NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Experiences as Women at NJIT

Four Students Share Their Perspectives
Yukthi Sangoi
From left to right: Edie Westrich, Hope De Jesus, Samantha Montalbine, Namitha Yalla.

Content Warning: This article mentions threats of violence and sexual harassment. 

It was 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday last fall, and Hope De Jesus was walking to class when a man she didn’t know started following her and making racist comments at her. It then heightened to threats of physical violence, but she said that because she didn’t give him any of her attention in the moment, he left her alone. She stepped foot into her class, grateful to have avoided any physical interaction, and processed her environment.  

“I looked around — the professor’s a man, and everyone else around me, a man,” the fourth-year computer science student recalled. “I was thinking… what’s the point of pursuing something you don’t feel safe doing?”  

This was one of her lowest points throughout her journey at NJIT. A year and a half earlier, she posted a video outlining some of the experiences she’s had as a woman on campus. De Jesus had just ended her second year and reflected on several moments that left her feeling lost, hurt, and defeated — all based on her gender.  

NJIT roughly has a 3:1 ratio of men to women in its student population, and according to the National Science Foundation, the United States had about 65% of people in the STEM workforce as male in 2021. It’s not the biggest surprise to see such a diverging ratio at a polytechnic institute.  

While it can be empowering for some students to see the accomplishments of fellow women studying at the university, the everyday experiences — the process of getting to those moments — have their own challenges and adversity. They’re often overlooked since not many people wish to have conversations addressing these aspects.  

Samantha Montalbine, second-year mechanical engineering major, thinks of womanhood as being herself unapologetically; when it comes to NJIT, however, she thinks it changes to having to validate herself by doing a little more than others might have to do.  

“There was this one professor who used to stand behind me for like the first 10 minutes of class and wait for me to make a mistake and then instantly correct it,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to prove myself but I [end up having to prove] myself so it doesn’t become an issue.” 

Montalbine came to NJIT knowing about the stark difference in the presence of women, but she had decided that it wouldn’t affect the way she pursues all the academic dreams she wants to achieve. “I’m just gonna be myself and hope people see me for who I am and not for my gender — I feel like I can’t picture a way that NJIT could do that besides accepting more women,” she added. “I think the only way to have more women in the field is for them to take charge and be like, ‘You know what? I’m fine being the only woman,’ and that’s asking a lot of people. It’s sad — it shouldn’t be that way.” 

Recently, there’s been an increase in online platforms on which people can submit anonymous ‘confessions’ to then be posted. One of these accounts is on Instagram — @njit.vent — which has about 3,300 followers at the time of this publication. There are many harmless submissions on that account, but a considerable amount uses obscene language and objectifies people, namely women. 

One such post began with, “this girl at the wec gym has such a fat ass, i took so many discreet pics to use for later.” While there’s no way to corroborate the person who submitted it as well as the post’s accuracy, the mere fact that someone would want to write and submit this for such a platform speaks volume about how women are generally discussed.  

“[People who submit these confessions] are really comfortable talking about whatever they want to…. Maybe it’s like if they get it out in an anonymous space, they will be less likely to do [the action] in front of an actual woman,” De Jesus said. “But that makes me feel kind of uneasy because if someone’s thinking about women like this on their own, I’m probably sitting right next to them, and they’re thinking that.” 

Fourth-year information technology major Edie Westrich spoke about how posts on these accounts reminded her of how she felt during the 2016 presidential elections for the United States — a time when there was a platform for people to support others who viewed women at an inferior level.  

“[Seeing posts on NJIT Vent] is just another reminder that these prejudices and these beliefs exist,” she explained. “I think it very much affects me more, just having those even more micro microaggressions in person — rather than online posts — because I can’t call them out. It takes me longer to recognize why I’m having these feelings of inferiority.” 

Namitha Yalla, fourth-year computer science major, commented on the distinction she feels in the academic sphere rather than the social sphere on campus. It’s more explicit to spot times in the classroom when she’s ignored or looked over, whether it’s as a teaching assistant or student. In more interpersonal situations, it’s harder to pinpoint what particular interactions feel targeted.  

As a South Asian, Yalla also mentioned that there comes some extra baggage when race and ethnicity are tied in with gender: “There’s a lot of competition — like women just being very ‘no, I’m not going to share this resource,’ or ‘there’s only room for one of us.’ I feel like it’s higher [and more intense] when you’re a racial minority.” 

She addressed ways that NJIT could potentially improve this outlook and provide a better experience and environment for women. “if there are more men here, and you’re a man, you’re more likely to be friends with other men, and then you just never see the other points of view. I think that it’s more just having the opportunity to socialize and make that more accessible,” she stated. “I know some colleges do really well with roundtables — that is not really an NJIT thing.” 

De Jesus has met many men throughout her time at NJIT who have made her feel seen about her experiences, and while she’s not hopeful about the dynamic changing on campus, she has been successful in building some sense of personal belonging: “There are a couple of glimpses where I’m like, ‘Okay, this is like a space for me.’ And if it’s not a space for me now, I’ll make it a space for me.” 

Towards the end of her video, she articulated, “When I’m feeling lost in times like these, I think about women that I look up to — I think about my mother. I’m trying to find where they got that strength.” 

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Yukthi Sangoi, Editor-in-Chief
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