When seniors Arisbeth Gallardo and Ailyn Monarrez stepped onto the University of Portland campus as freshmen, they felt underrepresented as women of color and secluded from the greater UP community. Four years later, they have officially started the Women of Color Club (WOC) — a place where they finally feel represented and understood.
“There are people of color at UP, it's just hard to find that representation when you get here,” said WOC member, senior Chelsea Kau. “You may not outwardly see it, but there are pockets of community for us. You just have to go out and find it.”
The founders of WOC feel passionate about making UP a diverse and inclusive campus where all people can feel seen and heard. Since their freshman year, co-presidents of WOC Gallardo and Monarrez have wanted to make a change with diversity on campus. They are excited to see the impact of WOC in the UP community.
“We want people to know that we're here and we accept everybody,” Monarrez said. “We really want to make an impact on campus and be a voice for those who believe they don't have one.”
Throughout generations, women of color have been the target of underrepresentation in government and leadership roles as well as discrimination in the U.S. Research indicates that women of color face twice the risk of experiencing discrimination due to the combination of racial and gender biases.
“Because we are empowering women leaders, we really want to be a club of recognition, representation and be a resource for other women of color,” Monarrez said. “But we want to do it in a professional, and academic way.”
Currently showing 20 club members on Engage, WOC has been gaining traction in the student body and has had high student participation at events and collaborations with the Diversity and Inclusion Programs, according to Monarrez. Despite their newness, WOC has become involved in student activities and has been a part of many events on campus, including the Día de los Muertos Ofrenda Workshop, with more events planned for the remainder of the semester.
Through this club, WOC hopes to draw attention to the issues they deal with and acknowledge the lack of representation on campus and in the professional world.
“We as the woman of color club want to empower other women on campus,” Gallardo said. “We want to provide tools and create a safe environment where other women can come and speak about their concerns.”
While UP is still a predominantly white school, there has been roughly a 39.4% increase in diversity across the student body since the 2012-13 academic year. The 2019-20 freshman class broke university records as the most diverse freshman class yet.
“This school is majority white, and when I came, it was even more so. I didn't see the diversity I do now. Because now there are these clubs where I can see myself represented and I can be a part of,” Monarrez said. “I feel like for freshmen, it's become a source of hope for where diversity and inclusion is going in the future, as well as a place of belonging.”
WOC is a club for anyone who identifies as a person of color, accepting everyone and any ally that works to create a diverse and inclusive community.
“I think UP has done an amazing job with recruiting specifically people of color,” Kau said. “Not because of their diversity numbers or inclusion numbers, but because diversity of thought is very important to have, otherwise no one's learning anything new.”
In the creation of the WOC logo, one of the biggest aspects Monarrez and Kau focused on was creating different shades of the hands to show the greatest amount of representation.
“We understand that there are all different shades of people, based on skin tone,” Kau said. “We also wanted to represent our allies, those who aren't people of color are still on our side, and we fully love their support.”
Starting up this new club has been a long and tedious process, from beginning development about two years ago and writing the WOC constitution, to having their first event at the end of last year, and finally being recognized as a formalized club this semester.
Gallardo and Monarrez said they are receiving lots of support from other clubs and UP community. WOC aims to set the foundations for bridging the gap from diversity to inclusion on campus.
“It's been amazing to see that all the things I wanted to change about UP are actually happening,” Kau said.
WOC is in collaboration with the career center for an event Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. with the Emerging Leaders Program in St. Mary’s Lounge to help students of color find mentors and internship opportunities.
According to Monarrez, to become involved in WOC, students can participate in some of their upcoming events and signup to be a club member through Engage. She said WOC welcomes everybody and every ally, regardless of gender or race.
Havi Stewart is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.