Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.1 (2004) 23-38
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Creating a Feminist Community on a Woman of Color Campus
Kia Lilly Caldwell and Margaret Hunter
This article examines the importance of centering the experiences of women of color in U.S. women's studies courses and the usefulness of this approach in building feminist solidarity among women of color students. Our observations are based on experiences as faculty members at a racially and ethnically diverse public university in the Los Angeles area. This campus is often described as being one of the most diverse universities in the United States. Thirty-one percent of the students are African American, 30 percent are Latino, 26 percent are white, 12 percent are Asian Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent are Native American. In addition, a full 70 percent of the students are women.
Drawing from observations in our classrooms and our reflections on the racial and gender politics of this unique university, this article describes our efforts to politicize students on a campus comprised primarily of women of color and the struggle to create a feminist community in that space. Our reflections are offered as a contribution to both old and new debates within feminist and women's studies circles regarding how best to address ethnic and racial differences among women. Addressing the concept and reality of difference has long plagued feminist activists and scholars. However, in recent decades women of color have breathed new life into feminist thought and praxis by describing how difference operates, its necessity in intellectual exchange, and its potential for creating radical social change.1 We seek to add our voices to this important dialogue by suggesting that alliance building among women of color students is a crucial step forward in feminist struggles with difference. Moreover, while our analysis is grounded in observations on a single campus, we believe that it offers important insights for women's studies and feminist politics on other campuses, with similar or different demographics. [End Page 23]
From "Majority Minority" Campus to Woman of Color University
In our efforts to foster interethnic alliance building and feminist awareness among our students we began to realize the importance of moving from a conceptualization of the campus as a "majority minority university" to a view that would recognize the political significance of having a student body that is composed primarily of women of color.2 We decided to name our hypothetical university, the Women of Color University (WOCU). This name change is not merely symbolic. It also signifies a change in thinking about the student body and an alternative discourse for discussing racial and gender differences on the campus. This name change is also significant because it offers the possibility of reshaping the identity of the university to reflect its ownership by students of color and women of color in particular.
We found that conceiving of the campus as primarily comprised of "minority" students maintained the discourse of the ruling class in the United States by perpetuating the belief that students of color were objects and outsiders in their communities and their university. Furthermore, using the term "majority minority campus" continued to center whiteness and white people at a university where they totaled only one quarter of the student body. As a result, the identity of the university remained white, and the presence of students of color was viewed as an aberration and intrusion. The politics surrounding the description of the university were also reflected in the broader debates of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, the metropolitan area that surrounds WOCU, is a unique and challenging political environment. In recent years Los Angeles has been referred to as a "global city," in part because the state of California receives 40 percent of all immigrants to the United States. In Los Angeles County, 42 percent of the population is Latino, 33 percent is white, 13 percent is Asian or Pacific Islander, and 11 percent of the population is African American, and less than 1 percent is Native...