Monk-Morgan to discuss being the ‘only one in the room’ Monday

Chance Swaim

As a black woman working in math and science on a college campus, Kaye Monk-Morgan said she often is “the only one in the room.”

With her race, gender, degree, background in science, place of birth, or any number of identifiers, Monk-Morgan often has one or more things that set her apart, no matter what room she steps into. 

Sometimes, she’s in a room full of people with doctorates. She may be the only woman, the only person of color, the only one without a doctorate or the only one without white or gray hair.

Monk-Morgan serves as the program director for Wichita State’s Upward Bound Math and Science Center. She holds two degrees from Wichita State — a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in public administration. 

Monk-Morgan will lead a discussion Monday to help students navigate situations in which they are the only one in the room of a certain age, race or gender. The discussion, co-sponsored by the Black Student Union and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is titled “The Only One in the Room,” and will run from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday in Room 142 of the Rhatigan Student Center. 

“We’ll start by talking about how you get an invite to the room in the first place,” Monk-Morgan said. “Depending on what the room looks like, what is the work one does putting together a personal brand that garners an invitation into that space? We’ll also discuss what a person’s obligations are in that space once they get there. We’ll talk about the cost.” 

Monk-Morgan often gets asked to answer questions as a representative of her group at-large, whether that be women, people of color or first-generation college students. 

“You feel as though you have to speak on behalf of the millions of people who don’t have [a] voice in that setting,” Monk-Morgan said. “That can be daunting. I know what my opinions are, but my opinions may or may not be reflective of 98 percent of everybody else.”

Part of the discussion will address how to engage people in discussion who come from different backgrounds and perspectives without re-enforcing stereotypes. 

“The question becomes how we do so without a chip and without provoking people to say, ‘Aha! I knew you were going to be like this,’” she said. 

Monk-Morgan said being the only one in the room of a certain background can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how a person deals with the situation. 

“It can be any number of things that set you apart,” Monk-Morgan said. “That can be either a bonus for you, or it can be a detractor for you, depending on how you approach it with that particular group.”

“I’ll talk about how to hold your own and hold a level of confidence to be able to speak in a space, and certainly not from the sense of being an expert, because this is a living, breathing experience,” Monk-Morgan said. “Hopefully it will enable people to be more confident going into these situations.”