On Monday night, the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ services held a kickoff event for their new Women of Color Collective.
The collective will focus on the uplifting of women of color on Ramapo’s campus, especially for first-year students. Sophomore Khalisah Hameed, the Women’s Outreach Coordinator for the Women’s Center, opened up the night with a speech about why she became an activator of the collective.
“I’m honored to stand here today as the leader of the women of color collective because we do not just come together today to kick off this group,” Hameed said. “We are taking steps to ensure that less first year and professional women of color are coming into this community feeling like they do not have a comfortable place to go and they are too far from sisterly support.”
She shared her own experiences as a first-year student at Ramapo, and feeling unsure of her place as a woman of color. She felt that diversity was promoted in the mission statement and the brochures, but hard to find once she actually arrived.
“I am sure that many of us have encountered white-dominated spaces, such as classrooms, campus community meetings, etc. where race and race relations on campus were being discussed, and we were looked at to be the spokesperson of our culture,” said Hameed.
“We are here to affirm that we deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, we are not too passionate about our heritage, we are not to be tokenized,” she said. “And we are not ungrateful because we call out inconsistencies between the college's recruitment plan for diversity and its actions and attitudes towards us once we get here.”
She went on to discuss the different expectations that have been placed on minorities, especially women of color, to fit a certain mold and not to speak out about issues like these. When they do, as she said, they are judged as acting like animals and are viewed as lesser.
“Appropriate emotion is allegedly not acceptable in academia, and life experience is not valued as proof that the intersection between sexism and racism is not just a theory,” she said.
The collective, as she explained, will be a community focused on bringing women of color together on the predominantly white campus of Ramapo, creating opportunities for them to flourish in a space that, historically, has not welcomed them.
These opportunities will hopefully include a mentor program between first-year and professional women of color on campus, and workshops outside of holding events.
The kickoff also featured keynote speaker Cheyenne-Tyler Jacobs, a self-published author, spoken word poet and CEO and founder of the “She Will Speak” series.
Jacobs was invited to share her experiences carving out her own space as a writer and creating a space for women to share their stories in her series' anthologies. She noted how important it is not only to listen to women, but to listen to women at the intersections of marginalized communities, too.
“If you want to support women, you have to support women through the intersects,” she said.
Jacobs is passionate about the power of not only supporting others, but stepping aside to let their voice be heard. She believes that everyone is their own platform, that everyone has the space to speak, and those with more recognition owe it those with less to clear the space for them to be heard.
“Why aren’t we passing the mic and saying, ‘this isn’t my space, this is your space now,’” Jacobs asked.
The night went on with a spoken word performance by Jacobs, who then spent time speaking about her experiences and what opportunities she has had since starting she will speak.
“She Will Speak” not only offers women the chance to submit their work and stories to the anthologies, but also takes part in speaking at events and hosting webinars about different topics within women’s issues.
The next webinar will be offered on March 24 and more information can be found through Jacobs’ Instagram, @shewillspeak.
The Women of Color Collective hopes to be an empowering space to bring more women like Jacobs to the forefront of recognition, showing more young women of color that they can be represented in academia.
“We are here to celebrate the fact that we exist in these spaces,” Hameed said. “But to also recognize that a lot of us do not do so without the premise of survivor's guilt or imposter syndrome. We are here to affirm that there is a space for our emotions and our intellect to co-exist within higher education.”