Womxn of Colour Network continues to foster community virtually

The womxn of colour network kicked off its first virtual event of the semester on Feb 3. The program will feature guest speakers from outside the state and encourage community building and empowerment throughout the semester.


Womxn of Color Network, 2019. Contributed.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

Nearly 80 people jammed in tight for the first Womxn of Colour Network event in 2017,  but this year the program is refocusing efforts virtually to maintain community by bringing in speakers from across the country and promoting self-care. Programming kicked off earlier this month with a Zoom mixer on Feb. 3 with about 30 people including a guest speaker from Texas.

“It’s never been about how many people come,” Jessica Padilla, program coordinator for the Womxn of Colour Network said. “It’s about the quality of experience of those that are able to come.”

Embracing the digital format this semester, the Womxn of Colour network is focusing on bringing in outside perspectives that encourage success and expand people’s networks.

The program was created so women of color at the UI could have a community, Padilla said. In-person events would feature hands-on workshops and lunch meetups.

All operations and events have been entirely online since last March when the pandemic hit, Padilla said the transition took away from some of the traditional elements of the events that are normally catered by local restaurants and involve informal networking.

Padilla said the virtual events still foster community engagement through utilizing breakout rooms, networking rounds, giving out gift cards to local restaurants and businesses.

“This semester is more about themes related to empowering yourself – of moving forward and self-care,” she said.

Padilla said one thing the virtual program allows the network to do is bring in speakers outside of Iowa. Before Zoom, bringing in speakers like last week’s Kyra Seay, who lives in Texas, was not realistic.

All of the speakers this semester are from outside of Iowa, Padilla said, made possible by the virtual format. The past few years, guests have been women of color faculty and staff. Additionally, for their March event, the network will be collaborating with Multicultural and International Student Support and Engagement’s annual womxn summit.

Padilla said it has also been an opportunity for her to make sure the program is not exhausting women of color on campus, but she worries about the network’s visibility.

“I really hope that women of color, students, faculty and staff, remember that we’re still present,” Padilla said. “And that we can continue to take up virtual space and that we’re not alone in this community.”

Gabriela Rivera, associate director for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the UI’s Tippie College of Business, who has been attending the network events since they started said she really appreciates that the program has continued throughout the pandemic and how accessible it is.

“Being able to come into the Zoom and look forward to seeing some of the people that I would normally see in the space at the house,” she said. “I’m glad we have that now.”

Rivera said anytime she attends one of the events, she feels much better when she leaves.

“It’s just kind of self-care for me, to be honest, especially now during COVID, when I’m not physically with a lot of my colleagues and the students that I really look forward to seeing during my work hours or after work,” she said.

The creativity behind the programming and events goes a long way, Rivera added, no matter if it is a small group or big group, the conversations are still really rich because the different features like breakout rooms and activities have a purpose.

Kyra Seay, director of social innovation and transformative initiatives at Bumble was the first guest speaker for the network this semester.

Seay, a UI alum who’s been involved in diversity and equity work since graduating, said has been with Bumble for about two and a half years, in a position the company created specifically for her.

Recently, Seay started a new department within the company called the center of excellence which helps the entire global company lead and deliver on diversity and equity and inclusion values.

Seay said she had an awesome experience speaking with the network last week.

“I think the purpose is to create a space for dialogue, support, and empowerment for all the folks at the University of Iowa and that is exactly what it was.” Seay said.

While women of color have always been trailblazers and innovators, Seay said, credit and gratitude are not always given where it’s due.

“As a person of color, who has navigated primarily white spaces, it’s incredibly important that I’m visible to the other young ‘me’s in the world and empowering them to find their voice,” Seay said. “And when they have it, to never let it be silenced again because they have something unique and valuable to the world.”

Michele Williams, University of Iowa Assistant Professor and John L. Miclot faculty fellow in entrepreneurship, said she has been involved with hands-on programs in person before the pandemic.

Williams said the network created a warm and welcome environment, in-person, and after attending last week’s shop, she thinks they have done their best to recreate that.

“I think that continuing to have these connections and to have this programming is really an important way for women of colour to stay connected,” Williams said. “So, I think that nothing’s the same as having a meal with someone – but they’re doing the next best thing in keeping connections.”