Megan Tagle Adams is coordinator at UMBC’s Women’s Center.
When I’m trying to explain the importance of ethnic and racial diversity, one of my more illustrative anecdotes describes a time when I took a picture with a stranger because we had the same ethnic background. It happened while I was going to graduate school in an overwhelmingly white, rural college town. I was downtown one night when a young woman approached me, confirmed her suspicion that I was Filipina, and excitedly told me that she was Filipina, too. She decided to commemorate the discovery of our shared ethnic heritage with a blurry photo and a brief hug; after a few moments of small talk she was gone and I never saw her again. My white companions that night thought the encounter was ridiculous and baffling, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to understand the need she likely felt to bond with someone in that way. Or to empathize with the relief and familiarity that I felt upon seeing a woman who looked like my mother, like my sister, like me—a desire I didn’t even fully realize I’d held so strongly.
The comfort and connection I felt that day and still remember so vividly was a response to the sense of isolation I’d felt stirring the past couple of years after I left a university in California where commitment to diversity was evident beyond just enrollment demographics. It was a response to the implicit and even explicit erasure I’d experienced as a woman of color academically and socially, and even within supposed social justice circles. And it was a response to my resentment and frustration at being positioned as a native informant or token brownish person whenever I made that particular aspect of my identity known. My experience has further convinced me of the importance of supporting conscious community building among women of color and promoting their voices and visibility. As such, one of my priorities as the new coordinator of the Women’s Center is to establish a new group for women of color undergraduate and graduate students.
The response from the UMBC community thus far has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the launch of the new group, which I believe further speaks to the existing gap in student outreach and development. Diversity is consistently referenced as one of the university’s core values and strengths; this group is meant to complement the diverse student body with more intentional programming designed to respond to the interests and concerns expressed by underrepresented students.
First and foremost, this group will provide a safe and supportive space where women of color can participate in difficult dialogues about their perspectives and experiences. By thoughtfully addressing the myriad differences in identity among women of color, we will make intersectionality central in our work toward empowerment, education and social justice.
Ultimately, I hope that through facilitating consciousness-raising, networking, and leadership development, this group will also initiate campus-wide programming to advocate for meaningful reflection and critical engagement around race, gender, inequality, and activism. By making a concerted effort to attend to the needs of women of color and other marginalized students, the Women’s Center remains dedicated to creating an environment where all students are able to thrive both academically and personally.
Contact the author, Megan Tagle Adams, at email@example.com.