5C students organize, host inaugural Black and Brown Women of Color Conference at the 5Cs

Five peope sit on a zoom call.
The Associated Students of Pomona College hosts the annual Black and Brown Women of Color Conference March 19-20. (Courtesy: ASPC)

The Claremont Colleges saw its first ever Black and Brown Women of Color Conference last month, organized by representatives of ASPC and student leaders across the consortium to coincide with Women’s History Month.

Hosted March 19 to 20 and spearheaded by Malak Afaneh PO ’21, Pomona College senior class president, the event featured panels with faculty, students and guest speakers to “cultivate discourse surrounding important themes of self care, mental health, race and gender identity,” according to a post on the event’s official Instagram page. 

Speaking to TSL about how the event came about in the first place, Afaneh reflected on the lack of representation women of color like herself saw at the 5Cs, especially at networking and career events.

“I think that Black and brown women have not been offered the space to be able to express their opinions and expand and use their voices. But at the same time, their labor is often exploited and is often expected at these campuses,” Afaneh said.

The conference was meant to be a safe space where intersectional identities and dynamics were affirmed, Afaneh said, since affinity groups on campus are often limited to one particular  or an overarching identity.

Afaneh noted that while the Career Development Office and Pomona Women’s Union are “incredible” resources on campus, Black or brown women of color at the 5Cs are unable to receive the professional guidance, support and advice they may be looking for. Oftentimes questions about the repercussions of being a woman in academia and ways to deal with microaggressions in the workplace remain unanswered. 

One of the guest speakers at the conference was Maryan Soliman, assistant professor of Africana studies at Scripps College, who shared strategies for Black and brown women to thrive in the academic profession. Joining her on the platform was Gilda Ochoa, professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o studies at Pomona.

“My years in higher education have shown me how generative such spaces can be in creating vital lines of support, new metrics of validation, as well as serving as professional networks and sites of collaboration for the present and future,” Soliman told TSL via email. 

“We highlighted the importance of pursuing passion projects in one’s scholarship and of remaining grounded in communities that matter to us outside of the academy,” Soliman said. “We also discussed how the above approaches align with the histories and ethos of ethnic studies departments, including our departments, Africana studies and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies,” Soliman said.

Cherise Higgins PO ’21 organized the student creative showcase, an event at the conference that showcased students’ artwork, music and other creative outlets.

“From personal experience, I know that while handling all the responsibilities placed on you, you might forget to take a moment for yourself,” Higgins told TSL. “The conference was a space where we could step away from expectations and modes of strength in order to simply just be/exist.”

Organizers of the conference also invited mental health professionals to speak about Black women’s health and stresses and conduct guided meditations and affirmations. 

“A lot of times when we talk about Black and brown women of color, it’s always associated to trauma,” Afaneh said. 

“And it’s also always associated to the traumatic histories and injustices that they’ve been through, which is definitely good to know so that we can start to reform … But at the same time that’s not fair, because we’re human beings who deserve to be celebrated.” 

Another speaker at the conference was Dr. Amina Y. Simmons PO ’12, a psychologist at Arizona State University who focused her clinical and research interests on Black American women, racial stress and trauma and early childhood trauma. 

“[Simmons] talked so much about how you can heal from gender-based and race-based trauma as a woman of color; just so much information that is not accessible unless you are able to afford therapy or be in these spaces,” Afaneh said. 

Higgins added to Afaneh’s sentiment about Simmons’ contribution to the event, specifically the guided meditation and affirmations she conducted.

“The activity reminded me of the transformative power of the collective,” Higgins said. “Speaking words over each other, even if through Zoom, is powerful.”

Afaneh said she would love for the conference to become an annual event and was hopeful that the college’s positive response to the conference this year will translate to funding in future years. 

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