Women of color

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Temple News honors Women of Color, an organization that offers support to a diverse group. Last year, junior strategic and organizational communications major Aisha Folkes did not know

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Temple News honors Women of Color, an organization that offers support to a diverse group.

Last year, junior strategic and organizational communications major Aisha Folkes did not know that a per chance email from a friend would lead her to becoming one of the first scholarship recipients from the newly-formed Temple University Women of Color group.

“My friend randomly sent me an email,” Folkes said. “I had no clue [about TU-WoC]. I went to their bazaar in the Student Center atrium the year prior, but didn’t know who held it.”

The scholarship fund is just one of the efforts of TU-WoC – a multi-cultural networking group comprised of Temple faculty and employees. The group was founded out of a networking event led by Marie Amey-Taylor, Ph.D., the assistant vice president of learning and development for human resources, and Tiffenia Archie, Ph.D., the director of faculty recruitment and retention in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership.

Amey-Taylor said TU-WoC was born after a group of women connected to Temple noticed a group of men on Main Campus who would meet regularly and plan professional development events.

“We asked the women [at our first meeting], ‘What do you want?’” she said. “Women want the opportunity to get together and do things. This was a group of women really interested in having needs met.”

Now in its third year, TU-WoC sponsors opportunities for women of color including brown bag lunch discussions, a book club that caters members’ reading interests and a trip to an African-American dance show by the Philadelphia Dance Company.

Some events have been a bit more personal. “Sharing Our Stories,” a performance in August 2011 brought together a group of women to share stories about why they were proud to be women. Archie said the event was similar to “The Vagina Monologues.”

“It came from the personal stories of the women involved,” she said. “They wrote their own stories…[and] for some, it was their first time even being on stage.”

“Sharing Our Stories” was just one of the ways TU-WoC boosted morale among group members. Archie noted how a networking event helped one employee gain respect from her supervisor.

“There was a tremendous change in her confidence,” Archie said, citing that she received a positive letter from the supervisor.

Archie said she was astonished by how well the networking events bridged a barrier between different hierarchical levels of university employees.

“There almost needs to be some research behind it because it’s such an anomaly,” she said. “It’s so unique. People who are vice presidents [are] uniting alongside people who are administrative assistants.”

Amey-Taylor, who is in her 22nd year as a university employee, agreed that it’s rare to see a group that functions so well together.

“I’ve been around a long time and have been part of a lot of different institutions,” Amey-Taylor said. “People put a lot of energy and time in. I have never really witnessed a group come together like this.”

The group has seen an increase in membership. At one of its conferences last year, there was an anticipated group of 50 participants and approximately 100 arrived. There are more than 200 people on the Blackboard listserv for the organization, as well.

Archie said the impact is even greater, reaching across cultures and backgrounds.

“I think the reach is much broader, and not just for African-American women…It is broad for all kinds of racial and ethnic diversity,” she said.

Both Archie and Amey-Taylor said that because of this dedication and support, it is rare that members do not accomplish their set goals. One of the main dreams was the creation of a scholarship fund that would be able to provide book stipends to students.

This project was partially funded by a bazaar hosted in the Student Center atrium, at which members sold cookbooks containing ethnic recipes ranging from soul food to Latin cuisine.

For the first time in 2011, TU-WoC was able to award $500 scholarships to three undergraduate students. Senior scholarship recipient and psychology major Rochelle Cassells said just applying for the scholarship helped increase her awareness.

“[Receiving the scholarship] has helped me truly consider what it means to be a woman of color, something I hadn’t given much thought,” Cassells said. “I’ve come to embrace that role in my day-to-day life which I think has been a tremendous addition.”

The three scholarship awardees – Cassels, Folkes and senior marketing major Deann Cox – were invited to attend a banquet in their honor along with all other scholarship applicants in an effort to create a more professional connection with members of the group.

Folkes said that the banquet helped her to learn more about the organization itself.

“When I got to the banquet I was pleased to see women that I knew from various departments of the university,” she said. “I loved hearing about the initiatives they do including the book club and trips.”

Though some students had not known about the group before, Archie said that its next phase will involve a greater outreach to undergraduates.

Archie said this will help spread the affirming message that TU-WoC gives to women of color that, “we exist we have value, we add value…and we’re here.”

Anthony Curtis can be reached at anthony.curtis@temple.edu.

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