Engineering Student: ‘Yes, I’m Blond, and Yes, I Attend MIT’
Alice Zielinski has platinum blond hair, and she’s studying aeronautical and astronautical engineering and computer science at MIT. The only problem is, nobody seems to believe her based on the color of her hair, she says.
This week, Zielinski, who is currently interning at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, posted stories about her run-ins with people who balk at the fact that a blond woman could be researching advancements in technology in such a scientific field. She posted the interactions that she’s had at coffee shops, on campus, and while out with friends.
“Many MIT students recount questions about their GPA, test scores, magnificent things they’ve built, accomplishments, [etcetera],” she wrote in her blog posts on Medium, Talking Points Memo, and Quartz. “While I often find myself trying to convince people that I actually attend MIT.”
In detail, Zielinski shared a collection of the reactions she gets when she tells people she’s an engineer “in all their confusing glory.” And, of course, they set off a firestorm of responses ranging from supportive to angry.
One time, it happened at MIT, while she was sitting with a friend and talking. A classmate who knew her friend walked up and asked Zielinski where she attended school, she wrote. “I’m wearing a MIT jacket. My backpack lies beside me. We’re in MIT’s academic buildings,” she said, describing the scenario.
When Zielinski answered, “MIT,” the inquiring classmate allegedly asked, “Really?”
In a second instance, Zielinski said she was having her teeth cleaned, when the dental hygienist asked what she was studying. After Zielinski said that she was majoring in aerospace engineering and electrical engineering at MIT, she got a similar response.
“’Oh that’s cute,’” the hygienist allegedly told her. “’After you complete your degree, are you going into modeling?’”
“I’ve struggled at times under the weight of stereotype threat,” Zielinski wrote. “I’ve had wavering confidence in my abilities. I’ve questioned my identity and intelligence. I’ve considered dyeing my hair brown.”
But she is becoming more comfortable with the awkward interactions, and proudly stating—without fear of being judged—that yes, she is blonde, and yes, she attends MIT.
“I no longer hesitate, I don’t feel embarrassed to say ‘MIT.’ I don’t worry about the reaction. I’ve regained confidence,” she said.
Since posting her blog on several sites, Zielinski said she has received an overwhelming response from people all over the country.
After the “unexpected” replies to her original story about being a blonde at MIT, Zielinski said she’s “very grateful” for the diversity of perspectives and thoughts that the online community has shared. “It has certainly broadened my understanding of the many stereotypes that people from different backgrounds face,” she wrote.
After some further reflection, she told Boston, she gained even more insight about the topic of discussion in relation to her musings. “I worry that many readers are misinterpreting my intention in writing the blog post,” she said, before updating her blog.
“Through further thought, I realize that the overwhelming response surprised me as much as it did because I’m not anything out of the ordinary: I’m studying engineering (there are many engineers), am female (half of the population is with me on that one), and I happen to be blonde (not unheard of). It’s surprising that an attribute as simple as hair color and as complex as gender in the context of engineering can incite such a degree of absurdity from interactions with strangers,” she wrote.