From Sept. 27 to 28, the Womxn of Colour Network hosted its annual Womxn of Colour Network Retreat. Around 40 students showed up for the overnight trip to eat s'mores, socialize and learn from an admirable group of faculty and staff from Iowa State University.
The Womxn of Colour Network meets twice a week to give a voice to underrepresented and minority groups of women at Iowa State. According to faculty adviser Ashley Garrin, the organization provides a place for women of color to share their experiences, their authentic selves and their ideas with one another.
"I think it is awesome that students — women of color students — have this space on our campus," Garrin said. "There is not a ton of women of color right here at Iowa State."
The program started through a grant for diversity in 2011. The current organization organizes events, retreats and the Womentership mentorship program at Iowa State. Social events planned outside of the bi-weekly meetings help the students get to know one another and socialize.
"It started as that initial kind of temporary grant, but it has been sustained through various university partners throughout all this time," Garrin said about the birth of the network.
The organization recently added new members to the executive board, and the change has been reflected in their plans for the future. The organization plans to host an exhibit called "Interrupt the Space" to represent their goals through visuals and art.
According to Garrin, Womxn of Colour Network events are not exclusive to one ethnicity or any certain type of person.
"This is like a variety of people from various backgrounds […] it is just an interesting collection of people," Garrin said. "Obviously, you can create this type of community in other organizations or other things that you do, but to have one that is dedicated to it I think is really cool.”
Garrin said she did not have an organization like Womxn of Colour when she attended Iowa State for her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“I think just having a space to build community and shared spaces is important,” Garrin said. “Also so that they can reflect on their experiences to make sure that they are not dreaming about what is happening to them.”
Garrin commented on how she keeps motivation for this network and where she finds her greatest inspiration: the students.
“I am just continually encouraged by the work that the students do, the things that they think of,” Garrin said. “This spring they are going to do an exhibit in the Multicultural Center, and it is called ‘Interrupt the Space.’ It is all about how women of color show up in spaces and various ways to interrupt the space, but [portrayed] through art and visuals. I think it is going to be completely awesome. I am so here for whatever, however they want to carry this out. They are super inspiring.”
The opportunity to be faculty adviser was not something Garrin sought out, but something that was offered to her. She’s grateful the opportunity found her.
“At first, when they asked me to be the faculty advisor, I was just like, ‘Can I? Do I have the credentials to do that? What does this mean?,’ Garrin said. “I am so thankful that they did ask me because it is just awesome. Even though I work with undergrad students all day every day, it is a different way to work with students.”
There are many things that make the Womxn of Colour Network special. Garrin commented on a select few.
“I think again because of the unique perspectives that women of color have,” Garrin said. “Obviously, even though this group is made up of a variety of ethnicities and races, there is still this common thread about navigating spaces like Iowa State.”
The network acts as a place of reassurance, shared experiences and motivation for each other to thrive, despite their hardships. For Garrin, getting to see these and other things happen before her own eyes is uplifting and makes her job worthwhile.
“It is really cool to see or to have conversations with the students about different things, connect them to different resources when I can […] and having that really strong relationship with the Women in Gender Equity Center on campus or with Sloss,” Garrin said.