The Connecting Women of Color Conference, held Friday, Feb. 21 at the Jepson Alumni Center, served as an open platform for discussion among undergraduate women of color through a keynote speaker and optional breakout sessions. The theme was Empowerment and Improvement: Self, Wealth and Health, a term coined by Charm Bullard, associate dean of Westhampton College, to focus on meaningful and significant issues affecting women of color.
"About three or four years ago, I used to do focus groups and what we found was the same feedback," Bullard said. "Students were looking for a place to feel supported, and women of color in particular were looking for a safe space." The sessions were formed to meet this need, she said.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Judy Pryor-Ramirez, director of civic engagement and social justice at the New School's Eugene Lang College.
The first half of the sessions was titled "Soup for the Soul." Session A was exclusively for women of color and session B was open to allies of women of color. Session A featured a storytelling session highlighting how women of color could work to support each other, while session B emphasized how allies of colored women could strengthen this support.
The second half consisted of two sessions titled Get Me Bodied and Money, Power, Respect. Attendees were able to choose which one they preferred to attend.
"The Get Bodied presentation focuses on how the media portrays women of color and how it affects how they look at their bodies," said Tracy Cassalia, manager of health education and wellness. The session looked at how music, TV and music videos portray women of color and the kind of messages these platforms are sending, she said. The presentation also examined healthy body images and the importance of maintaining that health, Cassalia said.
The Money, Power, Respect session underscored aspects of wealth, credit and portfolios as focal points for financial concerns.
"I hope that the conference attendees realize that beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes, and that the media has set very unrealistic expectations for all women, regardless of color," Cassalia said.
Bullard organized the first conference in 2008 after several women of color approached her with similar concerns and experiences. "I just thought it was interesting that so many women [were] having similar experiences and what I noticed was that all of these women felt alone," she said. "If we can figure out a way to bring these women together, that would be really powerful."
This year, approximately 117 people registered for the conference. After, attendees were given the option of completing an evaluation. In past years, the conference has always received positive feedback, Bullard said.
"I really want women of color to walk away from the conference feeling supported," Bullard said. "Feeling like they got some tangible resources that can assist them in their long term and short term planning."
Bullard emphasized that networking was one of the most significant parts of the conference, and attendees were able to join a networking reception at the end of the conference to make those connections.
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