by Jessica Igollo-Ogele
“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” –Alan Alda
Statistics (Why is this important?)
- “In 2012, for example, underrepresented minority women received only 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering.”
- “Black and Latina girls remain more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant during adolescence, and American Indian/Alaska Native teen birth rates are one and a half times higher than the white teen birth rate”
- “Although women in general face a continuing pay gap compared to their male counterparts, the gap is even larger for women of color. Additionally, black women face the highest rates of poverty for those 65 years and older (21 percent), followed by Hispanic women (20 percent), and Asian women (13 percent).”
As I write this, I must reflect on the difference in positions that I find myself in. In 2019, I was a listener for the Young Women of Color Session, and now I am able to moderate a listening session of my own. A lot has occurred between 2019 and 2021 and one event that has been a great catalyst for change is the death of George Floyd. In 2019, I listened to the experiences and resonated with the experiences of women of color in Spartanburg. Prior to the death of George Floyd, I was merely a spectator to racism and discrimination even when it directly affected me. This report is meaningful to me because it is the fruit of the seeds I planted as a listener and as a writer in my Black Lives Matter blog post. I hope that this report surpasses words and is instead a direct reflection of the voices of Young Women of Color in Spartanburg.
Why do we listen?
In the wake of many social justice issues that directly affect young women of color, it is important now more than ever to listen to improve the quality of life for young women of color in Spartanburg County. Not feeling heard as a marginalized group has proven to be detrimental for the mental health of young women of color. At our sessions, we had 4 listeners and about 14 girls each. This created an atmosphere that was safe and comfortable to listen and be heard.
A Time of Listening to Young Women of Color in Spartanburg
As part of the Young Women of Color Collective Initiative, our goal is to elevate the voices of young women of color in Spartanburg and create real change from what we have listened to and observed. The initiative was created for Young Women of Color:
- To occupy space and collectively make a difference by educating, mobilizing and amplifying issues impacting their communities.
Our Vision is a world where Young Women of Color are included and can thrive being their authentic selves.
What we wanted to address:
- As a YWOC in Spartanburg, what are the factors having the biggest influence on mental health?
- What types of resources and supports would you find beneficial? Follow up questions related to in person, virtual, online, and in school, in community?
- We are providing feedback on what we hear to Connect Spartanburg. What do you want Connect to know as they work to improve the health and wellbeing of teens?
- Mental Health
What We Heard (So Far)
We heard many insightful, moving, and raw statements from our participants. It is evident that many are passionate about the topics that were discussed. The biggest overlap from the 2019 listening session is the need for racial bias training in the school system.
– Quotes –
“There is a lack of representation among mental health professionals but having diversity provides a sense of comfortability.”
“YWOC have to be 10 times as strong in identity due to microaggressions.”
“Spartanburg has helped but not in terms of scholarships and internships for young women of color.”
“It’s taboo to go see a counselor/therapist.. we need more visibility and access to them.”
“It is okay to ask for help.”
“We want more opportunities like this to talk about mental health as a person of color in Spartanburg and how to handle the different pressures of society and in our community”
“It’s easy to feel out of place, and you have to prove that you belong.”
“It is taboo to get the help you need. ”
“There are not really many Black teachers and most don’t push their Black students.”
“I got dress coded for wearing something that didn’t show my belly point, then I saw a white girl wearing way worse later on in the day.”
-Wanting the benefits of being white without losing cultural roots
-Help with college admissions for first generation college students
-Racial bias training for teachers but also having students involved, survey to students on if they have felt discriminated and then alter training from there
-More career incentives and more services for young people in the community to participate in
-Disciplinary actions (ex. Dress code) are not fairly enforced in regards to dress code.
Other Themes/Areas of Concern
- Elections causing stigmas around certain communities
- Stress from adulthood and finances
- Police brutality
- Unnecessarily high standards
- Wanting to be white
- Having to do double to overcome white counterparts
- Home life affecting health and actions/performance in school
- Dress code discrimination
Overall, young women of color in Spartanburg feel that they are not provided with the resources that they need to be successful. Many young women feel as though they must assimilate and immerse themselves in white culture to be accepted, thereby extinguishing their identities and causing them to struggle with their identities and mental health. We also found that there is an increasing outcry for more representation. Young women of color want access to older women who portray them and want opportunities to network and connect with these women. Many feel as though their white counterparts have a head start on many opportunities due to more knowledge or better access to resources.
Women of Color in Spartanburg do not feel as though they get the same treatment as their white counterparts especially in their school system. The districts represented were Spartanburg County School District 6, 7, and 5; however, this is not to say that this information is not applicable to the whole county. In their school systems, women of color have to work harder and still accept the fact that they may still never be respected. In the community, they do not really have events, resources, or opportunities that are geared towards them/nor made visible. Furthermore, many women of color struggle in their identity due to the fact that they must assimilate into white culture to gain respect by many in Spartanburg. How do we move on from this and work to change the concerns and traumas addressed above?
Women of color want..
Women of Color deserve:
- Mental Health Resources
- College Help
- Social Events
- Networking/Internship Opportunities
- Racial Bias Training