I’m happy to see the University of Richmond celebrating Womxn’s History Month with a long list of events that honor the lives, contributions and legacies of cisgender women, as well as transgender and non-binary people, in the university’s past and present. (You can see the full list of events on Westhampton College’s website).
This month, I am especially committed to honoring womxn of color. There is a great deal to be learned at the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual identity and class.
For example, there’s much to be gained today, with the national conversation around sexual violence sparked by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, by appreciating Rosa Parks’ commitment to ending sexual violence against black women. Parks was not someone who radically changed the course of history because she made a snap judgment out of exhaustion or even laziness. As a lifelong activist, Parks’ commitment to racial justice necessarily motivated her activism against sexual violence and advocacy for reproductive rights. Sexual violence and reproductive justice are matters of racial justice, just as ending racism is crucial to effective feminist organizing.
And personally, I have found a great deal of inspiration from the incredible brilliance, creativity and courage of womxn of color – people who often have the least amount of power in society. I’d venture to say that I am "obsessed," so much so that I recently co-wrote a book on the topic.
I edited an anthology, "Counternarratives from Women of Color Academics: Bravery, Vulnerability, and Resistance," with Manya C. Whitaker, associate professor of education at Colorado College.
The aim of our book is to challenge the dominant narrative about womxn of color professors and students as passive victims of racism and sexism in higher education. Rather, the 28 black, Latinx, Asian-American and American-Indian women who contributed to the anthology highlight the ways in which they leverage their professional positions to challenge the status quo in academia, define success on their own terms, harness bravery and embrace vulnerability in a profession that rewards detachment and neutrality.
Dr. Whitaker and I have been invited by women, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), sociology and rhetoric and communications to speak about our anthology at a panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, in the International Center Commons.
We will be joined by two contributors to the anthology: Patricia Herrera, UR associate professor of theatre, and Archana Pathak, Virginia Commonwealth University senior faculty specialist for Inclusive Excellence and assistant professor of gender, sexuality and women studies. The panel will be moderated by Andrea Simpson, associate professor of political science.
Rather than simply describing the book to a UR audience, the panel discussion serves to celebrate UR womxn of color students, staff, faculty and alumnae. I’m thinking in particular of the womxn of color who regularly inspire me, like Jaide Hinds-Clarke, co-leader of the Shades of Pride affinity group for LGBTQ+ students of color and recent Black & Bold award winner. Also, like Alicia Jiggetts – future Virginia governor and U.S. President – who defines her career on her own terms, insisting on studying criminal justice as my department disbanded the major!
And, womxn of color student-researchers of the Race & Racism at UR Project, namely Jennifer Munnings, Ayele d’Almeida, Destiny Riley, Dom Harrington, chair of the 50th Anniversary of Residential Desegregation Committee, and Kristi Mukk, whose research made public the reprehensible “lynching” photo from Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s 1980 yearbook photo.
I think of former students like Madieth Malone, Isabelle LeSane, Nadine Marsh-Carter and other womxn of color alumnae who broke barriers at the university. And, more recent alumnae like Mariah L. Williams, who founded Black Girls Meet Up and steadily becomes more visible as an expert voice on race, gender and urban planning in the city of Richmond.
I wish to honor the tireless advocacy of Dr. Herrera, who works toward social justice both on campus and in the Richmond community through performance, art, teaching and scholarship. Dr. Simpson remains the loudest voice challenging injustice on campus, while maintaining her honorary title as the sweetest, most supportive professor at UR.
Dr. Bedelia Richards – one of the most brilliant scholars I know – succeeds as a public scholar in offering accessible tools to effectively talk about race and interrogate and dismantle institutionalized racism. Professor Alicia Díaz uses dance to honor the lives of Latinx people in the U.S. and globally; her recent choreographed student performance, featuring vocalist India Henderson, is an example of her use of dance specifically for amplifying the voices of womxn of color. And, Dr. Julietta Singh, who creates spaces for her students to apply queer, feminist and anti-colonial theoretical content from her classes to real-life instances of injustice on campus.
We must also recognize the incredible work of the womxn of color who run the university. That includes the Center for Civic Engagement staff members Kim Dean-Anderson and Jessica Washington, as well as former UR Downtown staff member Ebony Smith, now the executive director of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project. Also, Dr. Tina Cade, Chantelle Bernard and Adraine Gibson, who collectively run three offices: Multicultural Affairs, Disability Services and the Oliver Hill Scholars Program. Plus, Westhampton College leaders Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni, Assistant Dean Zara Sibtain and area coordinator Tanesha Dixon, who regularly center womxn of color in their programming, most notably the annual Connecting Womxn of Color Conference. And, self-described troublemaker Hope Walton, whose leadership has spurred great expansion of the Academic Skills Center in her 20+ years at the university.
But I am also thinking of those womxn of color whose names I do not (yet) know, or whose creativity and brilliance are overlooked or even stifled by the university. I hope that we can inspire current and future womxn of color at UR to harness their bravery, igniting a movement of womxn of color who make daily commitments to self-definition, self-determination, authenticity and resistance.
Please join us in our celebration of womxn of color at UR.
Eric Anthony Grollman is a newly tenured associate professor of sociology and affiliate faculty in women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Richmond.