“I can’t hide in my own home,” she said.
Isha Rao, a senior theater major constantly found herself fighting with low self-esteem in a predominately white town. Native from India, Rao was one of the girls considered to be fair skinned, so much so that her best friend saved her number in his phone as “short white girl”.
However, Rao often forgets that she is a person of color after living in the United States for two plus years, but is reminded when she is labeled as an ethnic minority.
“Back home in India, I wasn’t a brown girl, I was a plain girl,” Rao said.
Thinking that her college experience was just like everyone else’s, Rao questioned why her experience is something that people should talk about.
Breaking the glass ceiling is something that Lyosha Gorshkov, Assistant Director of the Women’s and Pride Center believes should be done.
“[We need to] bring people who are left behind and marginalized to talk about their experiences,” Gorshkov said.
As part of a Rock Talk series launched by the Women’s Center and Pride Center, “What Does It Mean To Be A Women Of Color In Today’s America,” brought students and faculty together to listen to their peers and professors talk about their experiences.
The event, hosted by the Women’s Center and co-sponsored by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and Queens Empowering Every Notable Sister (Q.U.E.E.N.S Org.) started the conversation by inviting women of color to speak about their experience from their own perspective.
Similar to Rao, Brooklyn Graham, a freshman political science major with a pre-law track had to fight negative stereotypes throughout her life, even as a newborn.
Graham said that the color of her skin as a baby had negative effects towards her family, as her grandmother didn’t know she would be a biracial child. Graham’s great grandfather shut off her mother from his side of the family, after Graham’s birth.
“The fact that my skin is brow will continue to cause trouble throughout my entire life,” Graham said.
She was unable to go to certain birthday parties when she was a child and she lost her date for her seventh grade dance because her date didn’t want to send pictures to the family of him with a black girl.
Graham said this made her think that there was something wrong with her, and from there forward decided to become an advocate for black people.
“The way I carried myself intimidated a lot of people,” Graham said.
Graham said that people in her town would wait for a black person to mess up so that their hateful views could be justified.
Breaking these negative stereotypes is something that the first Rock Talk aimed to start.
Karmyn Ramirez, a second year master student in student affairs and higher education identifies as Latinx as a pansexual disabled women and said she is constantly trying to break negative stereotypes and prove that she is educated and not overemotional.
Ramirez said that she finds it hard to find acceptance in her own community and constantly switches from Hispanic to White over and over.
“[People tell me] I’m too white for Hispanic people, and too Hispanic for White people,” Ramirez said.
Along with not being accepted by either community, Ramirez feels threatened by the white patriarchy, telling a story about her time in the healthcare system where a lot of women of color aren’t believed for their systems.
On January 17, 2019 Ramirez was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
After a visit to the doctor, where her information was recorded incorrectly, Ramirez said she would fight to be believed and to be heard.
“I have experienced this too many times,” Ramirez said. “One day it may cost me my life.”
Similarly to Ramirez, Adriaunna Chambers, a junior communication major and criminology minor experienced times in her life where others didn’t believe that she was capable of great things.
Chambers read an untitled poem she wrote saying that there was a period of truth and struggles with her ancestors, stating that she still feels it is a part of her identity today.
“I wear statement pieces because you don’t seem to hear me,” Chambers said. “Or maybe you’ll get the picture after.”
President of Q.U.E.E.N.S. and senior public health major with a minor in adaptive physical therapy, Jariah Campbell said that colored women are making a mark in today’s America and achieving more and more each day.
“I’m able to navigate and make a difference, however it hasn’t always been this way,” Campbell said.
Conditioned to think it was impossible to be a successful black woman without struggle, Campbell found herself being overly critical of herself.
“I unconditionally love myself,” Campbell said. “I’m unapologetic. I’m ambitious. I am beautiful. I am a black woman. A woman of color. Not one person can take that away from me.”
Not only did students speak of their experiences, but university professors did as well.
Dr. Pease-Hernandez, a professor in the communications department was raised in a bilingual family yet said that her authenticity as a Mexican American is still questioned.
Pease-Hernandez told a story about how she tried to navigate through someone not seeing who she was when she described herself as a minority. Pease-Hernandez said that her fellow coworker said she saw her as a woman and not a minority.
Humbled to be in company with strong women, Pease-Hernandez said that she is proud to speak Spanish, loves her traditions and food, but also loves her dad who’s American.
“I know who I am,” Pease-Hernandez said. “I’m a strong Mexican American woman who people often don’t see as a woman of color. You can’t tell me who I am or how to identify.”
Fellow professor Dr. Monique Alexander, although not able to attend, sent in a video about the blue and orange bubble of Bucknell University where Alexander made her home.
She brings up the question of how to create a bubble at Slippery Rock, not based on social privilege, but still providing a community and safety for black women on campus.
“To create a sense of belonging and safety for black women on college campuses, we should hire more women, black women and women of color across all levels and positions within our organization,” Alexander said.
To build more of a community, Alexander hopes that others will appreciate the unique characteristics of a black women’s identity. Alexander said that she spends plenty of time learning how to change herself to please others.
“If we are able to accept all of the identity and uniqueness within black women, they’ll feel safe and belong, and respected amongst all types of communities,” Alexander said.
The Rock Talk speakers shared their personal experiences throughout the evening to an attentive audience of students and faculty.
To learn more about the Women’s Center and Pride Center and to stay tuned for more Rock Talks follow @sruwomenscenter and @srupridecenter.