Network of support grows among women of color on campus

Women of Color event planning committee

Colorado State University Women of Color Event Planning Committee members Shannon Archibeque-Engle, Angelica Murray, Kathy Sisneros,
Priscilla Gardea, Ria Vigil, Maricela DeMirjyn, Cori Wong and Carmen Rivera gather for a group photo, March 26, 2018.

Members of the Colorado State University campus community have become increasingly mindful of inclusiveness and diversity. The understanding that not everyone’s experiences on campus are the same, depending on race, gender, ethnicity, background, or other factors, has empowered new connections, including the growing network of support for faculty and staff women of color.

What women of color have expressed about their experiences as faculty and staff  is a feeling of isolation. Being both a woman and a person of color means being a part of a smaller campus group, with only 629 out of about 7,500 total employees on campus identifying as women of color. With the evolving focus on providing opportunities through the Women of Color Network, the goal is to increase a sense of belonging, says Mary Ontiveros, vice president for Diversity.

“The efforts to provide avenues for connection are really about providing a sense of community, and helping us retain employees who may otherwise feel isolated and not have a positive experience as a member of our campus,” Ontiveros said.

Ontiveros is formalizing, through organized luncheons and summits, what began years ago as a grassroots effort. When Maricela DeMirjyn joined CSU faculty about 10 years ago, she said she realized something was missing for women of color, and her belief that things could and should be better have helped shape today’s efforts.

“As I became more familiar with the campus climate, particularly for women of color, I realized that my experiences as a faculty member in our Ethnic Studies Department were very different from those of other women who were often the only women of color faculty members in their unit,” she said.

She acted on a need for better connections and advocacy for women of color. “In my second year at CSU, as a member of the President’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity, I witnessed advocacy happening on behalf of women but not necessarily on behalf of women of color,” DeMirjyn said. “That prompted me to rally support for the creation of a subcommittee to support women of color.”

Summits, networking offered as consistent programing

Now, the efforts have expanded to provide consistent programing for professional development and networking opportunities. Last fall, the Women & Gender Collaborative started sponsoring community luncheons for staff and faculty women of color each semester. Earlier in April, 80 women attended the spring luncheon and networking opportunity, the maximum capacity of the event.

Summits that focus on personal and professional development for women of color are offered each year, with this summer’s summit featuring Becky Martinez. Martinez is an organizational development consultant with a focus on social justice, leadership and organizational change through dismantling systems of oppression through critical dialogue and reflection. The summit keynote focuses on discussion around building class consciousness. The summit is slated for 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, at the Wedgewood Tapestry House in Laporte, and prior registration is required. (more information)

The summit involves collaboration among the Women & Gender Collaborative, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, the Division of Enrollment and Access, the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Graduate School, and the President’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity.

“As a female in the world, one may experience general marginalization,” said Ria Vigil, director of diversity education and training for CSU. “That’s the same experience that women of color have, plus additional isolation and stereotyping. When people feel isolated, they leave. We want to create a framework of community, and ways for women of color to find connection that helps build resiliency, retention, and a voice.”

Cori Wong, special assistant to the president and the director of the Women and Gender Collaborative, agrees.

“As we continue our campus-wide efforts to improve culture and climate as it relates to gender, we still need to create intentional spaces where those who are most underrepresented and marginalized can convene and connect with one another in community,” Wong said. “For women of color on a predominantly white campus, you can be surrounded by other women and still be ‘the only one’ in the room, which can be a very alienating experience.”

Connections from the efforts are long-lasting, with women reporting that smaller groups who met through the effort are continuing to meet as friends and colleagues. “It’s not unlike what happens within our student diversity offices,” Ontiveros said.

There continues to be work to be done, however, including increasing faculty involvement.


“Attending women of color programming has offered me an opportunity to connect with faculty and staff across campus and throughout the state. I have the pleasure of working with an amazing group of people, and the support networks the emerged from the WOC events has helped me feel connected to the wider CSU campus. In thinking about my role as a faculty member to recruit and retain students of diverse backgrounds and the services we provide are similar to the support networks to recruit and retain faculty of diverse backgrounds. I appreciate that the Office of Diversity creates space for such efforts for WOC in the academy – and it’s always exciting to receive an uplifting text message from the women that I have connected with luncheons and summer summit.” – Angela Lewis, assistant professor, School of Education

“As new faculty, finding spaces for women of color has been key to my on campus acculturation process. Knowing that I can attend a luncheon or summit with women with similar lived experiences without having to be ‘on’ as Dr. Arthur and just be Tori in a space where being candid is respected and valued has made it easier to breathe in this first year at CSU. Just this morning, the group of women I sat with at the Women of Color luncheon sent ‘hang in there’ and ‘have a great week’ texts to one another…just because. It was beautiful.” – Tori Omega Arthur, assistant professor, Journalism and Media Communication

“This summer will mark the completion of my first decade here at CSU, and I am now an associate professor,” said DeMirjyn. “I still have never once been in a room or in the same place at the same time with 10 self-identified women of color faculty from the larger CSU community. I’m hoping that in the coming decades, this will change.”

Wong also adds that an important way allies can support women of color and these programs is to share this information and make sure women of color across campus know about opportunities to connect, and for supervisors to show support for the women of color in their units to attend.

Future efforts will likely include opportunities for other groups to connect, such as professional development and networking for men of color on campus.