Women-of-color matter: Notes on contribution and representation at Dickinson

“Have you cited a woman of color today?”

My colleague and friend Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor, English, Ohio State University regularly posts this question on social media as a directive to other writers, thinkers and thought leaders. Her request is not racial or gender cheerleading. Rather, her query responds directly to the underrepresentation of female voices of color in the academy and in other arenas of intellectual production.

When thinking about our undergraduate educations, current or past, how often did our course syllabi engage us with the ideas and arguments of philosophers, essayists and theorists of female identified persons, particularly those of African, Asian, First Nations, Latinx and/or Multiracial descent? This is not just about representation, it is about human value. Notably, the premise that the voices of women of color matter.

Professor Mitchell’s directive, the rise of the #MeToo movement for gender equity and more prominent national conversations about intersectionality inspired me to curate a series of programs for 2018-19 focused on women of color as artists, activists and scholars called “A Kaleidoscope of Excellence.” The series, which begins in early October, also reflects a more local concern. Dickinson’s own data consistently reveals that women of color, especially African-American and Latinx students are the least engaged and satisfied at Dickinson. Data must always be understood contextually and as a description of patterns, not absolutes. We know that this satisfaction/engagement gap may not be true for everyone in these demographics but speaks to a relative consistency.

As such, the Popel Shaw Center is committed to communicating to female students of color that they matter. We see you, we recognize you and we want the community to see you. This means engaging the campus with the contributions of a distinguished group of artists, scholars and writers whose ideas and contributions are not always visible or appreciated.

The United States has always been a multiethnic society, but activists and organizers have had to constantly advocate for the civil rights, inclusion and equity for all citizens. President Obama’s 2008 election led many people, some of whom never acknowledged race and ethnicity as important structures, to breathe a sigh of relief that we were suddenly “postracial.” I have written about the folly and danger of this in other venues.

Alas, anyone who harbored such illusions has hopefully been awakened by the vicious sea change in political, social and media discourse toward overtly discriminatory sentiments and actions masquerading as “benign” points of view.

I raise this because the act of recognizing women of color as a class of people whose creative expressions, intellectual articulations and activist efforts warrant the attention of all people still feels radical, revolutionary even. Scholar Brittney Cooper’s 2017 book Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women was compelling both in the quality of its execution and for its focus on black female writers and activists Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Barrier Williams, Pauli Murray, and Toni Cade Bambara as intellectuals who speak to contemporary concerns. Not just figures destined for encyclopedic and biographical entries.

Highlights of the fall “Kaleidoscope” series include the following:

October 3, 2018
6:30 pm @ Stern Great Room

Author Elaine Hayes’s acclaimed 2017 biography Queen of Bebop chronicles the life, art and influence of Sarah Vaughan, who is regarded alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as the part of the vanguard of vocal jazz interpretation. Despite this critical respect she is less familiar to the public than either of her peer vocalists. Vaughan was a formally trained musician (with piano and organ training) whose intricate understanding of bebop, jazz and pop and adventurous improvisational style made her less commercially accessible than Fitzgerald. Though she struggled with racism, sexism and commercial exploitation her backstory is less well-known than holiday’s life.  Hayes’s talk will illuminate multiple facets of Vaughan’s artistry and life.

October 10, 2018
7 pm @ ATS

Jacqueline Patterson’s Clarke Forum Lecture “Environmental Racism in the Age of Climate Change” is an opportunity to engage audiences in the cultural aspect of environmental activism. Social scientists and consumer advocates have consistently revealed how people from racially underrepresented communities and lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to be exposed to hazardous waste and toxic chemicals from corporations than other groups.  The changing regulatory climate has further endangered safeguards established to protect the health of citizens.

Patterson is the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Ms. Patterson is the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She has served as coordinator & co-founder of Women of Color United, and as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist working on women’s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, emergency response, and environmental and climate justice. She has also served as a senior women’s rights policy analyst for ActionAid, assistant vice-president of HIV/AIDS Programs for IMA World Health, outreach project associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, research coordinator for Johns Hopkins University, and as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, West Indies.

November 5, 2018
6 pm @ Althouse 106

A quarter of Dickinson’s students are Division III varsity athletes. How might student-athletes experience the college in unique ways?  What is their role in addressing campus concerns and larger social issues? Professor Tomika Ferguson’s research and teaching encourages us to think about female student-athletes of color in an intersectional manner that recognizes their identities as students, as women of color and as athletes navigating the undergraduate learning and social environment. Her lecture, “The Politics of Disruption: Considerations of Gender, Race, Space, and Place in Athletics” (co-sponsored with the Women’s Gender Resource Center) addresses the following: “College campuses have been seen as idyllic spaces that encourage activism and unhindered self-expression, spaces where diverse thought is embedded into community and culture. Our current socio-political climate has raised questions regarding privilege, identity, and voice in forms of self-expression. Concerns about the scope of higher education institution’s responsibility to sustain safe and inclusive environments resonate with faculty, administrators, and students. In this presentation, Dr. Ferguson argues that methods to address equity and inclusion within higher education can be identified by exploring the politics of disruption found within Black women student-athletes’ college experiences.” Learn more about Professor Ferguson here.

Education has great potential to become a social equalizer. The way we get there is to normalize the practice of including multiple voices, not just ideologically or politically, but culturally. The topics Hayes, Patterson and Ferguson cover specifically acknowledge the role of race and ethnicity, gender and other aspects of identity in our society. Their presentations have cross-cultural, interdisciplinary relevance accessible to anyone in our community interested in these respective topics. I welcome and encourage everyone to attend. Learning about the experiences and perspectives of multiple kinds of people and valuing the diverse range people who can impart this knowledge, is the mark of an authentically rich education.

For more information on the Popel Shaw Center’s fall 2018 events please visit: http://www.dickinson.edu/info/20227/popel_shaw_center_for_race_and_ethnicity/3321/programs_and_events

Written by Vincent L. Stephens, Ph.D,  Director, Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity
September 24, 2018