Last year, the women’s and gender studies WE2: Women’s Education and Empowerment program connected 14 women of color college students with 14 women of color high school students.
Around 10 faculty members also participated as mentors to the college students.
Now, the program has led to an ongoing-research project with women of color on West Chester University’s campus sharing their experiences.
Dr. Lisa Ruchti, the director of the women an gender’s studies major and minor at WCU, began the program after hearing from many students that they experienced feelings of isolation on campus.
This particularly occurred with transfer and first year students, who had a “culture shock” when they came to WCU, a primarily white campus, Ruchti explained.
Though WCU has many organizations for women and for people of color, there are very few – if none – organizations on campus that are particularly for female students of color on campus, Ruchti said.
“Women of color do not just experience racism or sexism. They experience a merging of those oppressions,” Ruchti said.
She fears that experiences will get lost when programs are split into programs for people of color and programs for women.
There need to be programs for women of color.
After the success of the WE2 program, Ruchti decided it was necessary to focus on research to help ensure women of color students were not only recognized for their successes but also assisted in ways they still needed.
Now, she is asking women of color college students at WCU to be interviewed for this ongoing, large-scale research project.
The goal is to conduct around fifty interviews.
The research will result in a book and an institutional policy-oriented report for the WCU administration and PASSHE.
The report will help explain and justify the need for programming for women of color at college campuses.
The Equity Scorecard report has proven that women of color at WCU actually are incredibly successful, Ruchti explained.
These women often have high grades and graduate on time.
She fears, however, that this will lead to WCU and other universities thinking that no further programming is necessary.
“Nationwide, we’re suggesting that women of color students are not succeeding in education. I want to capture how these students are succeeding, not just that they are. I also want to know what we’re missing as an institution. What are the struggles? What are the discomforts? What are the micro-aggressions?” Ruchti said.
Ruchti was clear, however, that she does not believe West Chester University is the problem; rather, it is a societal issue. WCU itself has grown more diverse. It can always do better, however, she explained.
“We’re taking [women of color students’] success for granted, but not paying attention to their needs,” Ruchti said.
Sam Jeune, a junior biology and women’s and gender studies double major is helping Ruchti with her research and explained that many of the women of color on campus experience feelings of isolation. “It’s hard to connect,” Jeune said.
What kind of micro-aggressions have women of color students experienced?
One example of this is a general sense of not belonging to this campus.
This could be because they are often the “only one” in their classes and rarely see professors who “look like them”.
Another example given was how women of color experience their Caucasian peers (whom they do not know) asking to touch their hair or how men will just randomly grab at them to get their attention.
While sexual harassment is an issue for all races, Ruchti also explained that women of color often experience sexual harassment with a racist undertone.
Sometimes, in the classroom, students have been asked to speak on behalf of their entire community.
Oftentimes, organizations for women are primarily Caucasian women, so this leads to further feelings of isolation.
In the interviews conducted so far, Ruchti reports that women of color have overwhelmingly said they do not feel comfortable or welcome on this campus. If students are interested in sharing their experiences in these anonymous interviews, they can contact Lisa Ruchti at LRuchti@wcupa.edu.
They can also contact Sam Jeune at SJ804619@wcupa.edu or Christa Rivers at CR834014@wcupa.edu, as they are the undergraduate students assisting with the research.
Students would be a part of a large-scale research project and have the opportunity to have a voice.
Students are also welcome to speak just about the project as a whole with Dr. Ruchti.
Ruchti explained that she constantly adjusts her research based on what students are saying.
This semester, the researchers will finish conducting interviews and observational research.
In the spring, the information will be analyzed.
Finally, by the end of the summer, there will be a report to share the president of the university and PASSHE.
To the women of color reading this article, Jeune said, “This is the opportunity to change the campus for the better and make an impact. You won’t just be one voice, but rather, contributing to many voices overall that will help shape and change the campus.”
Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at TK780615@wcupa.edu.