Texas Border Business
Bronze Star-decorated combat commander Colonel Lisa Carrington Firmin recently spoke to STC students, staff and community members at the Technology campus auditorium as part of a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
Title IX has been credited with profoundly changing education in the United States by barring sex discrimination in the nation’s schools.
Firmin, originally from the Rio Grande Valley, shared her life story, read passages from her new book “Stories from the Front: Pain, Betrayal, and Resilience on the MST Battlefield” and led a frank discussion on military sexual trauma, hardships and combat.
Firmin said she hoped students received the key message of the book, which is that this issue “affects anybody and everybody.”
“I think it’s important to put a lot of programs like this in front of students so they understand what’s going on in the world,” Firmin said. “This is part of social justice and it’s part of equity for all. They need to understand that not everybody gets treated the same way. This is a unique opportunity to talk about sexual assault, sexual harassment, as well as disparities while serving.”
Firmin became the first in her family to graduate from college when she earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. From the time she was a young girl, Firmin said knew she wanted to be a leader, which influenced her decision to join the Air Force. At 21, she was the sole female officer in a squadron of fighter pilots in New Mexico. When Firmin retired as a colonel in 2010 she was the highest-ranking Latina in Air Force history at that time.
The colonel says she is proud of her service and the strong bonds she created with other military professionals, but acknowledges that now is the time to share the full reality of the harassment she endured early in her career.
“We need to make sure we talk about how just because you’re different doesn’t mean you should be treated differently,” Firmin said.
This was Firmin’s first time speaking at STC about her advocation for change within the armed services. Firmin said it took her many years to speak out, but encourages others to do the same when they are ready.
“I’m trying to destigmatize seeking therapy and destigmatize asking for help and standing up when things happen to you,” Firmin said. “You don’t have to be in a toxic work environment. You don’t have to endure these kinds of disparities. You can get help and it’s now against the law.”
The STC Library has partnered with the Department for Institutional Equity to present a series of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the US federal civil rights law that was enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972.
STC Librarian Elizabeth Hollenbeck said this speaker series also conveys a message of empowerment.
“I think it’s a topic that people are sometimes afraid to speak about or even express interest in hearing about,” Hollenbeck said. “I’m really grateful that we’ve had so much support. We’re doing this Title IX programming series and bringing in speakers to talk about different aspects of the importance of inclusion and empowering people.”
Carla Balleza, STC Cosmetology department instructor, said she was moved by Firmin’s presentation and thinks it’s important for people to continue to speak about their experiences and open a dialogue.
“It does help other women come forward and share their own story,” Balleza said. “A lot of times I feel like women, in general, but especially in the military, will keep it quiet because they’re afraid of retaliation. They feel embarrassed or ashamed, but in reality, there’s so many resources and help that they can receive if they just build up that courage to share their story.”
The next event in the library series will be a special Zoom webinar entitled “Transgender Protections Under Title IX” on Tuesday, Nov. 15 with attorney Andrew Ortiz from the Transgender Law Center. The webinar will look into how Title IX helps transgender students and what changes can be expected in the near future.
Registration is required but participants will be able to ask questions anonymously through the Zoom platform. This event is free and open to all. For more information about the series, visit library.southtexascollege.edu/category/library-events/.