SPOTLIGHT ON:
Leadership Initiatives
for Women of Color

Mission STEM Possible participants after College of Engineering activity

With the growing recognition of the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) recently established a high-quality, targeted program focusing on women of color. During the summer of 2011, Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color (LIWOC) was launched. While various units and student organizations address the needs of women of color, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion envisions its new program serving as a site for more collaborative, campus-wide support of female students of color at Ohio State.

In developing the program, initiators considered a number of data sources. The program’s director, Victoria Dunn, shared this: “We were not surprised to find that women of color were, generally speaking, doing well academically as a group. Of course, we did note drops in retention or performance at particular points and will be working to develop appropriate academic support programs. What we were most interested to find, though, was the number of women of color interested in expanding their professional networks. That need drives most of what we’ve done so far.”

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. As a result of this dual commitment, much of the initial programming has been collaborative. Its signature spring event, for instance, “Colorful Conversations: But For Passion…” was a luncheon and panel conversation with three highly successful, African American Ohio State alumna. Given the success of this program, plans are underway to offer Colorful Conversations annually and in collaboration with a community partner. This year, LIWOC was pleased to partner with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Central Ohio Chapter in hosting over 50 campus and community women at the luncheon.

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. The year-long program was a collaboration with over a half dozen university units that made interactive presentations and facilitated experiments exposing students to STEM careers. Through the generous support of Honda of America, the project will be offered for a second year. Further plans for sustaining the program include developing ways to engage Ohio State University STEP students in mentoring the Columbus City Prep 8th graders.

We want to become known as an office dedicated to celebrating the incredible diversity of women of color.
                                                             - Victoria Dunn, LIWOC Director

By far, LIWOC’s most far-reaching effort has been assuming responsibility for the Black Women’s Retreat. Building on the foundational efforts of women from the Black Graduate and Professional Student Caucus who oversaw the retreat for more than a decade, LIWOC is making efforts to increase the numbers of participants from among various groups of women of color. This annual, three-day retreat at Deer Creek Lodge and Conference Center has become a centerpiece of LIWOC, growing larger and more popular each year. The 2014 retreat, “OWN It: It's All About Love” brought together approximately 60 undergraduate, graduate and professional students with the goal of creating a more supportive and collaborative community of women of color at Ohio State.

In addition to those programs, LIWOC supports student organization dedicated to leadership development. Ladies of Leadership will take an even more pronounced role in helping to plan and implement LIWOC’s programs. That is a major responsibility since LIWOC has already hosted speakers like bell hooks, Aya Fubara Eneli, and Kemba Smith for campus and community audiences. Functioning dually as a student organization with support from Student Life as well as ODI, upper level members of Ladies of Leadership will serve as mentors to selected first-year women of color students. The organization will recruit its first cohort of mentees in Autumn 2014.

Overall, Victoria Dunn is satisfied with the progress that her unit has made in the last two and a half years. She is especially pleased with the difference LIWOC has made for some of its most promising student leaders, those who were selected to attend the National Conference of College Student Women Leaders. LIWOC’s programming, Dunn says, “Allows students to celebrate a life of service, develop a sense of community, and learn to challenge themselves to combat the stereotypes they may face as women of color. But it isn’t all about ‘pushing back.’ We want to become known as an office dedicated to celebrating the incredible diversity of women of color. With just three years and so many successes behind us, I can only imagine a brilliant future.”