DWN Spring Faculty Forum: “Acting as if Black Lives [Really] Matter”

By Kris Gallagher

I feel like I shouldn’t be the one writing this blog post.

I’ve spent most of the past year working on DePaul’s B.U.I.L.D. diversity certificate, so I was immediately drawn to the topic for DWN’s Spring Faculty Forum, cosponsored by DePaul’s Black Leadership Coalition. What I heard was powerful, revelatory and often painful. I was acutely aware that I was a racial minority in the room, a feeling much too familiar to people of color.

The speaker promised us a safe space, and it was. She also said that safe spaces are frequently uncomfortable, and it was that, too. I came to listen and learn. I did, and I’m glad I attended.

About two dozen people gathered to listen to Derise Tolliver Atta, associate professor and self-proclaimed Chief Happiness Officer for the School for New Learning. She pointed out that the opinions she was about to share were her own and not DePaul’s. She then opened the forum by sharing with several African traditions, including seeking permission from her elders, sharing libations for thanksgiving and healing, and encouraging us to be warriors, healers and builders. She drew us in with a table full of items from her past, including family photos, gifts, a pair of boots for stomping on some toes, and a cheering toy elephant.

The real elephant in the room, she said, is the question that hovered over us all: “If we say Black Lives Matter, what’s the issue? Why is there push back?”

Accompanied by supportive murmurs from the attendees, she explored the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter since 2013 while noting that the actual movement predates it by centuries. The hashtag erupted from the highly publicized killings of unarmed men, women and children and the lack of consequences for the shooters.  Tolliver Atta pointed out that detractors call the movement militant, anti-police, reverse-racist, terrorist, and anti-white, but #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t say anything against others.  She encouraged us to think about why people turn a positive statement into a negative one.

“Why is there fear around these things, and what can we do about it?” she asked.

She told several personal stories illustrating how Blacks had been threatened or mistreated by whites. All of us then read the names of some of the unarmed Black people who recently were killed by police. I think it’s ironic that some white people react with fear-based anger over #BlackLivesMatter when it is so clear that the people who have the most reason to be afraid are people of color.

The development and wellbeing of each of us is important to all of us

“Black lives are systematically, intentionally targeted for demise. That’s a hard thing to hear,” she said. “It’s about spirit killing if it’s not body killing. It’s about annihilating someone psychologically, spiritually, physically, emotionally.”

Tolliver Atta explained that BlackLivesMatter is an ideological, political movement committed to resisting, unveiling and undoing the history of state-sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies.

She talked about a concept new to me: Maafa, the African Holocaust, a centuries-old and ongoing form of genocide against the mental and physical health of people of African descent. Slavery was baked into the United States when it was founded, and the systems that were put in place then continue today.

“Modern-day policing is descended from the slave patrols,” she said, “so it’s natural for police to use violence, to be overly aggressive, because that’s what they did when they started.” People need to understand history to start making change.

History transformed into present day when she and others started telling stories of what they had experienced at DePaul. I love working here and I want to believe we’re better than this, but I winced over and over again.

Black students being asked for ID in the library right after white students were not. Colleagues being surprised at prestigious degrees. Limited leadership opportunities for people of African descent. Racial profiling of faculty, staff and students. Low recruitment, retention and graduation of students of African descent. The lack of an African-American resource center. White faculty members arguing they should be able to use racial epithets.

“Privilege says that I have the right, under the guise of free speech, to say something that I know is disrespectful,” she said. “The message that is communicated is that your life doesn’t really matter.”

The problems are both systemic and institutional, she says. For example, leadership should be looking at the proportion of Black students and faculty in any program being considered for elimination.

What do we do?

So, what can white people like me do?

  • Learn about whiteness. Even if I think I am opposed to racism, I may unwittingly support systems of racism.
  • Work on discovering and countering the ideas of privilege and supremacy that we all have internalized.
  • Learn about the systems that kill Black lives—mind, body, soul and spirit
  • Become aware of how you might be silencing others by dictating the conversation.
  • Buy from black businesses.
  • Call for changing structures in the organizations you belong to.
  • Hold your colleagues responsible for the things they are saying and doing.
  • Use your own influence to work for positive social change.

