode or who listen to it, and are maybe not quite, you know, maybe they're in that that path of like, I'm trying to figure out how to go back to school. So maybe they're trying to figure out going from CC to college or from college to grad school. And yeah, like, what words of advice would you give them as they kind of go on their own journey,

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 36:39

I would say that you're not alone. I know that I feels alone, because there were plenty and many of times where I felt that I was doing it alone. And then I you have to find your community and find that however, that works for you. So whether it can be virtual, or in the physical space, so I ended up finding my community virtually through Instagram. And I think that really saved me because it made me feel like. While I was in my doc program, I was commuting an hour. And I remember driving. And I mean, it was hard, right? Like I'm working full time, I'm in a doctoral program, I'm a mother and my daughter goes to school an hour away from where I work and where my school is. And so I wouldn't be alone in my thoughts on that for an hour. And I, I'm like, there's no way that I'm the only one dealing with this. Like, I cannot be the only one dealing with this and struggling through this or feeling like I'm struggling through this like alone. Like, where are the other moms? Like where are the other parents? Like we have to be out here. And so I that's where I started my Instagram, the academic soul just to kind of vlog mini vlog. Like, one to find other people, like, where are the other mommy scholars that and how can we support or just uplift her just know that we're not alone in that face. And then, you know, just kind of like a quick hello.

I will tell you, there's so many times where other moms are like, student parents would send me just a message or like a meme or like a, you got this, like the DM and got it, it may seem like nothing, but those little messages literally keep you going. When you feel like you're doing it alone. And you don't know, you can't see yourself at the end of the finish line. But they those messages just keep you going all the way through. And so that's where I go back to say like, find your community. And however you can find it like for me, that community was virtual. And so if you can, if you need a virtual community, or if you can find that community on your campus, and then if that community if you think it does not exist on your campus created, because there's other student parents also there that are maybe feel invisible or are currently invisible, but you know, they shouldn't be right, like they should be supported.

So I would just encourage that encourage you to find your community on campus off campus. And just keep going and I promise it gets better. And you just keep going. I also I just recently I had a someone shared with me that they were accepted into a doctoral program. And they were nervous because they weren't sure that it was the right time. Because they got a promotion and they have children and I you know, I said I don't think there's ever a right time life is gonna always happen. Always your there's never going to be a perfect time where all the stars align. It's just a matter of figuring it out and figuring out like, okay, there's gonna have to be some adjustment adjustments and you make those adjustments as you go. And then just keep going and you know, I think that's why I keep oversharing my life because I don't know, I don't, I feel like okay, not that I do it, you can do it type of thing, but it's just to know that you're not alone. We're not alone in these thoughts and, and these aspirations that we, that we can continue to uplift each other and help each other authentically. Because that's awesome. Very much needed.

I think we are against traditional norms. And so the if we can find community and find each other, I want to say, there's a, a fellow Chingona who I've connected with online and see, posts. She's a single mother who's amazing. And she posts like, at four in the morning, where she's up giving, she's up doing laundry, and I was up that early to work. And so I forget her like, these are like secret mom hours, right? Yes. They're secret mamas. I was like hey, good morning, I'm up grading. And I don't post it because I'm also like, conflict, like, I feel like, there's this, you know, battle against like, hustle, hustle mentality, or I don't want to I don't want people to think I'm like, contributing to hustle culture. But it's also like, It's me surviving, right? And then so part of me is like, conflicted, like, do I share this moment, because this is the real, like, this is really how I how I feel like I have to survive, because we're up against a capitalist society. But it is what it is, right? It's like, if I want to have all these things, or I want to do all these things, I have to find the time in when everybody else is sleeping, sometimes to get my work done.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 41:42

I feel that way. So because I work at all hours, but I don't work all the time at all hours, right? Sometimes I'm like sending messages, and it's late at night or really early morning. And I'm like, I know, I'm like really into not grinding and resting and all that. But, but like you said, you just got to find those pockets of time and do what works best for you.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 42:05

