Expanding the Vision

Victoria Dunn speaking at podium

Before passing away on December 6, 2015, Victoria Dunn laid the foundation for the Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color to have an engrained purpose in The Ohio State University community, and her efforts with LIWOC since its inception are commendable and will continue in her honor.

There were calls from female students of color and faculty alike to see recognition of their academic achievements and presence on campus. The attributing success from the Todd Bell National Resource Center, in addition to research targeted at identifying the need of this unique population, encouraged a visionary leader to develop a program capable of simultaneously impacting the lives of female students and the campus community.

Dunn responded to the university’s progressing need during the summer of 2011 by implementing a program at Ohio State which celebrated and advanced the caliber of excellence women of color had already demonstrated across this campus. After four years of pouring time and passion not only into a program but also an idea of transforming the lives of young women, Dunn shared her vision as a guide for the foundation of LIWOC and an affirmation of the program's bright future.

“The first research revealed that by-and-large, women of color were surviving and thriving academically,” said Dunn. “What we continued to hear anecdotally was that they needed particular mentoring experiences, especially leadership development experiences, and programming to help them. The annual retreat became the engine capable of powerfully impacting the development of women of color and continues to be.”

The theme for the November 2015 LIWOC Retreat was “Our Realities Matter: A Retreat for Women of Color.” Stemming from movements started around the nation with Black Lives Matter, the retreat served as a safe place to discuss issues relating to the experiences women of color face and encourage them to mobilize action against these injustices.

Sil Lai Abrams, the key note speaker and creator of the media advocacy group Truth in Reality, offered expertise in the dialogue central to the retreat's theme. Her year-round program continues to analyze negative images of women of color in the media and the way those images inspire a culture of relative silence concerning the violence for women of color.

girls smiling at LIWOC retreat

The retreat offered over 60 attendees the opportunity to learn about themselves and express their views through impactful discussions. During the weekend collegiate women of color across a multitude of disciplines bonded over mutual interests and experiences. In four years, the retreat has expanded the original Black Women's Retreat hosted by the Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus, reaching more female students to create a more supportive and collaborative community for women of color on campus.

The atmosphere for the three-day retreat held at the Deer Creek Lodge and Conference Center was described by Dunn as, “relaxing, trusting, and really went in deep to give the female students a chance to identify and share their own experiences publicly, which most had never done before.”

Proud of her extraordinary work, Dunn recalled a student who thanked her for putting together the retreat. Dunn said, “She is someone I’ve been able to see grow in her research, so I knew she was a very confident and academically-minded person. I got to see what great value this retreat has simply for affirming the realities women of color struggle with, publically expressing an appreciation for their achievements, and normalizing their excellence by introducing them to a supportive community of like-minded women of color.”

The passion and hard work Dunn put into LIWOC in order to serve female students of color at The Ohio State University was epitomized by the testimony a graduate student female of color shared with Dunn prior to her death: “My view of myself as an African American Woman has been transformed.”

By Trina Thomas, ODI Communications Intern

About Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color

LIWOC’s programming is designed to assist any student who self-identifies as a woman of color in making the most of her leadership potential in both the classroom and the community. Its signature spring event, “Colorful Conversations: But For Passion…,” is a luncheon and panel conversation with three highly successful African American Ohio State alumnae. Another of LIWOC’s outstanding programs is Mission STEM-Possible, an American Association of University Women grant-funded project to teach 8th graders from the Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls about STEM careers. Also, the annual, three-day retreat has become a centerpiece of LIWOC, growing larger and more popular each year. As a result of functioning dually as a student organization with support from Student Life as well as ODI, upper level members of Ladies of Leadership serve as mentors to selected first-year women of color students. LIWOC has been able to uphold its purpose and commitment to female students of color through meaningful programming as well as leadership development opportunities.

Support more programs and initiatives of the Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color by giving to the Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color Support Fund: 315132