“Doing the work is not necessarily going to be comfortable. Don’t expect people of African descent to carry you out of racism,” she said.

She also called people of African descent to get to work:

  • Develop oneself and don’t allow others to dim your light.
  • Recognize that you may not receive outside endorsement. Know that you don’t need it.
  • Give up hearing people who are oppressing you.
  • Affirm your own mental and spiritual self and those of others
  • Resist the myths of superiority and inferiority.
  • Reflect on your own identities.
  • Accept your Black-nificent being and celebrate personhood without oppressing others.

Then, she called for change she would like to see at DePaul:

  • Mandatory cultural competency training for faculty and staff
  • More resources and effort put into recruitment and retention of Black students and faculty
  • Town hall meetings promoting diversity discussions
  • A diversity section in the annual mandatory compliance test

“I am calling for a revolution. I am calling for a revolution at the personal, societal, global scale,” Tolliver Atta concluded.

“We have to do this. We have to do this work. Doing this work and enduring this pain”—she raps the stiletto boot heels on the table—“will get us to a place where we don’t simply say that Black lives matter, we don’t simply act as if Black lives really matter, we will actually live the reality that Black lives do matter. It will be who we are.”

That’s a future I want to be part of.

Click here to watch the full video of the event.

Kris Gallagher is a member of the DePaul Women’s Network marketing and communications team, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.

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Celebrating the Spirit of St. Louise at DWN’s 12th Annual High Tea

 By Nadia Alfadel Coloma

On March 28, DePaul women faculty and staff gathered for fellowship, networking and service at DWN’s 12th annual High Tea with St. Louise. This yearly celebration marks two occasions: Women’s History Month and St. Louise’s feast day, both of which occur in March.

So who was St. Louise anyway? Why does DWN hold this event each year to commemorate her?

One terrific metaphor I heard once from someone explaining the significance of St. Louise, in her relation to St. Vincent, is that if St. Vincent were the president of our university, then St. Louise would be the provost.

St Louise de MarillacFrom 17th century France, St. Louise was St. Vincent’s most trusted and key collaborator. She dedicated her life to the service of others, serving the poor alongside St. Vincent and educating women to help those most in need. St. Louise was also a wife (then widow), a mother (to a son with special needs), a nurse, social worker, teacher and community organizer. She founded the Daughter’s of Charity, a community of religious women that still exists today.

St. Louise’s spirit of service and action inspires us to take our beliefs,  ideas, passions, dreams, our vision for a better world—and put them into action. And it is because of her inspiring legacy that DWN honors her each year, not with one event, but with two: the other being our annual Women of Spirit and Action Awards.

17458234_10212052718136305_3478190085345872810_nBut this year’s High Tea with St. Louise was different. In addition to providing a space and opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea and treats with fellow DPU women, our 2017 High Tea included a service activity.

All this talk about St. Louise inspiring us to action, well, what better way to honor her than to put our inspiration to action and do service in her name?

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Barbara Sims, a DePaul SNL graduate student who talked about her experiences facing poverty, her struggles as a first-generation college student and single mother, and her climb to a six-figure corporate job that, while it filled her pockets, didn’t satisfy her soul.

“Knowledge is power,” she shared, reading a quote from Kofi Annan that inspired her. “Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society and every family.”

Barbara ended up leaving her six-figure job to pursue her passion for singing. In fact, she sang a song just before beginning her address, mesmerizing everyone with the delightful surprise of her voice that echoed through the lofty ceilings of Cortelyou Commons. (Not every keynote speaker spontaneously breaks into song…) You can watch the 40-second clip of her singing here.

Barbara spent a few years traveling around the country singing, but she still felt a restlessness in her soul. She had a calling toward education, and so decided to go back to school, enrolling at DePaul to pursue a PhD that focuses on culturally relevant education in the neo liberal era.

