One Woman's Journey To Female Empowerment
It’s always a bit challenging to know where to start when telling your own story. It feels both humbling and honoring to reflect on God’s goodness over the years. Professionally, I currently teach as a Lecturer at Baylor University. I am also the Program Director for Truett's Youth Spirituality and Sports Institute: Running the Race Well at Baylor University. Outside of Baylor, I serve as the Prevention Committee Chair for The Heart of Texas Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, and I am a Board Member of Communities in Schools. In the last few years, I have worked closely with The A21 Campaign and UnBound in the areas of anti human trafficking curriculum, advocacy, and research.
I also served on the Propel Women’s Brain Trust launch during 2015-2017. Previous to Baylor, I held the position of Assistant Professor at California Baptist University. On a more personal note, I am a wife of 14 years to my husband, Craig. We met 17 years ago at a coffee shop in College Station, TX in our early twenties when we were both students at Texas A&M, and we have been together ever since. He is my best friend and better half. To know him is to love him. Together, we have two beautiful, joy-filled boys. Christopher is five, and Corban is three. So, in summary, I suppose I got to where I am through a lot of hard work, late nights, and God’s grace.
Did you always know you wanted to be a professor? What did the journey to your current profession look like?
On the one hand, no. I did not always know I wanted to teach and work in higher education. I more or less took each step not knowing exactly where the next would lead. On the other hand, I unequivocally knew I was called to education as early as 4th grade when I made all the neighborhood kids enroll in my makeshift summer school program, which was held in my garage—ha!
I come from a line of professors. My uncle is Dean of Humanities at Tarrant County College; my other uncle is a History professor at Austin Community College; my mom has a Masters in English and taught high school and college as I was growing up. So in a sense, I almost feel I was destined to become a professor, or at least an educator in some fashion. I have always loved working with students. It is an absolute privilege to teach and mentor youth who are at the crossroads of major life decisions. That I get to mentor these youth through teaching English, Education, or Leadership courses is simply a beautiful bonus.
After teaching high school English for four years while earning my Masters in Education and Language Arts, I decided to transition into a PhD program at Baylor. In my doctoral program, I began teaching, and I loved the academic freedom so immensely, I decided to make the shift from teaching high school to teaching college. In the 15 years since I graduated undergrad, I have been a high school teacher, an academic advisor in higher education, a graduate student, a professor, a program director, and a stay at home mom.
My vocational callings are to the gospel, my family, and education. But even still, I hold on loosely to my identity as a professor, as I know that identity is fluid, and only my identity in Christ is unwavering.
You teach Leadership courses at Baylor. What do you think college women struggle with when it comes to stepping out as leaders?
That’s an interesting question, one we frequently explore in my courses. I don’t think college women face leadership challenges that are any more or less unique to women in the working world. According to most leadership studies, Americans—male and female— report they feel women are every bit as capable at leading in the various career spheres.
A recent study I read from PEW reported women share the same leadership traits as their male counterparts, such as intelligence, innovation, vision, and overall management. And when it comes to compassion and organization, Americans actually ranked women leaders higher than their male counterparts. Where there still appears to be a noticeable, discernable gap is in the area of confidence and societal and institutional factors.
To offer a tangible example: Two years into my tenure track position as an Assistant Professor, I made the excruciatingly difficult decision to step off and step aside after the birth of my second son because the university did not have a maternity leave policy for faculty. There wasn’t institutional support to be a mother of a 21 month old, a newborn, and a professor. And, unfortunately, I did not have the confidence (or energy, in that season of life) to combat an unjust professional structure.
On an optimistic note, the pipeline for women leaders—politicians, professors, CEOs, and so forth—appears to be growing. Women have and continue to achieve greater educational gains since the 1990s. The last study I read on this showed women were earning 55% of all doctorates, and I don’t think the percentage is too much lower in the STEM fields. This is all to say, as our collective female confidence grows and systems begin to change, I think we will find less studies examining the struggle with female leadership and more studies examining what is inherently good about the differences in the way men and women lead.
