Zooming Past Challenges: Students Present Virtual Women of Color Summit

Minutes after the 2021 Women of Color Summit ended, student-organizers and co-advisors met online to discuss the challenging and successful event.

Minutes after the 2021 Women of Color Summit ended, student-organizers and co-advisors met online to discuss the challenging and successful event.

Long-awaited event educates, unites, incites

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Planning a multiday event is never easy, but the students behind Dickinson’s 2021 Women of Color Summit confronted more challenges than most. The inaugural summit, held on campus in spring 2019, had left big shoes to fill. After the 2020 follow-up was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t clear if the organizers could rebuild momentum during a pandemic—let along plan a second big event at a time when no one knew quite what the future would hold.

The Dickinsonians persisted. And the second Women of Color Summit, held March 27-28, not only filled the big shoes of the original but even ventured into new territory.

A space for empowerment

Conceived in spring 2018 by Toni Ortega '18, Sarah Johnson '18 and Dana Marecheau '20, the summit is a space for female-identifying Dickinsonians of color to learn, connect and reflect. The first summit was organized and presented by a student committee, under guidance of Brontè Burleigh-Jones, vice president for finance & administration. Sunnie Ko ’11, assistant director of the McAndrews Fund, joined in as co-advisor last year.  

“We wanted to really elevate our voices and create a space where we could see and hear each other and feel empowered,” recalls student-leader Joanne Adebayo '21 (international business & management), co-leader of the first summit, speaking in a Zoom interview soon after the 2021 event.

The 2020 summit was planned for the week after spring break, the very week that Dickinson transitioned to online instruction. Just a few months later, Himeno Yamane ’22, an international business & management major, emailed Burleigh-Jones about getting the ball rolling for 2021.

“COVID was something nobody expected,” says Yamane, who co-led the 2021 executive committee with Amanda Sowah ’22 (English). “I wanted Dickinson to know that we are unstoppable. I did not want COVID to stop our mission and our work.”

Zooming past challenges

The 2021 summit’s theme was Tending the Roots of Past, Present & Future: (Re)Discovering the Meaning of Woman of Color. Gita Elangbam ’21 (biology), Trang Dang ’22 (mathematics, quantitative economics), Zori Hamilton ’22 (psychology), Pamela Ortiz ’22 (computer science), Rediet Patterson ’22 (international business & management), Patricia Santos ’22 (neuroscience, Italian studies), Prachi Shah ’22 (educational studies, psychology), Nelly Teta Ntwali ’22 (international business & management, political science) and Jaren Wyaco ’22 (neuroscience) worked together with Yamane and Sowah to plan, publicize and present the event.

“Our biggest challenge was navigating the online space,” says Sowah. “A slight mishap could cause a lot of confusion.” The team researched how to make the technology accessible to alumni of all generations who participated as organizers, presenters and attendees. They also held test-run workshops and maintained close communication with the speakers, to ensure everyone was ready for the big weekend.

Zoom fatigue was another worry. A dynamic program erased that concern.

Pushing boundaries

Saturday’s events, open to all female-identifying Dickinsonians of color, included a talk by Maureen Newton Hayes '65 and Judith Rogers '65, the first known women of color to live in Dickinson residence halls, and Thera Dal Prà Iversen '17, great-granddaughter of Dickinson’s first-known woman of color graduate.

In a departure from the initial summit, Sunday’s workshop, open to all Dickinsonians, brought allies into conversation. During a discussion led by Brittany Barker ’15 and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Amy McKiernan, attendees explored how allies and women of color can work together to effect positive social change.

“That’s pushing boundaries,” says Adebayo. “It’s about the change we want to see.”

The good work continues, and a new committee of student-leaders will soon pick up the baton for the next summit. "I would love for students to know that these kinds of conversations are essential," says Yamane, who looks forward to an even bigger Women of Color Summit to come, with more allies joining in.

Meanwhile, the student co-leaders may celebrate the fact that, after a long year of uncertainty and challenge, they've successfully co-created an online space where those conversations sparked, where connections were strengthened, and where the groundwork for change and community was laid. "I will never forget the Women of Color Summit," Yamane says. "I can never express the feeling that I felt when I had to end the summit and click the red button that said ‘End Meeting For All’."


Published April 12, 2021