In order to provide a comfortable space for vulnerability and transparency, three Messiah staff members kick-started a new initiative—the Women of Color Support Group. The goal is to allow female students of color to share their experiences related to their culture, gender and ethnicity, and find solidarity through narratives.
Marcelle Giovannetti, an Engle Center counselor and her former colleague Candace Johnson, along with Cherisse Daniels, Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Programs, planted the seeds for this support group in Fall 2018. With Messiah being a primarily white campus, they understood the challenges of navigating a society that subliminally perceives non-white females as subpar to their male counterparts, both white and non-white. Giovannetti said, “As facilitators, we model authenticity about our own journeys and seek to serve as mentors for female-identifying students of color.”
However, Giovannetti and Daniels stress that despite the facilitators’ experience and roles, it is the students who delineate what they want from the meetings and choose the session formats. These have evolved throughout the school year, from open sharing to reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming.” So far, the group has discussed microaggressions, code-switching, addressing stereotypes and ways to cultivate emotional intelligence.
“One of my favorite sessions was when we approached the subject of interracial dating,” Daniels said. “Whatever topic we choose, this is an open, safe space where anyone can share their narratives and have their community respect and validate each other’s experiences.”
The members deeply appreciate the camaraderie among the Women of Color support group. “I love that I am able to connect with other women of color on campus and that we can be vulnerable with one another,” Symone James, a first-year business major, said. “The support has actually helped me to continue my education here as a business major.”
Moving forward, Daniels has emphasized the importance of staying consistent with the group mission of keeping their discussions in a safe space. Women of color are often in a position of educating other groups who don’t understand their journeys, and it is refreshing to simply be among kindred hearts who can instantly relate. Therefore, the group’s immediate plans don’t include chapels or panels. However, it is still a place to lay down some groundwork for the women’s personal futures.
Fatimah Jan, a sophomore social work major, said, “I believe it’s our mission to flesh out our social experiences and strategize how to advocate for ourselves. I’m proud to be a woman of color, and I’m going to try my best, alongside these beautiful women, to represent that to the society around us.”
Updated at 11:02 p.m. on 3/25/19. The support group is not a project of the Engle Center.