Origin Story: The Women of Color Caucus at Oregon State University

The Women of Color Caucus originated in January of 2018 at the Oregon Women in Higher Education Conference (OWHE). Bouquet Hargar, Jasmine Brown, and Azadeh Ghanizadeh met and united at this conference at a closed event centering women of color. The OWHE Women of Color Caucus Breakfast inspired the organizing campaign that resulted in the Women of Color Caucus at Oregon State University. The breakfast organized by OWHE, and the social mobilization it catalyzed, demonstrates how a simple congregation of women of color can produce expanding and enriching organizing possibilities. The ongoing conversation that was started at this breakfast examined the unique challenges and opportunities facing women of color in higher education. Having forty or more women of color from all across Oregon in one room, was an extremely empowering sight for Bouquet, Jasmine and Azadeh. The excitement from these discussions were transferred back to OSU and continue to animate activities, workshops, and resources geared towards addressing the unique situation, and unique potential, of women of color.

Prior to the formation of WOCC, Oregon State University lacked any member-based, community-oriented, resources for women of color and allies who recognize and value the contribution of those figures who identify as women of color. In this environment of scarcity, a small cohort of three organizers expanded their grass-roots community to a much larger group of over thirty women whose participation in gatherings, casual lunches, and visioning exercises continues to generate interest at Oregon State and beyond. The interest and support for this community was, and remains, overwhelming. Building this community momentum was pivotal for the members of our informal committee to imagine what our mission statement, goals and even leadership style would look like as a formal organization at Oregon State. By the end of Spring term in June 2018, a formal constitution was drafted in the hopes of expanding our group into a formal, institutionally recognized organization. This process would not have been possible without the collective efforts of members such as Lan Doan, Winni Wang, Regine Yaites, Kendra Sims, Bouquet Hargar, Jasmine Brown, and Azadeh Ghanizadeh. As of October 15, 2018, the Women of Color Caucus became an institutionally recognized student organization at Oregon State University. By this point in time, the Women of Color Caucus comprised of a 10-member leadership team, 30 recognized members, and 100 members subscribed to our weekly newsletters.

The Women of Color Caucus (WOCC) aims to celebrate, empower, and advocate for women of color at Oregon State University (OSU) by focusing on the professional development of women of color in all disciplines to enable them to become successful contributors to their field. This mission will be accomplished by providing support, community, and resources for women of color at OSU, while enriching OSU with the contributions of often silenced people. WOCC seeks to center issues, knowledge, and experiences of women of color, and provide a safe space to build meaningful connections, and support the advancement of women of color.

Our goal now, as a member-based, community-oriented organization, is to produce goals and practices that are actionable and that contribute to the enrichment of all women of color—not just one or some—at Oregon State University. To this end, we reject all structures of power and logics of domination. We do not what to create an organization with one or some people at the center and relegate all other participants to the role of mere spectator. As evidenced by our horizontal leadership apparatus—a steering committee of ten women of color—we recognize that power is present in “the very mechanisms of resistance to power,” and tailor our efforts against the reassertion of domination and hierarchy. Knowing that hierarchies emerge even within organizations who oppose domination, such as our own, we are careful and deliberate in including the participation and recognizing the contributions of all women of color.

 The great struggle against inequality must be egalitarian and shared, otherwise injustice and abuse of power will reappear. In the spirit of Angela Davis, we call upon our community to enact “lifting and rising,” to allow the contribution of all women of color who wish to participate in this organization. We insist on opposing the re-inscription of new hierarchies which, especially in would-be progressive spaces such as higher education, come to replace old hierarchies.

Within this larger constellation of ideas, we have enacted the spirit of collaboration and shared struggle in a ten-person committee of leaders—all coequal members of the committee—and all contributing vital knowledge and resources to this community. We are proud to boast a large steering committee consisting of our esteemed colleagues, Elizanette Lopez, Lan Doan, Jasmine Brown, Alexa Diaz, Winnie Wang, Regine Yaites, Azadeh Ghanizadeh, Kendra Sims, Emalydia Flenory, and Minerva Zayas—scholars and scientists ranging across numerous and diverse disciplines—microbiology, forestry, literary studies, public policy, women gender and sexuality studies, and public health. With a gathering so rich and talented, we have successfully participated in a food drive for the homeless, formed partnerships with similar organizations, and given a place for unique scholars at Oregon State to express their talents.

None of this would have been possible without the women of color breakfast at OWHE. In recognition of this event, and its enriching influence, we see OWHE as an organization that will recognize the urgency of issues faced by women of color and note the vitality of our contribution to higher education and beyond. We look forward to continuing our relationship with OWHE and expanding organizing opportunities at OSU and across the nation. The challenges faced by women of color are legion. Our position as raced and gendered subjects situate us at the bottom of pay scales and opportunities. While we celebrate and aspire to growth, we do not wish to diminish the arduousness and pressure of what it means to live at the intersection of white supremacy and patriarchy—what it means to be suppressed by men of color and white women—what it means to be cornered by your own people and tried by the larger community.

OWHE, in providing a singular congregation for us and by us, enabled WOCC to become what we are today.  The early members of WOCC appreciate the meaningful connections that were fostered at the 2018 OWHE Conference. By sharing our Origin Story, we hope to acknowledge OWHE’s role in encouraging our members to enact systematic change while also being dynamic leaders at Oregon State University. In the same breath we hope to inspire other OWHE members to imagine all the possibilities that can stem from attending an OWHE conference. The members of the Women of Color Caucus at Oregon State University thank OWHE for carving out space for women of color and for inspiring OWHE attendees.

In recognition of these challenges, and the growth potential it provides, WOCC continues to strive for equality, enrichment, and fulfillment for all beings.

 

Jasmine K. Brown is a graduate student in the College of Forestry Forest Ecosystems and Society Program at Oregon State University. Azadeh Ghanizadeh is a graduate student in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film at Oregon State University. The two can be reached via email at jasmine.brown@oregonstate.edu and ghanizaa@oregonstate.edu for follow up!

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