Drawing inspiration from the principles of Kwanzaa, graduate student Destiny Maitland started the Women of Color Caucus as a way to connect women of color not just on campus but in the Rochester community.
The women were also inspired by the legacy of the Women of Color Circle, which started in 2012 after the killing of UR student Jeffrey Bordeaux. The circle’s monthly meetings have become a staple within communities of color on campus. The organizers of the caucus hope this event can be annual and do the same.
The caucus, which took place on Saturday, Feb. 9, hosted keynote speaker Lesli C. Myers-Small ‘92, who is now the first black female superintendent of the Brockport school district. Her address focused on the universal experiences of dual sexism and racism that women of color face and on learning how to triumph and remain resilient.
“Iron sharpens iron, girlfriends sharpen girlfriends,” Myers-Small said.
After the address, participants were sent to two workshop sessions and talks on Afrofuturism, learning to heal and protect mental health, and studying as a first-generation undergraduate. These discussions were led by Ashley N. Campbell ‘09, the Office of Minority Student Affairs advisors Sasha Eloi-Evans ‘05, ‘17W (Ed.D.) Claudia De Leon, Felicia Reed-Watt, and RIT professor Sharitta Gross-Smith.
The sessions were well-received by women of color in attendance.
Junior Aanya Myrie-Silburn, who spoke about struggling to balance her sense of identity with the other hardships she faces, said she drew solace from the caucus. “I can make it, you can make it,” she said to the audience as she stood to speak.
An attendee who spoke during the first-generation panel told the crowd, “This is a powerful experience. I would have loved to [have] this opportunity and an undergrad.”
For Maitland, as a key organiser, this event is her contribution to her community.
“I wanted this to be a space for women of color […] to allow for a bigger platform, and to also include other schools and expand the circle of women of color.”