At the Women of Color Collective, female students from different backgrounds, who hold an array of perspectives and experiences find peace in an environment of understanding and support for one another. The WOCC is a place where one’s voice can be heard, where diverse women can share their experiences, views, opinions and feelings, with the absence of judgement, opposition or discrimination.
The Women of Color Collective meet Wednesdays at 12 p.m. every week in the HUB at Sonoma State University. This group has been facilitated by Isabel Avila-Saiter, Staff Psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) here on campus, and Carina Buzo, Program Coordinator at the HUB and Sonoma State Alumni. The WOCC is very important to Buzo,
“Coming back as a professional staff member and being able to be a part of facilitating this space is just so magical to me. It’s like once a week, I get to spend an hour with people with humor and volume and topics and food that are so familiar to me and so comforting.”
During Buzo’s time at Sonoma State as a student, she did not feel well represented on campus as a woman of color. She struggled to find herself in the leaders around her and made it her mission to change that frustration into passion. She became herself a student leader, a CSA, an orientation leader, a cheerleader, and the first woman of color to ever direct the Vagina Monologues.
“I have a masters in Student Affairs and Higher education so I’ve done the research and I’ve read the research about how important it is to make connections and to feel as though you matter. I think we realize that most when we find people who we we connect with, who we look like and who we have shared experiences with,” said Buzo.
Avila-Saiter acts as a group mediator at each meeting. She helps to create a sense of community between women of diverse and intersecting cultural identities.
“Every Wednesday we gather into a space that successfully transforms itself into whatever we need, be that a fun social lunch, a container for deep philosophical thought, or even a safe space to air out the many microaggressions and discriminatory deeds experienced in the life of a women of color on a predominantly white college campus. We create a support system of empathy and sisterhood and although many of our members remain unchanging, we are always eager to see a new face wander through our doors,” said Avila-Saiter and the WOCC.
At the group’s first meeting for the 2016 school year, they established collective guidelines that include confidentiality, listening to each other, acknowledging silence and each other, to respect differences in opinion and experiences, humility, and to stay mindful. In creating these, they found common ground with one another and further reinforced important ideals of the group experience. Student Rebecca Murillo, WOCC member shared why this group is important to her personally.
“I have no other outlet that offers me this type of support and this type of connection. I don’t know of any other place on campus or in Sonoma county, that provides such a safe space for women of color to discuss the issues that we do,” said Murillo.
She illuminated these issues as being pertinent to racism, sexism and the struggle of being a woman of color, in predominantly white spaces. She expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to meet other students who share in her world outlook.
“The group makes me feel supported. It makes me feel like I am not the only one angry about the things going on in the world, like I am not the only one that realizes the injustices, not only in the world at large but here on campus as well,” said Murillo.
She also never expected that some of the girls who come to the meetings she would later consider to be close friends.
One of these close friends, a fellow member of the WOCC, student Monique Bindra expressed what WOCC means to her.
“I grew up not knowing what having this kind of “safe space” was like, because I lived in a predominately white community. And coming to Sonoma State, I still feel like I am the only Indian person 98% of the time. So for me, having this is nice. It is really, really nice. I like that you can find people here who share in your perspective,”said Bindra.
“For the majority here at school, social justice issues can seem like something you just see on the news, but for women of color, it can be much more personal, it’s like seeing injustice happen to your own family.”