Women of Color Leadership Network strives to provide community, acceptance

By Serena McMahon

(Hannah Youssef (left), Kaylee Cortes (center), and Hema Ramachandran (right), all WOCLN staff members, plan out future events. Serena McMahon/ Daily Collegian)
(Hannah Youssef (left), Kaylee Cortes (center), and Hema Ramachandran (right), all WOCLN staff members, plan out future events. Serena McMahon/ Daily Collegian)

Women of color at the University of Massachusetts and the Five Colleges looking for a supportive socializing space have turned to the Women of Color Leadership Network since 1993. WOCLN, a subset of the UMass Center for Women & Community, continues to help provide a place for marginalized identities to form community today.

By providing this crucial space for women of color to gather and participate in educational programs, WOCLN has contributed to making a positive academic, professional and social experience for local students.

“Places that support marginalized people are crucial to the university experience,” sophomore project manager Hannah Youssef said. “It’s nice to be around people that look like you, that understand you and can relate to certain experiences you have as a woman of color.”

Providing an outlet for self-expression for all women of color at UMass and the Five Colleges is a major focus of the network, Youssef added.

Director Hind Mari said her passion of working with women, specifically women of color, pairs perfectly with WOCLN’s endeavors. She said she is continually working toward making the network accessible on campus.

She also explained how the group is bringing awareness of issues pertaining to women of color to the campus and community.

“We want to be the place for women of color to connect with each other,” Mari said.

Parts of this awareness includes the isolation that women of color can experience on a predominately white campus, including the lack of female professors of color for students to look up to, Mari said.

Not only does WOCLN provide a space for women of color to congregate, but it also seeks to mentor and train students in leadership skills while they continue in their academic endeavors.  According to Mari, one focus is on training their undergraduate staff in personal and professional development by cultivating a supportive environment.

Media and design coordinator Hema Ramachandran echoed the sentiment, and added that WOCLN has empowered her to reach her personal goals of learning professional development and facilitation skills.

Students looking to get involved with WOCLN can stop by their office on the first floor of the New Africa House and can also attend the different events the group hosts throughout the academic year, Youssef said.

According to outreach coordinator Kaylee Cortes, one of WOCLN’s most anticipated events of the year is Body Politics, an event that allows participants to express themselves in an artistic manner. Last year, the event consisted of digital storytelling.

Cortes came across Body Politics when she was searching for students on campus that related to her as a woman of color. She explained that the event provided a stage for “a bunch of different experiences to be put together in a non-judgmental space.”

Her digital story was writing a letter to her future daughter, which read, “This is how you survive being a woman of color. This is what you’re going to experience, this is what I’m going to teach you through things I’ve learned.”

Cortes said the letter was not just for her future kids to learn from, but for her own personal growth as well.

In addition to Body Politics, which takes place during the spring semester, any woman of color at UMass or the Five Colleges can attend their social hours every first Wednesday of the month or participate in their spoken word and drumming night on Nov. 19 at 7:30pm at the New Africa House, where students can perform pieces focused on social justice.

Youssef said the events and space WOCLN create are important for women of color in order to discuss the realities they face every day.

“Racism is very real, both in our campus and community, whether it is intentional, unintentional or institutional,” she said.

She added that groups like WOCLN make “a world that doesn’t tend to support you as a woman of color, a lot more easier to go through.”

According to its website, WOCLN supports and celebrates the endeavors of Black/African American, African, Latina, South American, Chicana, Asian-Pacific Islander, South Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Arab/Arab American, Caribbean, biracial, multiracial and all Indigenous women in the Five College area.

Serena McMahon can be reached at [email protected]