by Maddy Baldwin
Earlier this semester, I sat down with Dr. Nichols and Dr. Crutchfield of the Women of Color Network to ask them the important questions of: Why did they start? What do they want to do? And what does this organization mean to each of them and to this campus? Just by asking these questions I learned and observed the obvious passion and devotion both of them have for this organization and the opportunities it presents for women of color on the Ole Miss campus.
So why did they start?
When I asked this simple question, I got in response a beautiful story of transferring experiences with similar groups from Dr. Nichols grad school to the Ole Miss campus because this group is not just needed on our campus but is needed in all Universities or work environments. They started to bring a sense of community to this campus, a place where students, faculty, and staff could come together. But the “why” has grown, what they thought would be a group discussion about work or school, has become something deeper. This group has become a space where women come to take a load off and talk about their kids, spouses, and daily lives. A sense of solidarity and a sense of place has formed for this group.
They expected to see mostly students and faculty at their meetings and surprising to them 95% of the attendees at these meetings is the Ole Miss staff. Because of this, they realized the why this group was needed was very similar to the response that Dr. Crutchfield gave me. This group is essential for survival, it helps these women navigate a campus where the faculty and staff is separated by departments, shows them how to exist as a minority on this campus, and creates an opportunity for a secondary education because of the professional development aspect of this group.
For Dr. Nichols and Dr. Crutchfield, it brings them out of the rat race of their lives and allows them to connect with women on the campus that they may have never met or bonded with if this group did not exist. So why did they start? Because of the beautiful sense of community, professional development opportunities, and because of all the unexpected beauty that has developed in just a year of this group existing.
What do they aim to do?
Their aim is to help the women of color on campus with professional development, form connections between departments, navigate their academic journey, and meet other women. They also want to do Brown Bag events and partner with other groups on campus such as FEMISS. Dr. Nichols and Dr. Crutchfield also hope to expand this idea and this group to other campuses by going to conferences and showing other women and campuses what they are doing here in hopes that they will also do it on their own campuses. They want to show our university and other universities that this is a selling point for students, faculty, and staff looking to join the university.
What does it mean to each of them and to this campus?
This group means challenging and tearing away the negative rhetoric that is so often applied to Ole Miss. It shows that progressive work is happening on this campus and that Ole Miss fully supports this progressive work because of the encouragement and financial support they have received. It is also a step in the positive direction Ole Miss was already working towards.
This group embodies her heart for women and the question she always asks herself, “What can I do to improve someone’s quality of life?”. It embodies her heart professionally, personally, and in her work.
Because she works at Ole Miss regional campus in Tupelo, this group allows outreach and fills the need for learning how to navigate and also gives support on an isolated campus. For her, this group embodies her heart for helping people feel comfortable in the skin they are in and showing people that there are things that we all share and this connects us.