By Alexandra Huzyk ’20
Women Empowered, a club recently created in 2013 on the Providence College campus, seeks to empower multicultural women through various discussions and activities. On Wednesday, October 25th, the club hosted a panel of five women of color to talk about gender, equality, and intersectionalism in 2017.
Upon being asked about the struggles they have faced as women of color, Michelle Saunders, a panelist with background in leadership development and adult education, responded, “Well how much time do you have?” Saunders shared that the hardest experience she has faced has been “trying to change people’s paradigms on what a woman of color is.” Another panelist, Laurie Moise ’12, stated that in the government there are not many women in power; never mind many women of color in power. She stated, “It’s hard seeing no one like you. It really makes you question: am I supposed to be here? Are they taking my voice seriously?”
As a professor at Roger Williams University, Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart has faced similar challenges in the realm of academia. She explains, “I don’t typically fit the mold of a professor because not only am I a woman, but a woman of color with a Caribbean accent.” These differences, she states, lead to different reactions from students, which include “verbally challenging my syllabus, my assignments, my grading, or even in a subtler way when they choose to call me by first name without my permission.”
Katrina Alicea, an Administrative Coordinator in the Office of Residence Life at PC, asserts that, “The biggest challenge I have faced in the work place is having to establish respect and credibility in every single relationship you have.”
In response to the various challenges these women face in everyday life, all of the panelists seemed to agree that a good support system and physical activity are crucial in relieving stress and staying positive.
Rosa Ramos ’17, an employee of the organization College Visions, said, “The work I do is very emotional. When you read children’s essays, you start to read about their mental health and their home lives.” She said that using an outlet, like the gym, is a healthy way to alleviate anxiety that might come from the workplace.
Alicea stated, “A strong support system of friends and family, and having coworkers and mentors that I can go to for advice is extremely important.” From another perspective, Moise shared that, as a woman of faith, prayer helps her to get through hard times.
The panelists were also asked about the ways in which women of color can speak up for themselves, particularly in a society where white supremacy and ignorance are undeniably present. When Saunders faces ignorant comments from others, she said, “I ask questions to get them thinking, or I ask them to cite their sources.” Also, Moise said, “Speaking up for yourself can be hard, especially in a new field or when you don’t look like everyone else. But learning how to articulate your point in a way that shifts someone’s perspective is essential.”
According to Gentles-Peart, there are risks and difficulties in speaking up for yourself or for a marginalized community. She argued that because of this vulnerability, one must be strategic in how and when he or she chooses to speak up. Ramos stressed that “understanding why you need to speak up” is the first step in confronting others.
Alicea insisted that even in a field where women of color may be lacking, young women should not be deterred. She said, “There’s a first for everything. If you’re passionate, go and live your dream because there’s no ceiling restraining you.”
Phoebe Jean ’19 said, “I learned a lot about how to be a woman of color in the workplace, and I feel more confident after hearing that these women have gone into these difficult places and were able to achieve great things.”
“I came because I wanted to hear what the speakers had to say,” said Jarely Paulino ’18. “I really liked the part about talking to other women and networking with them.”
The panelists were able to give students advice from their experience as women of color, and drew connections between issues of gender and equality as they applied to their lives.