“I wanted to be in some service,” she said. “Our African American students are either underemployed or unemployed. They’re not walking away from school prepared or inspired.”

sarahscircleAfter Barbara’s keynote, the local nonprofit that we would be serving that day was introduced. Sarah’s Circle, located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, serves women who are homeless or in need of a safe space. Last year the organization served roughly 793 women in the community.

But there was one more special guest before the service portion of the event: the Depaul (yes, lowercase p) USA’s Dax Program, which helps our students facing homelessness by matching them with host families and giving them resources and support so they can complete their education at DePaul.

20170328_161128“There are at least 50 students at DePaul who are homeless, or housing insecure, as we prefer to say, during any given quarter,” shared Sister Judy Warmbold, the Dax program coordinator. “The problem is… we don’t know who these students are. The best thing you can do to help is know that this program exists, help spread the word and help identify students who you suspect might need this program.”

“There are at least 50 students at DePaul who are homeless during any given quarter. The problem is… we don’t know who they are.” – Sister Judy Warmbold, Dax program coordinator

I had heard about the Dax Program a couple of years ago, but admittedly, it had slipped from my mind since then—which made me feel awful, considering that one of the main points Sister Judy stressed to everyone was to simply be aware. Be aware of the program and be aware of the students you work with or teach on campus, as students facing homelessness are often too ashamed to come forward. You can read more about Dax in Newsline.

After a brief Q&A between the attendees and guest speakers, the energized frenzy of the service activity finally began.

At each round table, DPU women assembled sandwiches and packed them into bagged lunches for the women who benefit from Sarah’s Circle. Each table had loaves of bread, slices of deli meat and cheese, clementines and bags of chips. Also dispersed around the tables were index cards on which we could write a personal message to the woman who would receive the bagged lunch.

It was wonderful to be in the company of so many DePaul women who gave the gift of their presence that day to help women that they would never meet. Hands were reaching across tables, people were calling out “Is there more cheese?” and “Does anyone have an extra bag?” The connection and solidarity I felt with those around me was such a rejuvenating way to end my work day.

By the end, the 50 women who participated made 100 sandwiches for 100 bagged lunches. The representatives from Sarah’s Circle expressed their gratitude and amazement at how fast and efficiently we put the lunches together. Many looked up from the tables as if thinking, “Aren’t there anymore sandwiches to make?”

The spirit of St. Louise truly shone through the windows of Cortelyou Commons that afternoon.

I’m so glad that the DePaul Women’s Network offers these opportunities to come together, learn and give back to the larger community. It makes me proud to be a part of the Network. I hope we made St. Louise proud with this event that bears her name. I have a feeling we did.

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Visit our Facebook page to view more photos from the event!

Nadia Alfadel Coloma is the director of marketing and communications for the DePaul Women’s Network, and a communications and workforce specialist in Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University.

DWN Book Club: ‘Lab Girl’ Sheds Light on Life as a Scientist

By Kris Gallagher

labgirlLab Girl, a memoir by Hope Jahren, surprised and delighted me with its mash-up of basic plant science and the dirty, chaotic mess that is both research and life. It tells the story of a bright, reclusive and committed scientist, alternating between loneliness, the thrill of discovery and the quest to find her place in the world. It showcases the best non-romantic male-female relationship that I’ve ever read about. And, it’s left me standing under trees this spring, wondering what’s going on in there.

Attendees at the Loop discussion praised how the book alternated between bite-size bits of science and Jahren’s life. The science snippets also served as a metaphor, starting with seeds and Jahren’s childhood and following the growth of the tree and the woman until maturity. It also talks about the importance of family, both the ones we are born with and the ones we make. The accessibility and support of mothers and fathers figure prominently in the lives of the main characters.

One of the most evocative moments in the book is when Jahren discovers a previously unknown substance inside seeds (we won’t tell; you’ll have to read the book). She writes about how mind-blowing it is to be the only person on the planet to know it. None of us could imagine that happening in our lives. Her discovery made us all yearn a bit to be scientists.