Tell us a little bit about your work with The Heart of Texas Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition.
Perhaps, like many people who have a cursory understanding of human trafficking, I first learned of it through the movie Taken. There is also a Mira Sorvino made for television series I saw on Lifetime several years ago (cheesy but true). It’s safe to say by 2010 I was aware of the issue.
In 2011 Christine Caine came to speak at Antioch’s World Mandate. I’m certain she spoke on the issue, too. In 2013, I took a maternity leave from teaching as an Assistant Professor at California Baptist University. It was then that I emailed a contact at A21 and asked if they needed help with anything for 5-10 hours a week. Providentially, they needed help with curriculum writing, which I did for 4 or 5 months.
I helped A21 with their Bodies are not Commodities curriculum. I’m also conducting on going research on the curriculum. Three years after moving back to Waco, Texas, UnBound, a global human trafficking agency based out of Antioch Community Church, was looking to establish a citywide anti trafficking coalition. Currently, I serve as the Prevention subcommittee chair to our coalition.
How has working with anti-trafficking organizations shaped the way you approach female empowerment and confidence?
Combating human trafficking has most certainly informed the value I place on every person’s inherent dignity, significance, and immeasurable worth. When you fight for another’s right to flourish, to live, even, it very much puts into perspective how trivial the nuances of life can be. Advocating for human trafficking prevention and awareness has helped me rightly order what in life is important to me and ultimately to the kingdom.
Specifically regarding female empowerment, I think it is fascinating to look across the landscape of human trafficking stakeholders—social workers, lawyers, advocates, and so forth, and to see women are addressing this modern day injustice more than men. If at its core the definition of female empowerment is to give women the same opportunities that have historically been given to men, it is encouraging to see women fighting on behalf of victims who are predominantly women. What a beautiful picture of women fighting to redeem and restore other women.
Honestly, more than combating human trafficking, motherhood has taught me to reconcile the social chasm that exists between how to be a good mother but also a good steward of all the gifts the Lord has entrusted to me. I am thankful I stand on the shoulders of strong women who have gone before me to make it possible to use my talents at home, in the church, and in the public sphere. The narrative of what it means to be a working mom is changing for the better.
You've worked with a lot of amazing women and organizations. Have you ever struggled with comparison? Have you found ways to combat it constructively?
At one time or another, we’ve all struggled with comparison. It seems women are a bit more prone to this than men. Everything I have read on this topic indicates women pit each other against one another more than men do to each other. Men, whether by nature or societal constructs, tend to be better comrades. They find solidarity and support one another more easily than women.
Women, on the other hand, fall victim to scarcity mentality more frequently; they are frequently tempted to believe the lie that someone else’s gain means a loss for themself, and that simply isn’t true. The moments I find myself struggling with comparison are typically within my realm of my work as a professor. For example, if a colleague publishes a research paper I wish I had written or if a colleague is asked to lend expertise in some form and I believe I could have done it just as well. Those are hard moments when I have to remind myself that someone else’s honor does not take away from my own. At all.
I have also found cheering others on in their work is a healthy, biblical way to shift pity from myself and instead celebrate what God is doing through one of His daughters. And let’s be completely honest about what we perceive and what is reality. It’s easy to look at someone else’s book success or speaker travel schedule and then feel we aren’t accomplishing as much.
What we forget is it took that person over a year to write her book, and her travel schedule requires her to miss important events back home. So, not every blissful perception is actual bliss. And the overarching truth is: We need each member of the body of Christ to work unto His glory and in accordance to His plan. Keeping this kingdom perspective really helps remind me that it’s not about me or her; it’s really all about Him.
What verse have you found most encouraging in 2017 and why?
Lately, I have found myself meditating a great deal on John 3: 1-2
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
There is so much power in knowing our heavenly father loved us first, while we were still sinners. And once we came running into His arms, he bestowed on us an inheritance and love we most certainly did not deserve. But He does so because we are His children-- above all other identities. If we seem strange or different to others, do not lose heart. Our uniqueness is a testament of our transformation in Him.