Photo by Jemina Garcia
Astrid Wang is a second-year student at UCLA making waves as a champion for people oft-dismissed for their identities in male-dominated STEM fields. As a non-binary Asian-American, Wang has encountered the dark side of the tech industry as it denigrates and even preys upon queer people of color. However, with calm determination and cheekish cojones, Wang has thrived despite the odds, and they hope to make changes so people like them are never taken advantage of.
Known for enjoying symbolic irony, Wang purposely and vehemently utilizes technology to expose this dark side. Wang self-publishes articles of their sometimes harrowing experiences of harassment and violence online with a literary voice that is all at once sensitive, bold, and razor-sharp. They are a vibrant online personality, often joining and advocating the work of other public groups with similar agendas and beliefs. Some of these groups are UCLA-affiliated; consequently, Wang has worked with many UCLA students who have reached out online for support with their similar experiences.
It should come as no surprise, however, that Wang has dealt with cyberbullies who demonize them, and not just for their accredited exposés and public advocacy work. Wang has been dealing with cyber-harassment for who they are ever since they decided to work in STEM. Lurid messages from their computer science classmates flood their inbox every so often on Facebook. “It’s not like I don’t expect them, but I still get upset,” they sigh. Every time it happens, it confirms their belief that there is still a lot to be done about sexism in the tech industry. “We need to keep encouraging women and other marginalized groups to go into STEM fields since males still make up an overwhelming majority of the demographics. And we need to finally educate men in a way that lets them relate to women’s issues as human issues, so that they can’t so simply filter out stories like mine,” Wang stated.
In an industry known for belittling and shutting out women and those Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB), Astrid Wang is a hero — but they don’t like to think that and they don’t want to be one. Wang dreams of a future wherein people like them in tech are no longer exceptional but expected. Wang is determined to succeed as a programmer and to encourage other people like them to succeed in their chosen STEM professions until it’s no longer heroic, but normal.
“If you’re from an underprivileged background or kept away from learning because of marginalization, but you want to go into STEM? I understand that it feels really hard now,” Wang said. “There is so much to be done to make up for your lost opportunities. But if you stick to [your dreams] and you graduate, everything will work out in its own time… As you slowly improve, you do eventually get more control over what you can do and who you’re surrounded by. As time goes on, and you get a better understanding of yourself and your needs… the anger and frustration and sadness you need to address… you will have the strength to push back against toxic influences and through hard experiences,” Wang promises harshly. They are poised yet electric when they declare this, voice low and fierce, eyes a bright dark.
It’s surprising, then, when they suddenly slump — steel turned to dew. There are only heroes because there are villains. And Wang has unquestionably faced their fair share.
“Otherwise… I just hope things do get easier. I really, really hope so,” Wang concluded.