Shades of Pearl, a student organization that celebrates young minority women, hosted their spring symposium on Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality, “Speak Your Truth Sis!: The Lived Experiences of Women of Color”.
According to the Shades of Pearl page on Wittenberg’s website, the symposium was organized to center on the “narratives of Black and Brown female bodies,” whose lives are often “silenced, trivialized, or exploited by dominant groups.”
The morning presentations were dispersed throughout Shouvlin and the student center and included a talk on the hypersexuality of Latina women, a round table discussion about the identity crisis of women of color and a poster/paper presentation on Black discrimination within the medical field, among many other equally meaningful topics.
There were guest presentations given by Autumn Smith, ’15, and Olivia Montgomery. Smith, who works as a freelance translator and English Team Manager for a Japanese audio cultural guide called “ON THE TRIP,” spoke on the unique experience of being Black in Japan. Montgomery works with the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence and presented on Black women’s experience with sexual violence during the #MeToo movement.
In the afternoon, the event moved to Geil Lounge for a panel discussion with other guest speakers. The panelists included drag queen Amaya Sexton; Lauren Welch, ’10, the founder of the Women’s Leadership Guild; Heather “Byrd” Roberts, the program manager of Young Chicago Authors and a spoken word poet, and Kelly Davis, a professional comedian.
The panelists were energetic and engaged with each other and the audience, laughing at each other’s jokes and affirming each other’s statements about the struggles of living both as Black people and as women in America.
Welch touched on her experience as the vice president of Concerned Black Students (CBS) when she attended Witt and commented on the friction that occurred between CBS and the campus administration.
“There were a lot of powers that be that didn’t like how bold we were, but sometimes you have to do what you need to do to protect your people,” Welch said.
“There’s stuff that happens that you just don’t have a language for,” Roberts said on the importance of creating a space for the Black and Brown populations in predominantly white institutions (PWI) like Wittenberg. “I’m not your respectable Negro…you’re taught that you have to act a certain way and talk a certain way in order to get ahead.”
Sexton embraces her identity as a biracial transgender female impersonator. “We’re all royalty,” she said emphatically. “The minute you realize that, your life is so much better…never forget that.”
That same evening, to close the day’s events was a spoken word and comedy show in Founders, featuring Davis. The day was important reminder to Wittenberg of the intersectional realities that women of Color endure, and the work that is being done by many on campus to give a voice to those women.