When Omarah Macias was in middle school, kids made fun of the way she spoke. She had learned most of her English and Spanish from her father, who had moved from Ecuador to New York when he was 14 without knowing the language. So, her voice had a unique sound with a Spanish and Bronx, New York accent.
When they later moved to Pennsylvania, it became more evident the way she spoke set her apart from her classmates. Omarah was also one of the only students of color in her AP and honors classes. After heightened taunting, she started to change the way she talked.
“When I’m with certain people, I put on a different voice. My mind just started doing it automatically to assimilate into the environment, so that I didn’t create more differences between myself and the people I was with,” said Omarah.
Omarah, like many other people of color, was code-switching or adjusting her speech, appearance and behavior to make others feel comfortable and treat her fairly. The 29-year-old says code-switching became ingrained. However, since she became aware of it, she is trying to fight it and remain true to herself.
Omarah’s the first to acknowledge that her lighter skin and father’s economic status provided her with some privileges and shielded her from other forms of discrimination and oppression that other people of color face daily.
Still, those early lessons taught Omarah to have empathy for others, especially for those deemed ‘different.’
“My parents raised me to be aware of barriers and to not make assumptions about others. So, I don’t pass judgment on anyone and try to understand their perspective.”
The heartbeat of healthcare
The passion to listen and learn from others has served Omarah well. She graduated from Cornell University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. That led her to work in a mental health facility for five years, where she worked alongside nurses who inspired her to change her career path.
“Nurses are the heartbeat of health care. They don’t get enough recognition for everything they do. They are the face and heart of the treatment. Patients wouldn’t progress without them. I was inspired by the nurses and their compassion and realized that’s the role I want to play,” she said.
Today, Omarah is part of the honors program after serving as vice president of the Student Nurses’ Association. She’s writing a thesis about how physical and emotional pain plays a role in treatment retention. Her research is expected to help find ways to keep people with opioid-use disorder in treatment longer.
When she graduates, Omarah dreams of working as a pediatric nurse.
“Some people have trouble connecting with kids, but I enjoy the challenge. I also love to work with their families. That’s what motivates me, putting together the bigger picture and practicing holistic care for the child. It makes me feel complete and I just know that this is for me.”
New student group fights to change culture at CU’s College of Nursing
If you’re a nursing student who feels the culture at the University of Colorado College of Nursing needs to change, you can now turn to Future Voices. The student group was established last June during a time when news headlines reported police officers shooting Black Americans and the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
A nursing student who was outraged at what she saw on the news and questioned the university’s response wrote an email to the college asking it “not to turn a blind eye” to what was happening nationwide. Omarah Macias heard back from the assistant dean of student affairs and diversity. Shane Hoon invited her to a greater diversity, equity and inclusion meeting for faculty. But she quickly realized the group was missing a critical voice – that of the student – and decided to start an organization just for them.
Future Voices comprised of undergraduate and graduate students who work to create a safe and inclusive place for all students and prevent social injustices. The American College of Nursing (2019) says 90% of the nursing workforce is female and 81% are white.
One of the group’s goals today is to induct the first Black nurse who graduated from the University of Colorado School of Nursing in 1946 into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Zipporah Park Hammonds blazed trails for all women and people of color in health care, record-keeping and philanthropy in the face of extreme racism and prejudice. The beloved leader died in Longmont, Colorado in July 2011. Since then, her sons have nominated her to the hall of fame five times without success.
“As more women and people of color are finally being recognized for their contributions to nursing, healthcare and the sciences, we believe in joining our collective voices with her sons at this pivotal moment. This the year to give Zippy her very well-deserved recognition for all her hard work in paving the way for Black indigenous nursing students of color who came after her,” wrote College of Nursing students Salwa Bamba, Jessica Gonzalez-Avitia and Omarah Macias.
The group has already collected more than 1200 signatures on a petition to show public support for Hammond’s induction into the hall of fame. If you’d like to show your support, you can sign the petition.
Omarah started a student organization last year with the help of dedicated students to amplify underrepresented voices. Future Voices is a group of students who stand for diversity, equity and inclusivity at the College of Nursing. Their goal is to take collective action in support of anti-racist and anti-oppressive ideals and foster a more inclusive campus.
In just the last year, Future Voices has begun a high school outreach program, where 18 students at Hinkley High will be mentored by nursing students at the college. Omarah says the program will inform students about the many careers in the nursing field. Another Future Voices project is to prevent students from dropping out of college because of financial barriers by raising money to pay for their computers, stethoscopes, books and other supplies. The group is also gathering signatures to honor and induct the university’s first Black nursing graduate in 1946 to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. You can read more about Future Voices.