Students launch student organization to highlight, empower women of color

Media Credit: Dean Whitelaw | Staff Photographer

Sarah Currie, Riya Gavaskar, Caitlyn Phung and Pamela García are all founding members of GW Women of Color.

Updated: Sept. 3, 2019 at 7:24 a.m.

A group of female students established the first intersectional student organization for women of color and their allies last week.

GW Women of Color, which registered as a student organization Thursday, will “link” different multicultural student groups together and build community for women of color, the three founding members said. The group’s leaders said they plan to host events, like professional development workshops or trips to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, to celebrate and encourage members to learn about different identities and cultures.

Junior Caitlyn Phung, the organization’s president and a former Hatchet reporter, said she began creating GW Women of Color in February after noticing a historic rise in the number of women of color recently elected to U.S. Congress. Thirty-seven percent of the women currently serving in Congress are women of color, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“If you Google ‘women of color clubs,’ there’s really nothing,” Phung said. “It really came down to the fact of me being inspired by the media and word of mouth from people who were just really proud of women of color and their accomplishments.”

Phung said she reached out to about 20 female students in March whom she thought would be interested in forming the organization. The group currently boasts 26 members, she said.

Phung said the group plans to host a professional development speaker series this year and will host bonding events, like movie and tie-dye nights. She said the group also hopes to lead trips to museums in the District, like the National Museum of Women in the Arts, she said.

“Women like us would really feel empowered if we had that space or potential to realize that or feel safe in their own skin,” Phung said. “That’s how GW WOC came to be.”

Junior Riya Gavaskar, the group’s treasurer and a former Hatchet reporter, said the founding members held about three meetings last spring to entice prospective members and encourage new members to take leadership positions on the group’s executive board.

Gavaskar said the e-board spent the summer discussing their goals, like collaborating with other multicultural student groups on events and what steps they needed to take to register as a formal student organization with the Center for Student Engagement. GW Women of Color received approval Thursday from the CSE, the founding members said.

Gavaskar said that many multicultural organizations operate on campus, but GW Women of Color will work to specifically unite women of different racial identities and cultures. She said she hopes the organization will provide community for women from all different backgrounds at the University, a predominantly white institution.

Nearly 1,700 white undergraduate students – almost 50 percent of last year’s total undergraduate population – enrolled at GW in 2018, about 8,000 of whom were white women, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

“I also came from a really diverse town, and it’s not really until you leave that that you’re defined by what you’re not,” Gavaskar said. “When you’re on a campus that’s mostly not people of color, you tend to want to find a community that will share your cultural interests.”

Gavaskar added that she wants to partner with organizations like GW South Asian Society and She’s The First GW – a group that advocates for girls’ education in developing countries – to co-host events. She said she hopes multicultural student leaders will join the student organization so the groups can plan events together.

“It’s difficult to find your community on campus, especially when there are some orgs that are very niche,” Gavaskar said. “We want to provide an organization where anyone can join and where everyone can feel welcome.”

Junior Pamela García, a co-founder and the communications chair, said that over the summer, she created the group’s website, which will advertise the organization’s events for the year.

“Having a website can really emphasize what our goals are, just tell a little bit more about what our organization means so people can see what we’re about,” García said.

Sophomore Sarah Currie, a body member of the group, said when she first came to the University, she attended events held by multicultural student organizations, like the Chinese American Student Association.

Currie said she enjoyed the events but did not feel a connection with other students in the organizations. She said GW Women of Color will bring multiple perspectives and identities together to help students avoid the same problem she encountered.

“I grew up with lots of biracial people and I have not really found that same connection with people here,” she said. “WOC will have tons of identities that will hopefully include lots of different women’s identities.”

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