On Tuesday, February 23, Sisters of the Round Table kicked off their annual Africana Women's Week(s) with a brown bag focused on demystifying the organization. As one of the chairwoman of the organization and organizers of the brown bag, my hope was to humanize the organization, to put faces, experiences, and contextualize what SORT is truly about. Why you may ask? As an organization we have grown immensely over the past three years. As a sophomore, I can remember our meetings consisting of five people (including myself) and now we have over 25-30 consistent members. With growth comes more visibility, and with visibility comes misconceptions, as Maya Atakilti, one of the panelist echoed.
The brown bag opened with members of the audience readings parts of Maya Angelou's powerful poem Phenomenal Woman, which is a part of the organization’s constitution. Members of the audience were able to share their thoughts on the organization prior to the panelists speaking. Melissa Melendez '14 and Maya Atakilti '15 gave a brief history of how the organization was created, with its roots in providing a space where not only could women of color meet and talk about issues they were facing, but also create strategic plans on how to address them outside the space. Each of the panelist went through a series of questions pertaining to the organization. Antoinette Nwabunnia expressed why she joined the organization, her personal experiences with the leadership within the organization and what the space provided for her. Her sentiments on what the space provided for her is what stuck out to me the most. Similarly to what Antoinette expressed, I grew up in a household and community full of resilient women of color where we'd cry, fight, laugh, talk, theorize, or what have you. When I came to Colgate I didn't realize how important that community was for my spirit, and joining SORT fulfilled that void but in beautifully different way.
During the Q&A portion, the question of whether or not SORT should be an umbrella organization was brought up. This question wasn't particularly new to me, throughout my time at Colgate I've heard many raise this point. Should their be a space for Latina women? Asian women? And while I think those spaces would be important, I see value in what SORT does. I think of Loretta Ross' explanation of the phrase women of color, and how its political origins. She states, "it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration to work with other oppressed women of color who have been minoritized." SORT creates a space where all women of color can come together, which is I think is crucial on a campus like Colgate.
In thinking of what I wanted others to leave the brown bag with, are specifically these types of anecdotes and experiences. To nuance that label of "angry women of color" and realize that yes we are angry, but we are also happy, sad, excited, funny, hilarious, critical, engaging, faulted individuals. To allow others to understand the work we are doing within ourselves, our organization and our community.