RIT/NTID Diversity Spotlight

Full name of the subject of the spotlight.

[ID: Portrait of Jessica Contreras]

Jessica Contreras


Research Program Coordinator

NTID Research Center on Culture and Language (CCL) and Rochester Bridge to Doctorate Program (Bridges)

If you could describe being a woman in one word, what would it be? No explanation needed.
It would definitely have to be resilient.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
To me, it’s a month to truly, really, recognize the challenges that women have to face. We’ve always been undervalued in many different aspects. Even in simple aspects such as a relationship, voting, promotions in the workplace, and balancing home life. I think women’s history month is a time to recognize, yes, we deserve equality no matter what our gender is in EVERY aspect. Just because we’re women does not mean we shouldn’t be equal to men. Factoring in diverse identities-for me being Deaf, hispanic, a mother, a caretaker, and more-makes this even more important for women to stand out and overcome systematic barriers.

A time to recognize women who have families and work at the same time should be honored. People who are taking care of their families, this is such a large role. I have a daughter now; I want to make sure that she recognizes systematic barriers. It’s an overwhelming feeling. How can I instill and empower her to stand up for herself and her beliefs even when others or society may not agree? 

Name a woman or heroine who inspires you and why?
My nana, Dorothy Jean Nasisse. She is my great-great grandma.She was born in 1919 and I had the privilege of getting to know her until I was 19. It’s crazy to think about because women were not even allowed to buy homes at the time without their husbands present. Women did not get the right to vote until 1920. 

During this time, she went against every grain of societies’ views of how women should act, behave, and journey through life. She went to the Peace Corps; she was in the Navy when women were “allowed” to serve. She divorced her husband during a time that was unheard of and raised 2 kids on her own. She went to Barbados, she traveled. She explained weird stories – people were astonished that she was a woman who did all those things when it was hard in the 40’s. She was a very strong person who went against the grain for everything that wasn’t “right” back then. That stuck with me when I grew up.

From her I learned, no matter what, you stand up and do what you believe is right even if others disagree. That was amazing and had a big impact in my life. I’ve lost a few friends and found the right friends by doing that. 

What assumptions about women would you like to see change?
That we have to take care of everything! I’m very fortunate, in my household my partner shares equal responsibilities. I can’t imagine working from home while raising a child without his support. At the same time, there are many changes that have taken place, there’s still not appropriate access to childcare. Especially for those who are responsible for families and our jobs at the same time? This is why women are amazing and resilient.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I have to say this: I’m proud of failing, or rather, recognizing that I wasn’t being valued in the right place even though leaving would look like I failed to other people. I was a part of a Ph.D. program… I made it two years in, but I left. I wasn’t failing my classes; I passed all the classes but I did not complete the program. I’ve always wanted to achieve my doctorate, but it was not a healthy experience or journey for me.

I was personally hurting because I struggled with mental health, oppression, and loneliness while trying to navigate a doctoral program. It was hard as a BIPOC Deaf person trying to connect in the academic world and seeing my peers progress in ways I never had the opportunity to do. It was the hardest thing I did because I labeled myself as a failure. When you’re so fixated on one path and one way, it can challenge you to the core of your being.

Now, looking back, I’m so glad I failed. I feel so much happier, so much freer, and am in a much better place. Back at home at RIT/NTID… As I’ve healed, I was right to walk away and I look forward to returning to a doctoral program when the time and program is a right fit. No path is worth being unhappy.

Those who adapt to challenges and overcome them can find success. And that’s why I chose resilience as my word. That, to me, was an accomplishment.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Life will not look like you want it to, but adapting will make it worthwhile.

I see so many students who are young and want to get so much done quickly and have this idea of a correct path of how to get there. Those who graduate have a hard time and think, “What’s my next step? Am I supposed to be where I’m at now?” 

My advice, you’re right where you need to be and there is no correct path. Searching for new opportunities is what makes us all successful and sometimes the unexpected will take you to places you never imagined. 

How has RIT/NTID aided you in your professional or academic journey? What resources have you utilized on campus that has positively impacted your journey?
It’s my home! It’s where I really found myself and cultivated myself through the investments of those around me.

One specific individual would be Dr. Peter Hauser. He has accepted me no matter what I’ve done. If I made a mistake, he taught me how to navigate it. My flaws, my successful moments; all of it. He cherished me throughout it all. I nominated him for a Mentoring award in 2014, back when he had 50 students that he had mentored. I can’t even imagine his list now which includes students, staff, and faculty. His passion for growth and mentoring others is admirable and something I hope to carry on throughout my life.

His idea of mentoring is fostering the growth of the next generation. Things take time, we grow, and the things we learned before may not apply to us now, but our knowledge will continue to evolve. He gives his team a chance and nurtures us as we grow by giving us feedback and identifying our challenges. How often do you get that?

Share a fun fact about yourself.
I love being outdoors and connecting with nature. Specifically, near mountains. I enjoy hiking, watching aurora lights, and stars. If you cannot find me, I will most likely be outside making the most of life.