Then there is the flip side. Even though we all work in academia, we were struck by how scientists live grant to grant. Highly educated, experienced scientists (like Bill, her long-time assistant) live hand to mouth, sometimes in spare broom closets, when grant money slows to a drip. They are working at nationally renowned universities, picking through abandoned equipment and celebrating the retrieval of a package of unused gloves. This is a crazy way to fund science!

The book ends with a request that readers plant at least one tree, and we all talked about our options for doing so. I think we’ll all look at spring differently this year.

Note: One participant listened to the audio book, which is narrated by Jahren, and didn’t appreciate how emotional the author becomes in some sections. This may help you decide how you want to engage with this book.

Kris Gallagher is a member of the DePaul Women’s Network marketing and communications team, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.

The Vagina Monologues Should be an Ongoing Conversation

By Jennifer Long

vmOur society is not yet inclusive or representative of all people’s voices. Women, for example, have a number of experiences related to violence and oppression that still need to be heard and championed.

DePaul’s 18th Annual Vagina Monologues was a reminder of that fact. A reminder, because decades after Eve Ensler wrote and performed the original play at the Off-Broadway Westside Theatre, her words are still recited and are still able to disarm and empower an audience.

I had the pleasure of attending this play on the Lincoln Park campus in early February. It helped me grow in my understanding of DePaul women.

A collaborative effort between The Women’s Center, the Theatre School and the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, this performance activism entitled “Vagina Monologues” raises awareness of the breadth of women’s experiences through Eve Ensler’s writing and personal monologues written by DePaul students.

It’s performed every year at DePaul around Valentine’s Day weekend, and proceeds from ticket sales support three on-campus organizations: Rape Victim Advocates, A Long Walk Home and Take Back the Halls. In fact, performances all over the country under this name have raised over $100 million dollars in support of women’s and domestic organizations since its inception.

I should have known that this combination of expression, intention and vulnerability would be reviving.

Throughout the play, audience members were encouraged to clap, holler or snap whenever a monologue resonated. I imagine many, like me, lost count of how many times they participated. It was remarkable to be in the presence of brave women who shared their stories and brought the experiences of others to life by reciting monologues. I felt empowered and connected to a community of DePaul women, women everywhere and their allies.

The personal monologues from DePaul students were particularly startling. They opened my eyes to the broad range of our female students’ experiences—experiences I wasn’t aware of at my own alma mater as an undergraduate.

One particular monologue revolved around conversations that had floated around campus last year. These “#triggered” conversations were in response to racial tension and insensitivity toward those suffering on campus due to their race, sexual identity or experience with sexual violence. This monologue was a reminder that we could all do better at thinking about the impact that our words and actions can have not only in the DePaul community, but in all communities.

And then there was a monologue that clearly articulated consent—how it is defined and supported at DePaul, and how DePaul continues the conversation on consent on many college campuses today.

Interestingly, after some contextual research on the subject, I learned there have been conflicting perspectives regarding these performances. Mostly, that the language used and voices represented were too narrow by focusing heavily on a white, middle-class female experience. Arguably, the platform has grown to include the voices of women with diverse backgrounds and varying identities, including transwomen.

One transwoman DePaul student, who had recently passed away, was unable to share her story that weekend. But a draft of her monologue was posted near the exit. By acknowledging her voice in this way, it was clear how DePaul values expanding the platform to include more voices and experiences—in a way that the original performance may not have done decades prior. Surely though, it could still grow to be even more inclusive.

I highly recommend attending this play the next time it is available on campus or in your community. Whether it is “The Vagina Monologues” or any other performance activism for a marginalized or oppressed community, all who attend will leave with a broader perspective of society.

If more people’s voices and experiences are heard, society might become more inclusive and understanding.

While the people in the audience may have had different identities or definitions of feminism, may not have had vaginas, may not have experienced sexual violence and oppression, they can still become allies for the community and help continue the conversation that works to eliminate violence and oppression of women.

How will you help continue the conversation?

Jennifer Long is a DWN member at large and an assistant director of development for DePaul’s Richard H. Driehaus College of Business.

