The 7th Annual Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference (FWCA) was held in Blacksburg, Virginia April 11-13 this year. I did not know a conference like this existed, but I found out through Florida State University’s Office of Faculty Development. Florida State University is also one of the many sponsors for this conference. I was invited to attend this conference with four other faculty colleagues who work across disciplines. I met one other librarian there, an Assistant Professor of Library Science & Agricultural Sciences Information Specialist at Purdue University.
The keynote speaker to open the conference was Nontombi Naomi Tutu and she gave an arousing address where she told women of color in the academia we have the right to be petty, we have the right to be angry, and we have the right to exist in the spaces we are in and thrive in those spaces. She also spoke about the importance of self-care. The first session I attended was titled, “Authenticity in the Academy: The misinterpretation of Black Women’s communication in academic White spaces.” The presentation was by Brandi Neal, a graduate student at The University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. It was an interactive presentation (as a matter of fact all of the presentations were interactive), where Ms. Neal discussed how Black Women’s communication styles can be misunderstand due to whiteness being a default.
“The ways in which we use our language to communicate varies depending on culture, identity, environment, and experiences. Specific groups such as Black women are habitually judged for their communication skills and stereotyped as ‘angry’, ‘loud’, ‘aggressive’, and ‘deviant’…”
We were able to discuss our experiences during this session and that feeling of “I’ve been there” and “I understand you” can breathe life into a faculty member if they’re feeling down due to macroaggressions and mircoaggressions in the workplace.
The most important and meaningful session I attended was titled, “Incredible Impact of Intentionality” by Willette Burnham-Williams, Assistant and Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at Medical University of South Carolina. I could relate this session directly to my residency and how important intentionality is when developing a residency program. The keynote speaker to close the conference was Dr. Aida Hurtado, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at The University of California at Santa Barbara. Dr. Hurtado was also a featured speaker at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and during her keynote address at FWCA, she spoke about that experience. She played a video of Janelle Monae’s power speech and performance during the Women’s March. If you’ve haven’t seen this, please watch it. Later in the day, I attended one more session titled, “No Mirrors in my Nana’s House: Black feminist praxis as reflected resistance and resilience in higher education” by Marita Gilbert, Dean and Institutional Equity and Inclusive Excellence at Juniata College. This presentation was about the children’s picture book No Mirrors in My Nana’s House by Ysaye Maria Barnwell and how important it is for children to see themselves, love themselves, see and know that they’re loved. The story revolved about a Black girl who notes how there were no mirrors in her Nana’s house because she could see herself (and love) in her Nana’s face & eyes. This was another session where the women in attendance were given the opportunity to share their experiences.
The highlights of this conference were all of the women of color who were in attendance and sharing our stories. We discussed our backgrounds and how to feel better (not outcast) by our shared experiences during this conference. I also enjoyed that this was an across discipline conference, so everyone had a unique experience and we were able to talk with one another about what we do, how we do it and why it’s important.
The 8th Annual FWCA will be held again in Blacksburg, Virginia in April. The opening keynote speaker will be Dr. Patricia Hill Collins and I’m planning on attending again. I hope to see you there.