UW-Milwaukee hosted Sisters Like Me, an event showcasing the complexity of blackness in celebration of Black History Month in the Fireside Lounge.
“We wanted students to see that intersectionality and blackness are connected. We are a unique group of people,” said Anita Mogaka, Black Student Union president.
Moderator Charmaine Renee Lang began the discussion by asking the panelists to define black womanhood.
“When I think of African or black womanhood, I automatically think about beauty ingenuity, creativity, juggling multiple things at the same time and strength…. Even though this image that we’ve got it all together is important, we are not addressing some of the issues that are behind that sort of mask that we wear,” said Joan M. Blakey, Chair and Associate Professor in Social Work at Helen Bader’s School of Social Welfare.
Panelists shared their experiences with black men in their personal and professional lives.
“Growing up in Nigeria, there wasn’t a lot of expectations for women. Women were expected to either have children and raise a family or get married at a young age,” said Ameena A. Yusuf, UWM global studies student.
Amber Tucker, interim assistant director at the Women’s Resource Center, commented on remaining focused on graduation despite the lack of diversity that may be within a major.
“Get the skills and education that you need and get out. Find comfort in the many safe spaces on-campus,” said Tucker.
UW-Milwaukee staff members reminisced on past campus events that focused on the intersectionality of oppression experienced by women of color.
Panelists discussed the inner turmoil that comes with being a self-sufficient black woman and seeking help from others when needed.
Panelists expanded on how family and culture influences self-worth, self-expression and identity as a woman.
UW-Milwaukee students shared the challenges with balancing their personal lives and school work. They and staff members encouraged black women to seek out a support group on campus and remain focused on attaining their degrees.
UW-Milwaukee staff members also reflected on the importance of having a diverse friend group when expressing your own culture. They reflected on the discrimination and danger that many black people faced during slavery and continue to face when pursuing a higher level of education.
UW-Milwaukee’s Women’s Resource Center teamed up with the Black Cultural Center and Black Student Union to organize the Sisters Like Me event. During the event, African and black students, alumni and professors answered questions on womanhood and maintaining cultural identity within a predominantly white institution.
Twenty-two students, professors, parents, staff members and alumnae entered the event at 6 p.m. All guests were asked to fill out a survey on their expectations of the event before sitting down. Guests were welcome to enjoy a catered meal by UWM or grab free UWM logo stickers, tampons or condoms.
Sisters Like Me is a yearly event at UW-Milwaukee.
“I can remember Sisters Like Me being around for at least six or seven years. Its focus has always been on intersectionality and inclusivity,” said Tucker.
Panelists were asked to share their relationship with black men in their community or family and expand on how those interactions might’ve influenced their definitions of womanhood.
“I often play a caring and provider role with the men in my personal life. While in college, I worked to help pay for my brother’s football equipment and supported him throughout high school,” said Marquayla S. Ellison, UWM Architecture and Urban Planning alumnus.
Panelists shared some of the challenges of pursuing a higher education.
“Even after graduating, I still have a hard time admitting that I am taking on too many things at once,” said Ellison.
Panelists and attendees shared advice and life lessons to undergraduate black and African students.
“I would encourage black students to find a balance and ask for help when needed. There is nothing wrong with seeking a counselor,” said Blakey.
A UWM student asked the panelists and attendees to share tips on self-care while balancing commitments at school and work.
“Find a cultural based space. Having a community is essential in finding a balance between school and your personal life. I also like to pray when I feel stressed and overwhelmed with homework,” said Mogaka.
Lang commented on having a supportive friend group that will respect your culture.
“I’ve had dreads for a while now and some people might have their own opinions about them. However, I have not experienced any discrimination because of them within my friend groups because my friends have natural hair styles too,” said Lang.
Tucker commented on the history of black people pursuing higher education.
“Well, you can start with the early fact that literacy was denied to slaves which was punishable by death and dismemberment. After literacy became attainable post slavery, it still was a struggle to even have schooling. Even when black folks established their own schools, they were destroyed and defunded…. The struggle to gain access to higher education again is a part of the history. Sometimes that access comes at a price,” says Tucker.
Every month the Women’s Resource Center hosts Sister Talk, a multicultural talking circle where students can seek advice from black staff members or students. The next Sister Talk was held in the Women’s Resource Center on March 29 from1 p.m.- 3 p.m.