DWN Works Up a Sweat at the Ray

By Kris Gallagher

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I’m at that age where the desire to exercise more often conflicts with my desire to not inflame my bad knee. Still, I was intrigued by the free Exercise for Health and Wellness with DWN event at the Ray Meyer Fitness & Recreation Center on Feb. 20. So, I packed up my workout clothes and my bum knee and off I went.

I was happy to see that the two dozen women who joined me were of all ages and athletic abilities. We joked around and encouraged each other as we tried to keep up with the instructors. Thankfully, they told us that is was more important to keep moving than to mimic them exactly. Even better, they told us to scale the intensity of the workout to match the needs of our own bodies.

First up was 20 minutes of Zumba. If you are new to Zumba, it’s a dance-based workout with fairly simple, repetitive motions. In addition to being good exercise, you learn some nifty dance moves. We pumped our arms, wiggled our middles and hopped to the beat of the peppy Latin music. Well, many people hopped. I stepped, keeping the impact on my knee low and still managing to work up a good sweat. I’d forgotten how much fun Zumba is.

The next 20-minute session was a new style of exercise for me: Tabata Blast. The instructor showed us a series of poses that require balance and muscle strength, such as a plank or a deep squat. We’d hold the pose for 20 seconds, take 20 seconds off, and then repeat. Whoa, THAT was a workout! Two days later, my thighs are still screaming. It’s the kind of scream that means calories were burned and muscles were strengthened. I was relieved to hear that regular Tabata Blast classes are just 30 minutes long. I don’t think I could go for an hour!

Finally, an instructor led us through a series of yoga poses that let us stretch and relax and restore our sense of calm. The woman next to me said it was her first time trying yoga and she seemed to be able to do all the poses easily. Yoga is a great way to start exercising if you haven’t been. It helps you loosen up tight muscles and joints, builds your strength and improves your balance. It’s also a mini-meditation session, and most of us can use more of that!

Our workout was jointly sponsored by DWN and DePaul’s Healthy Vin-cent$ Wellness Program. If you are inspired to improve your health, check out the classes held at the Ray and at the newly refurbished gym in the basement of the College of Computing and Digital Media building in the Loop. You can sign up for six-week classes or single sessions as your schedule allows.

Oh, and my knee? It’s just fine. Let’s get fit!

Kris Gallagher is a marketing and communications team member for DWN, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.

DWN Night at the DePaul Theatre: “We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia…”

By Nadia Alfadel Coloma

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Last night, DWN members got to enjoy a preview of “We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” at DePaul’s Theatre School on the Lincoln Park Campus. Members received complementary tickets to the show as part of DWN’s membership benefits. (Special thanks to Leslie Shook, theatre manager, for providing this opportunity.)

It was a cold Thursday night so I almost didn’t go, but I am so glad that I did. The truth is, it’s hard to break from routine, especially at the end of a work day when all you want to do is go home and get out of your work clothes. But once in a while, it’s good to step out of your usual pattern to enjoy an experience, so that every week is not a mere replica of the one before it.

I had no idea what to expect from this play. I had never heard of it, and the title was certainly unique. I found the description to be a bit vague, too. Please be advised that this show is for mature audiences, the invitation cautioned. I was intrigued. Also, I had never attended a show at DePaul’s Theatre School. The Fullerton Stage is a wonderful space—intimate and inviting, the seating is arranged as a semi-circle around the stage.

I will not give away details about this play so that you can go and experience it for yourself. Because it is an experience, one that shakes the emotions and stretches the mind. It is a play that provokes reflection, elicits strong (uncomfortable) emotion, deep emotion, and most significantly, sparks important dialogue.

By the end, when the lights went out and the actors disappeared from the stage, I was stunned—and so was everyone in the audience. My heart was racing as  silence descended upon the stage. There was a post-show discussion that I stayed for, that almost everyone in the audience stayed for. We clearly all needed to process.

The play follows an ensemble of well-meaning actors who struggle to tell the story of a nearly forgotten African genocide that took place at the turn of the twentieth century. For one, this was new information to me. I had never heard of the Herero tribe and the terrible tragedy they suffered. The ensemble struggles to tell the story of the fate of the Herero because:

How can you tell the story of an oppressed people whose history has never been documented—from their perspective?

