The Women of Color Initiatives (WOCI) is an effort to organize events for women of color and allies on the MSU campus. In doing so WOCI aims to create spaces for students to be in conversation with each other and engage with women of color faculty, guest speakers, staff, and community members. The purpose of the Women of Color Initiatives is to create a space for a collective of women of color to focus on pressing sociopolitical issues and critical research in higher education, and to present women of color with an opportunity to address intersectional issues across race, class, sex, and gender issues facing Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native, Black/African American, Mexican/Chicana, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Puerto Rican/Latinx Caribbean women. This proposed speaker series is the first of its kind in the Midwest (currently, Women of Color Initiatives exist at UC Berkeley and at Rutgers University in the form of a national conference and a university symposium, respectively).

Since spring 2016, the WOCI speaker series  has brought one nationally recognized woman of color academic, creative, and/or political speaker to the MSU campus each semester. To-date, the speaker series has included: a meeting with MSU women of color faculty (particularly targeting junior and mid-career faculty), a graduate student lunch, a creative workshop with undergrads, and a lecture and reception open to the public. In 2018 we hosted a month-long residency which culminated in a series of PSA style photographs of MSU and East Lansing/Lansing community members. Public lectures are recorded in order to create a digital archive and to provide access to an even larger audience. In organizing several segments during each visit we have created events that target multiple populations at MSU and that are open to the larger East Lansing/Lansing community.

The Women of Color Initiatives speaker series aims to offer cross-disciplinary and open spaces for discussion and dialogue that will address some of the issues of representation, graduation, and retention at the undergraduate and graduate level, as well as for junior faculty at MSU. By bringing speakers, workshop leaders, and community members we hope to strengthen the community of women and allies working toward social and racial justice and equity and in doing so, make MSU a Midwest hub for women of color intellectuals, artists, activists, and thinkers.

In Spring 2016, WOCI hosted its inaugural speaker, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. For this first event we organized a reception with women of color faculty, a graduate student lunch, and public lecture which were well attended and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Building on the success of this event we hosted Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in Fall 2016. A Michi Saagig Nishaabeg scholar, writer, and artist, Simpson is known for being one of the foremost indigenous scholar/activist of her generation. Her visit included a creative writing workshop, a public lecture, and post-lecture reception. For this event we partnered with various units on campus including the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, the Timnick Chair in theHumanities, the Center for Gender in Global Context, and the department of English. We aimed to include Indigenous community members from the greater Lansing area. Leanne’s lecture was opened with a song by an Anishinaabe community member, Charlene Fox, and was catered by the Native American Arts and Crafts Council. Simpson’s lecture was well attended and her creative writing workshop was filled to capacity with students, faculty, and staff seated on the floor. Both events were recorded and we began the process of cataloging these events at the MSU Library WOCI archive.

In Spring 2017,we hosted Ana Castillo, one of the most important living writers in the Chicanx literary tradition. Her visit to MSU included a craft talk, a public lecture and book signing, a breakfast reception open to all MSU faculty, a lunch for undergraduate and graduate women, and a dinner with junior and mid-career faculty.  For Castillo’s visit we secured additional funding from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Chicano/Latino Studies Program, the GenCen, the Department of English, and the MSU Libraries. These strategicco-sponsorships enabled us to display the viability and cross-campus interest in WOCI. During the summer of 2017 professors Figueroa and Paris reached out to faculty stakeholders and invited Drs. Tamara Butler (ENG/AAAS), Maribel Santiago (ED), Delia Fernandez(HIST), Estrella Torrez (RCAH) and Leslie Gonzales (ED), onto the organizing committee of WOCI with Torrez and Figueroa as initial co-chairs.

In Fall 2017 we hosted the book launch of one of the WOCI founders, Rae Paris, who published her first book The Forgetting Tree. The event included a public reading and book signing and was held at the MSU library which solidified our partnership with MSU librarians and staff. The 2017-2018 year marked the first time that we had graduate/undergraduate assistants help with the organizing of the project. In the fall Breanna Escamilla and Rebecca Fussell helped with the digitizing, cataloging, and website building for WOCI. They also helped to scaffold the WOCI residency.  

In Spring 2018 we hosted our first artist-in-residence: Shani Peters. A multidisciplinary artist based in NYC, Shani Peters, held a month-long residency atMSU where she developed her project, “Sustain: A Demonstration / Modeling Survival and Self Care Tactics as Public Service.” Shani invited MSU and the greater communities of East Lansing and Lansing to participate in conversations and unpack “individual relationships related to anti-Black, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ policies, rhetoric, and state sanctioned violence against these populations.” In addition to class visits and open studio hours Shani had an opening reception, a dinner with women of color faculty, collaborated with the AAHD visiting artists (Karen Hampton/Alejandro Acierto), and hosted an arts-based after school program at Everett High School in Lansing. Shani’s visit opened up the opportunity for WOCI to partner with Quinn Jiles, a Lansing based artist and organizer who spearheads the Lansing Youth Video Program. Her free video enrichment program targets teen’s age 14-­20 from Lansing and its surrounding communities. The program was held two days a week for eight weeks beginning in February 2018, coincided with the WOCI residency. Participants were immersed in media literacy and video artistry, and learned the foundations of film production from conception to the presentation of a completed project. We want to continue with this partnership in the upcoming year. In supporting this critical endeavor we establish ties with women of color organizers and artists in the broader community while also connecting our students as mentors and partners in these youth projects.

In Fall 2018 we hosted Chicana/Dine artist Nanibah Chacon for 5 weeks. During her residency Nanibah, visited classes, met with Indigenous and Latinx elders in the community, hosted a risograph workshop, and created and completed a Mural in Old Town Lansing. In Spring 2019 we hosted Dr. Mayra Santos Febres for a 5-day residency wherein she offered creative writing and risograph workshops, gave a public talk in collaboration with the MSU Broad Museum, and hosted an open-mic event at Reach Art Studio in Lansing. This event was linked to the MSU strategic partnership with Salon Literario Festival de la Palabra and the #ProyectoPalabrasPR MSU research team. In Spring 2019 we were also invited to collaborate with the Capital City Film Festival and we hosted a track of three films by/featuring women of color filmmakers and actors. For Fall 2019, we hosted writer Elaine Castillo for a 3-day visit which included a creative writing workshop, a public talk, and two classroom visits. Elaine’s visit was co-sponsored with the Asian Pacific American Studies. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to host an artist-in-residence for the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020.

The support of the College of Arts & Letters has been crucial in the continued success of WOCI. The primary organizers of WOCI are junior and women of color faculty who are invested in creating welcoming, equitable, and critical spaces on campus for women of color and their allies.