Women of Color affinity group offers community on SPS grounds.
BY JANA BROWN
When faculty adviser Michelle Hung extends invitations to meetings of the Women of Color affinity group (WOC), her messages reach about 125 St. Paul’s School students who identify as Black, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern or Native American.
“The purpose of our group is to foster fellowship and community for any students at St. Paul’s who identify as women of backgrounds that are not Caucasian,” explains Hung, who is in her fourth year as an associate dean of admission at SPS. “We try to create a space where these students can meet easily, connect about their experiences and have a place of support and friendship. This type of smaller setting makes their experiences feel more personal.”
Discovering kinship within the WOC allows members to thrive as individuals, which, Hung explains, is part of the group’s mission. St. Paul’s School is home to more than a dozen affinity and alliance groups that encourage students to come together around common identities of race, culture, religion, gender and sexuality.
Members of the WOC meet for dinner about once every three weeks to discuss a variety of issues. Sharon Lo ’23 co-leads the group with Yerika Molina ’23, Nia Goodloe-Pierre ’23, and Skylar Christoffersen ’24. Lo says the group helped to facilitate new friendships when she first arrived at the School and adds that the WOC has become an important part of her life. Sometimes members gather for bonding nights that include watching movies or making s’mores, but WOC is also part of the larger Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Council at SPS, acting as a voice between students and School administrators.
“During the height of the [Asian American and Pacific Islanders] hate crimes,” Lo says, “Ms. Hung and the club organized an incredibly impactful dinner to discuss identity and the fear that plagued my community at the time. It made me feel recognized and heard and also helped increase the broader community’s awareness of the recent events.”
In other meetings, the group, which typically sees about 20 students at each gathering, has discussed an array of topics, from women’s rights in Iran to interracial dating at SPS to the 2022 presidential election to women of color in STEM. Older students in the group also serve as mentors to younger peers, offering them a community within the larger SPS family upon their arrival at the School.
“[First and] foremost, it provides them with a space to be with other women of color and voice their worries or share about experiences without judgment,” Lo says. “I’ve found that it’s also a way for the newer or younger students to form friendships with people they otherwise wouldn’t see or interact with. We as leaders also try to act as a support system for the other women of color, and we’re always available to them in case they need someone to talk to.”
Beyond organized meetings, Hung encourages members of WOC to support one another in their other endeavors at SPS. Young women have shown up to cheer on their friends as they have performed in theater productions, competed in athletic events, and when Molina and Goodloe-Pierre presented their capstone projects for the School’s Applied Science and Engineering Program.
“When you’re doing well, you’re visible, you’re succeeding, you’re thriving,” Hung says, “and we celebrate that.”
WOC also collaborates with other SPS student affinity groups, such as Onyx (for students who identify as Black, African American or of African heritage), the South Asian and Hindu Society (for students who identify as Indian or Indian American), or Justice and Social Equality for Asians (for students of all backgrounds to discuss current events, social justice initiatives or historical inequality impacting people of Asian descent). Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, recently hosted an inter-school dance for Black students, which some members of WOC attended, and Hung and the students leaders are coordinating with Onyx to organize an inter-school picnic to expand community-building opportunities for students of color at SPS and beyond.
Through all of it, Hung is grateful for the support of Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives Bethany Dickerson Wynder and others to carry out the mission of the WOC.
“It’s a good framework that we’re working in right now,” Hung says, “so we feel very supported.”