Women of color unite

By
October 30, 2003

Mills College Weekly

Following the success of securing the Solidarity Lounge, the
women of color community convened for the annual Women of Color
Summit on October 18 to revisit past goals and formulate new
objectives centered on recruitment and retention of women of
color.

“This was a great opportunity to come together with other women
of color on campus along with faculty of color and administration
and staff to talk about strategies to become effective support
systems for each other and tap into available resources for
creating a healthy environment for women of color,” said junior
Ebony Cain, one of the facilitators.

According to director of student diversity and first year dean,
Lisa McRipley, many of the goals from last fall’s women of color
retreat were achieved. There has been a 28 percent increase in
diversity along with increased visibility of women of color on
campus, in prominent leadership roles and in classrooms.

With these acknowledged achievements the focus of the summit
turned to two new goals: raising the quality of education at Mills
and constructing a “women of color community.”

Ideas to elevate the level of education at Mills -which ties
into retention of students of color- centered around a proposed
mentorship program for incoming students of color.

“I think that mentoring is definitely important,” said Jennifer
Ortiz, one of the organizers. “Peer mentoring in communities of
color can curb racist encounters.”

Junior Nancy Jo Turner agreed that instituting a formal
mentorship program will especially benefit freshwomen of color that
don’t feel that this is the place for them.

“In order to retain women of color you have to provide a support
group for them,” said Turner.

According to McRipley, other goals to improve the quality of
education at Mills include increased recruitment of faculty of
color and the curbing of derogatory statements from white students
in classes by all faculty. Another overarching goal of the summit
was building unity among the diverse groups of students of color.
The summit entitled “In Unity is Strength” provided a space for
women of color to build and define solidarity in the interests of
alliance building.

Keynote speaker, activist Betita Martinez, co-founder and
executive director of the Institute for Multiracial Justice
emphasized the concept when she gave the participants a “handy
recipe” for alliance building against racism.

“I feel that students of color are very interested in connecting
across age, across racial lines and cultures and finding
similarities to working together against oppressive forces,” said
McRipley.

In addition, many of the participants who had been dealing with
feelings of isolation and were considering transferring out of
Mills found support among the diverse representations of students
of color at the summit.

“People of color are going through the same stuff that I’m going
through and that makes me feel that I can stay here as opposed to
transferring next semester,” said freshwoman Lauren Brown.

Sophomore Catalina Vazquez-a first year student- echoed the same
sentiments.

“Being at Mills is frustrating and intimidating because there is
a lot of privilege here among people and division,” said
Vasquez.

“I just didn’t feel that there was a space being a woman of
color. Being at this [event] is definitely inspiring. For one, I am
not alone and there are people here that are trying to build that
network for us so that we’ re successful not only in academics but
bringing our own leadership.”

While the summit highlighted the accomplishments of the women of
color community, student leaders feel that there is still work to
be done to combat racism at Mills.

One area of concentration remains on the newly established
Solidarity Lounge.

“The Solidarity Lounge has already been won over, but yet there
is still work to make it a permanent space,” said Ortiz.

According to Ortiz, she and others have witnessed disrespect of
the space from white students and particularly from white graduate
students.

“People are not attempting to get educated on what the space is
about. People are making really rude comments and cursing that they
didn’t care what the space was about, that it was just a study
hall,” Ortiz said.

The space, an anti-racist space for women of color and their
white allies according to Ortiz, has been classified by some white
students as a racist space.

However, Ortiz noted that “there are white students who
understand what it means to be anti-racist and what it means to
have privilege.” These are the people she wants to tap into to
educate the rest of the white population.

Furthermore, Cain notes the difficulties in making “true
diversity not just something you preach, but something that [the
college] is continuously striving for.”

Cain cited the dismantling of the Alumnae Diversity Planning
committee and the fact that the ASMC diversity chair is not written
in the constitution as acts that stand in the way of fully
diversifying the college. Administration, faculty and students need
to be held accountable to making this goal a reality, said
Cain.

Despite these obstacles McRipley believes in the commitment of
the students to create change.

“This is a new year. With the opening of the Solidarity Lounge
there is more evidence of the enthusiasm and commitment/dedication
of students of color in creating a community for all students at
Mills. I would say apathy [among the students] doesn’t exist at
Mills.”


Women of color unite was published on October 30, 2003 in News

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