Yeah, and then, um, I will say that people think I start my day, well, I do start my day early. But I'm also like, I go, I recently I've been running like at 10 in the morning, but I am gonna work until 11 o'clock at night or you know, it's it varies and it flows like, I may take a two hour break, you know, when my daughter gets home so that we connect, we have dinner, or she has an appointment. And then it's like, okay, then I go teach a class. And you know, it just works for me. And I find it and I think that's the like, figure out what works for you and what you're comfortable with. And do that. And support each other in that right. Like everyone's okay, that have a different schedule. And also like, I could never, I don't think cognitively I could do a nine to five. Like I need to have breaks, I needed to be like my schedule needs to be fluid. And like, I'm inspired at different parts different times of the day. Like, it's just you know, and I think that's okay. We're not machines, in the sense where, you know, we need to be bogged down, you know, this time for this time. And that's it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 43:09

Thank you so much for sharing. I wanted to just ask one last question, if there are any other words of advice or closing words that you wanted to share? And if not, for folks who resonated with what you shared, who want to connect further, who want to support you in your work or find you and contact you in some way, shape or form? How can they connect? How can they reach you?

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 43:33

Yes, so you can connect with me on Instagram @academicsoul. I am currently updating my website, melissaabeyta.com, if you wanted to, I don't know, bring me to your campus. And we didn't talk much about my research. But my research focuses on formerly incarcerated and formerly incarcerated and system impacted students. So I talk I usually am brought to campus to speak about that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 43:58

You can say a little bit more about that. I would love for you to share, you know, if you have a couple more minutes to share a little bit more about your research, because I think that's really important too.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 44:07

Yeah, I think it's critical. So I'm also I'm, I have family members that are currently and formerly incarcerated so I couldn't find a system impacted. And I really was drawn to this work, because one at the time, it wasn't happening. And I really was curious if the student population existed on our campuses. And if they did, what kind of support services are available for them and whatnot. And my research work started in California, which California is making strides, and they're doing amazing out there. And there's programming in all of the California educational higher educational systems at the community colleges and at the four years. So California is doing great work. I'm currently in the state of Texas where I am experiencing their stigma, right. Not to say that the stigma doesn't make sense in California, but that there's a little bit of more stigma that exists here in Texas, which it's like, okay. Yes, the student population can be on our campuses, how do we invite them on our campuses? And then more so how do we create programs and services for them? And then not just also, again, track them back to vocational programs, right? Because that's what we really do see a lot happening. It's like, how do we track them into actually degree granting programs? And then how do we educate the staff and faculty and administrators in knowing like, what's available for this population? It's just it's a very invisible population that's been discarded by our society. And so I think you'll, you'll find me and advocating for their, for them to have spaces on our campuses.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 45:43

That's amazing. I'm so glad that you mentioned that because I was yeah, you know, when I first reached out to you, I wasn't sure like, which route you were gonna go. And I there was a part of me that was like, I hope to talks about this this research, because it is. It is, I mean, I've worked with formerly incarcerated students, I've worked with folks who have been part of the like underground scholars, and I get chills thinking of just about how amazing these folks are, and that we need to have more of these types of programs and support services, not just like you said, in California, which was kind of where I was exposed to this kind of work, but across the nation, including, like you said, Texas and other states where it continues to be stigmatized. So thank you for sharing that. And yeah, keep keep doing that work.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 46:32

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 46:34

So you said folks can reach you on Instagram, and then where else so that we can make sure to get that in the show notes.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 46:39

Yes. On my website, melissaabeyta.com.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu 46:42

Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much, Melissa. It's been so awesome hearing from you hearing about your journey, hear about your experiences, how you continue to advocate for a wide range of student populations. I really, really appreciated having you here today.

Dr. Melissa Abeyta 46:58

Thank you for having me.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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