February 24, 2013

Cornell Starts Dialogues to Empower ‘Women of Purpose’

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In an effort to bring together women of color from Cornell and the Ithaca community, the Women of Purpose Alliance — a new organization developed under the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives — held its first dialogue circle Saturday, the first in a series of what will become monthly dialogue circles.

OADI Community Advocate Melanie Netter ’14 said the purpose of the Dialogue Circle was to “create a relaxed, non-academic setting where women from underrepresented backgrounds, of all ages, can come together to discuss their common experiences.”

“There are a variety of events for different issues on campus, but most are set in a very academic and intellectual environment,” said Pheobe Sam ’14, another OADI Community Advocate. “With the dialogue circles, we want people to be able to express themselves without having to worry about choosing their words carefully.”

The advocates said they hope these discussions will “give rise to a sisterhood, in which members empower and encourage each other to be the best they can be, or women of purpose,” according to Netter.

Sam and Netter said they hope the dialogue circles will foster a support system in which women of color can share their experiences confidentially with one another.

“We want to make it seem as if you were just talking to your family or best friend,” Sam said.

The first dialogue circle discussed the media and its role in shaping societal perceptions. Participants considered how reality television shows, such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives, can shed negative light on and engender   society’s view of women of certain races.

“Mainstream media is where stereotypes are usually projected,” said Kimberly Kerr ’13, one of the participants.

Veronica Wallace ’16 said many television shows use racial stereotypes as a selling point.

“People enjoy watching the drama, aggression and fighting,” she said.

Attendants also commented on their personal experiences with stereotypes — both positive and negative — and discuss certain positive stereotypes that helped them embrace their own culture or race.

However, the women also shared negative stereotypes that they have encountered in their community, and even among their own peers and friends.

“It’s difficult to get rid of stereotypes, but one way to alleviate them is to simply get to know one another better through conversation,” said Kristi McKenzie ’13.

Kerr added that many who live under the burden of stereotypes may have to act a certain way that is untrue to themselves in order to prevent amplification of that particular stereotype.

“There are extra steps that you have to take in order to prevent a stereotype from applying,” Kerr said. “We should connect and identify with people based on more common things, and not so much on preconceived stereotypes.”

At the end of the event, each participant was asked to write a short message or note of encouragement on an index card. Each of these cards were then distributed around the discussion circle.

Wallace said she thought the dialogue circle created a “positive” environment.

“I thought it would be more formal, but I felt comfortable expressing my ideas,” Wallace said. “I will definitely keep on attending these dialogue circles, given that I have the time.”

McKenzie echoed Wallace’s sentiments, saying, “it was relaxing — I felt as if I were conversing with my friends.”

Both Sam and Netter said they were encouraged by the  turnout of the first dialogue circle, which was comprised of about 10 attendees, most of whom were from the Cornell community.

“Though we didn’t have as many attendees from the Ithaca community as we would have hoped, we have community outreach members who are spreading the word beyond Cornell about our dialogue circles,” Netter said.

Still, Sam said she hopes more women will attend future events.

“We hope that more women will bring their friends, spread the word and help make this event grow,” Sam said.

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Original Author: Annie Bui