History is all facts, dates, figures. We rely on documentation to formulate and understand “what happened” in the past. But who is documenting the past? Whose perspective is narrating “what happened”? And that is the inherent issue the ensemble grapples with.

The people in power (in this case, the German conquerors) were the ones narrating the past. The history of the Herero genocide is thus based on their perspective, a privileged perspective.

When you have only one perspective, one narrative to a history, then that leaves the other side in perpetual oppression because their voices are ultimately never heard. The historical narrative is incomplete, leaving an entire people, in this case, the Herero, literally erased.

The play weaves in and out of present day America and colonial Namibia. It forces you to be a spectator to injustice. It makes you uncomfortable. And it does this because comfort, after all, breeds complacency.

It explores how society constructs systems that oppress one group and uplift another, all because of race and color.

Written by American playwrite Jackie Sibblies Drury, the play was first read at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in April 2012.

This is a bold and powerful play that is especially important considering the context of our current political climate. I highly recommend it, though with the same caution that I received: this play is for mature audiences only. The cast, also, was excellent. I applaud them for delivering such a moving and difficult performance.

I have a newfound appreciation for the Theatre School and will certainly be back to enjoy other shows. (At the very least, I’ll be less likely to brush away the inter-office mail postcards that they send us every so often.) 🙂

“We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” will be playing February 10 through February 19 at the Theatre School. Get your tickets here.

Nadia Alfadel Coloma is the director of marketing and communications for DWN, and a communications and workforce specialist in DePaul’s division of Enrollment Management and Marketing.

DWN Book Club: Parallel Lives Explored in ‘A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea’

By Kris Gallagher

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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, by Dina Nayeri, is both a mystery and the story of the evolution of Saba Hafez in 1980s Iran. As a young girl, Saba tries to make sense of the disappearance of her mother and her twin sister, Mahtab. She crafts elaborate tales of Mahtab growing up in America—tales that both parallel and contrast with Saba’s own experiences.

While Saba is the main character of the book, the women who discussed the book in DWN’s Loop campus book club meeting noted that we also heard first-person voices of older women in the village. Some of them are upholding tradition and some of them are pushing for change. All are voices of reality compared to Saba’s dream world. “It’s like sitting in on the village gossip,” said DWN member and book club meeting facilitator Lauren Kriz, who works in Enrollment Management and Marketing.

Lauren noted that the author is herself an Iranian immigrant to the United States. “The author really is Mahtab, writing about what her relatives have experienced in Iran,” she said. Both Teaspoon and Americana, a previous DWN book club selection, explore the “immigrant worries” that people must overcome when they leave their native lands and move to the fabled America.

Saba and her father are Christians living in a Muslim community during increasingly strict enforcement of Islamic codes. One DWN member talked about how the Hafez family had to hide their Christianity and, at times, pretend to be Muslim, which echoed her own experiences living in Saudia Arabia for several years as a child.

“I felt like I lived in a bubble. What you do outside is such a tiny portion of who you are,” she shared. “You have to do what you have to do to survive. You need to protect yourself until you reach the next building.”

The women all discussed how easy is seems to bruise the ego of men in Iran and the dramatic force with which men respond. Even Saba’s father, who loves her dearly, is unable to protect her. Saba depends on several women for advice and protection, but those relationships have their own perils.

In particular, Dr. Zora, a friend of Saba’s mother, becomes both surrogate mother and the bearer of harsh truths, said Heather Smith, an adjunct professor of geography. Saba—and her mirror image Mahtab—become committed to “document the horrors of oppression.” At the end of the book, the mystery of the disappearance of Saba’s mother and sister is resolved—or is it another Iranian “pretty lie?”

Recommendations for future reading:

New York Times Documentary: “Ladies First,” Saudi Arabia’s first Female Candidates

Book: City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai

Kris Gallagher is a marketing and communications team member for the DePaul Women’s Network, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.