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Dr. Jessie Harper (top left), Dr. Hsiao-Wen Cheng (top middle), Dr. Donita Brady (top right), Dr. Saswati Sarkar (bottom left), and Ms. Sharon Smith (bottom middle) all spoke at the Women of Color in Academia Panel moderated by Sia Brown (bottom right).

Penn professors gathered in Houston Hall to emphasize the importance of identity and solidarity as women of color in higher education.

At the event, four panelists spoke about their experience as women of color, and gave advice to Penn students about negotiating worthy salaries and practicing self-care on Wednesday night. The panelists came from diverse corners of Penn academia, including the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the Graduate School of Education.

East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor and panelist Hsiao-Wen Cheng said that the first time she negotiated her salary to a higher amount, her friends told her to “shut up and take the offer, because no one will offer you more.”

Donita Brady, professor at the School of Medicine’s Department of Cancer Biology, said “Nobody gets what they don’t ask for,” prompting applause from the audience.

Electrical and Systems Engineering professor, Saswati Sarkar, however, advised students to be reasonable when negotiating salaries. 

“As long as you make a reasonable case when negotiating salaries, [the employers] will try their best to accommodate what you have in mind,” Sarkar added.

When negotiating a salary, Brady stressed the importance of women knowing their worth, especially when people doubt their qualifications.

Cheng said that a sense of self-worth is also important when considering the imposter syndrome that many first-generation Penn students face, adding that it is important for students to stop trying to prove themselves to others.

Sarkar agreed and said that it is important to “assert yourselves” when people are doubting your qualifications.

During the Q&A session, attendees asked about methods to practice self-care in spite of the “extra work” that women of color often have to take up. 

Sarkar said that for her, finding a passion that she really enjoys outside of her work as a researcher and professor at Penn is important to her wellness.  

“You have to take good care of yourself physically and emotionally. I love traveling to places that are unknown to me, even when I am busied with work,” Sarkar added.

Brady emphasized the importance of setting a healthy boundary outside of work, especially for students who are stressed.

“I personally take every Saturday off, where I am away from work and replying to emails,” Brady said. “It is important to say no when it is not working for you.”

The Graduate School of Education Office of Student Services hosted the event. Jax Lastinger, the event organizer and Diversity and Inclusion Fellow at GSE, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they hope graduate students can benefit from the diverse insights of the panelists.

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