Ugly Betty Actress to Students: “Our Job Is to Make Labels Disappear”
February 14, 2012
Ugly Betty actress America Ferrera has won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her critically acclaimed roles in television and film. But she doesn’t always get every role she wants. In fact, sometimes, she can’t even get an audition.
“I’ve had some pretty upsetting moments where I haven’t had the opportunity to get inside a room to pursue a job because I’m not a white, Caucasian woman and that’s painful,” the actress, who is of Honduran descent, said. “Those moments come up every now and then. Directors say, ‘She’s too ethnic’ or ‘She’s not really Hispanic.’”
Ferrera came to UMass Boston on January 31 to speak about how race and class have affected her career and success as part of the kickoff to the Women’s Leadership Initiative, a program that is part of the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement (OSLCE).
“My biggest job is to make the audience not see those labels,” Ferrera said. “We all have the power to do that in our own lives. Our job is to make labels disappear by showing the person that we are.”
Joane Guillet, a senior from Boston, introduced Ferrera to the crowd of students, faculty, and staff in the Campus Center Ballroom.
“America Ferrera presents herself to us not as a celebrity, not as a diva, not even as someone requiring praise. She is extremely humble and I really respect her,” Guillet said. “I thought her outlook was empowering as she expressed her decision to stop wanting to be the girl that everyone wants or every director wants to cast, but to face her identity and love herself enough to reach for anything she felt empowered to do.”
The goals of the Women’s Leadership Program are to provide female students with more opportunities for skill development, raise awareness of gender inequality and social injustice amongst women leaders, and empower female students to be active participants across disciplines, active citizens in communities, and leaders in future careers.
Sherrod Williams, director of the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, says the idea for the initiative came about in the summer of 2011 through conversations with students and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Patrick Day.
“We wanted to do something that went beyond just building skills and doing workshops. We wanted to empower and uplift our female students to overcome obstacles they face while they are students and when they graduate,” Williams said.
“We want our women who graduate from this institution to literally lead the world,” Day said.
Nakeeda Burns, a junior sociology major from Roslindale, designed the logo for the Women’s Leadership Initiative.
“Witnessing the planning stages and constantly seeing students excited about the kickoff only adds to my anticipation for the upcoming events that the women's leadership initiative will be holding. In particular, I am looking forward to the event called ‘The Balancing Act’ because it sheds more light on what it’s like to be a mother and a student on campus, and I think there can be a lot of positive and insightful dialogue around that topic,” Burns said.
The Women’s Leadership Initiative has four more events planned for the spring semester as part of its Dialogue and Discussion series. Visit the program’s webpage for topics, dates, and locations.