Students unite to be seen at Women of Color Collective Social

Women of color are one of the most overlooked communities on college campuses. At Ramapo, a predominately white institution (PWI), women of color struggle to find spaces where they feel like they belong and are supported amongst their white peers, which make up 56.9% of its overall student population, according to Ramapo’s Fall 2022 Enrollment Report. 

In efforts to create a welcoming environment for Ramapo’s women of color, the Women of Color Collective was developed in 2019 with the vision of being “an inclusive source of support, guidance and overall development for self-identified women of color on Ramapo’s campus.” Former manager of the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services Khalisah Hameed, class of 2022, is credited for establishing the Collective, something that many other institutions have on their campuses. 

Though Hameed no longer has the opportunity to see the Collective come to fruition, the current staff at the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services have been working to ensure the Collective and women of color on campus have a safe space to be themselves. 

“I was surrounded by white people… and I didn’t really know where to fit until I was scooped up by other women of color”

– Genesis Siverio

On Thursday evening, the first Women of Color Collective Social was held in the Alumni Lounges for students and staff that identify as women of color to come together for a relaxing night of bonding, networking, eating and learning about one another. 

“A lot of Ramapo’s cultural groups are women-led, and they also don’t have big turnouts,” said Sam Jones, who took over Hameed’s role as manager this fall. “I feel like that’s not because we don’t want to go, [but maybe because] we don’t feel comfortable.”

Throughout the night, the women participated in activities that had them up and interacting with one another, all in efforts to ask each other questions and build a sense of community and friendship. Questions ranged from “What pets do you have?” to “Why did you choose Ramapo?”

The latter question sparked further questions and discussions early in the night, posed by Marie-Danielle Attis, assistant director of the Center for Student Involvement and coordinator of the Office of Violence Prevention. She invited the women to compare their initial perceptions of Ramapo to how it has changed since actually attending. Many of the responses suggested that they did not realize how much of a PWI the campus really is, and they do feel effects of isolation or discrimination.  

Genesis Siverio, the student women’s outreach coordinator for the Women’s Center, who co-hosted the Collective Social with Jones, said her first time living on campus was last semester. Although she is a senior, she said it was the first time she truly realized she was at a PWI. 

 “I was surrounded by white people… and I didn’t really know where to fit until I was scooped up by other women of color,” she said. Siverio said she feels so much better now that she has a sense of community, but she still acknowledges how uncomfortable it can feel trying to fit in with other communities.  

“Being Hispanic is kind of hard because I don’t really know where I play most of the time. Some people don’t see me as a woman of color or I don’t feel 100% comfortable in all spaces,” she continued. “So I feel like being part of [the Women of Color Collective] is really important.”

This issue of representation and struggling to find community is not exclusive to students. College staff and faculty members who are women of color also deal with the reality of being at a PWI. 

“It has been a challenge coming to Ramapo because the representation isn’t there all the time, even on the staff side,” said Christine Millien, the office coordinator for the Educational Opportunity Fund. “But being able to come to a place like this, where you see women who are just happy to be together, laid back, finding a sense of community, that is important, and I want to do that throughout the campus.” 

According to the American Association of University Women, “only 5.2% of tenured faculty at bachelor-degree-granting schools are Black, and just 6.6% are Latinx.” The Women of Color Collective is a step in getting both students and faculty involved in an accepting, comfortable community.

Featured photo by Emily Melvin