WSU McNair PhD 

Sandibel Borges, PhD

Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Loyola Marymount University
Ph.D., Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
M.A., Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
B.A., Women’s Studies, Spanish Literature, Washington State University

Dr. Sandibel’s story in her own words: In my last two years as an undergraduate student at WSU, some of my professors encouraged me to apply to graduate school; being a first generation, low-income, immigrant student of color, I did not quite understand the concept of graduate school. My oldest sibling was the only one in my family who, at the time, was completing a master’s degree. She was opening doors for me that neither one of us knew was possible. Our parents did not have the resources to attend high school, let alone college. Our powerful parents were (and still are) immigrant farmworkers who had to make many sacrifices to give us, their children, an education. 

While working at Career Services as a work study student, a fellow student worker told me about the McNair Program and encouraged me to apply. After applying, I was contacted for an interview with Dr. Raymond Herrera, and then notified of my acceptance into the program. In 2008, I joined the fast-track cohort, graduating the following summer of 2009. I am forever thankful to the McNair familia for their generosity, for the knowledge and resources as well as confidence I received from them to continue my journey in higher education.  

Dr. Linda Heidenreich, professor of Women’s Studies and History, was my academic mentor for my research project. With their guidance, I completed the project, which was about Latin American migrant sex workers in Spain, the racialization and sexualization of Latin American migrant women in the country, and the legal and moral punishment of sex work. I presented my research in summer 2009, which I later expanded into my master’s thesis.  

One requirement for the program was to enroll in courses that prepared students to conduct research and to apply to graduate school. In these courses, I learned about research methods, wrote personal statements and research interest statements for my graduate applications, and learned about the GRE, a step in the graduate application process I knew nothing about. The courses were structured as graduate seminars to introduce students to this learning format.  

Importantly, it was in my McNair courses where I learned that graduate students get paid to obtain their graduate degrees. I found this confusing, and I admit being skeptical. I thought, “I’ll get paid to study? Are you sure?” Yes, graduate students almost always work as teaching assistants and/or research assistants, which entails teaching many students and grading piles of papers as well as helping faculty conduct/organize their research—all while completing course work. I now understand that graduate students do much labor and keep universities running. As a low-income, immigrant woman of color, I often felt that I should be grateful to even receive any kind of funding. I now see that I surely had to get paid for my labor. Graduate student workers do not only deserve to be paid; they are entitled to it.  

When I was accepted into a few graduate programs, it took me by surprise to be in the position to accept and reject offers. I went with the offer that had the best funding package. That was also where I connected with the faculty member who became my advisor from the beginning to the end of my graduate school years, and who I am fortunate to now call my friend (it is actually very common for graduate students to switch advisors multiple times, and it is more than okay to do so). With that, in fall 2009, I moved to California to start an M.A./Ph.D. program in Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.  

To current McNair Scholars, I say: You are worthy. You are brilliant. You are deserving. Nobody is doing you a favor by accepting your graduate applications—programs are lucky to have you! It is certainly overwhelming to enter a world so removed from our reality. In moments of uncertainty, turn to your mentors, including but not limited to your beloved McNair mentors. Reach out to each other. Have meals together. Write together. Work on your applications together. Fall apart together. Laugh, celebrate, and have joy together. Academia can be an isolating place but always reach for one another and stay in community. Community will guide you through.