Sierra writes about the impact of an English professor’s encouragement in opening her mind to her possibilities outside of the narrowly circumscribed life she was expecting from being raised in Christian patriarchy:
One evening, as Bill handed me a paper I’d written with his comments, he asked, “Did you ever think of being a professional writer?”
I stared at him, afraid to breathe. “Yes,” I stammered. “I’ve always wanted that. But how could I afford to live?”
“There’s more than one way to write,” Bill answered. “You could go to grad school. You could become a professor.” My eyes widened. I could become a professor? The borders of my world seemed to explode, running out in all directions like shockwaves from an earthquake. I could go to grad school? I felt like I’d just been told that I could go to the moon. I recalled the sign I had seen the previous year: “From Homeless to Harvard.” I could be that girl who overcame, who rejected the life laid out before her and forged a new one. I could make something of myself. Bill thought I could be that girl.
I thanked him dazedly, took my paper, and went home.
“How did you do?” My mother asked as I walked in, clutching the paper with my heart ringing as loudly as my ears. I looked at her and tucked my waist-length hair behind my ear, grinning. “I got an A.” And I went upstairs to think about how big the world had just become.
From the other side of this equation, I am a bit dispirited when I see how often perfectly good women philosophy students are shocked and skeptical when I tell them that they are doing great in class discussions and to keep it up and that they could even major in philosophy if they were interested.