Taking Up Space: A Black Graduate Women’s Photo Shoot as Black Feminist Praxis

I am a fat-bodied Black woman. I literally take up space. My Blackness, gender, and the intersection of the two take up space that is often denied to me in physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual spaces.  The White supremacist, patriarchal society that I and other Black women exist within expects us to take up as little space as possible… but like I said, I take up space 😉

I am a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at the University of Georgia. I have awesome faculty, a caring partner, supportive colleagues, a ride or die boss, legit mentors, and kinfolk and faith networks who lift me up. All of that acknowledged, I would be lost without the communities of Black graduate women at UGA. They have been strength when I have struggled, peace when hell was bountiful, joy when I felt sorrow, and intellectual and emotional laborers when processing needed to happen.

My dissertation used sista circle methodology (Shoutout to Dr. Latoya Johnson) to examine sense of belonging for Black women in doctoral programs at a historically, predominantly White institution. Community with other sista-scholars was a primary source of connection and affirmation for participants. I talked to another sista-scholar, Marvette Lacy, who also used sista circle methodology for her dissertation about how to support Black graduate women on our own campus. We decided that we would start sista circles on our campus as a way to help Black women in graduate and professional programs build and strengthen relationships with other sista-scholars. We both loved pictures, as evidenced by our own photo shoots,  and decided that we would host a photo shoot for Black graduate women as a sista circle event.

Marvette and I had a couple of purposes when we decided to host a photo shoot for Black graduate women at UGA.

We wanted to expand the networks within communities of Black women in graduate and professional programs at the university. Depending on which program a sista-scholar was a part of, she may be the only one or one of two or a few in the program or department. Marvette and I are in the College Student Affairs Administration PhD program where we are two of about 12 Black women in our program. Our larger department has several more Black women between master and doctoral level programs.

We wanted sista-scholars to see that they were not alone on that campus when we have community with one another. As noted in Point 1, depending the academic program, a sista-scholar could be the only BW (or Black person) in their program or department, but through relationships with other Black women scholars, they would not be alone in community with other Black women. We wanted sista-scholars to have a physical representation of the communities of Black women scholars on campus to remind them that they’re not ever alone when in community with other sista-scholars.

We wanted to take up space on a campus that denied/denies us space as African people. The University of Georgia (and the State of Georgia) fought ferociously to maintain its racial exclusion policy until it was ordered to admit Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton E. Holmes in 1961. The legacy of racial exclusion, White supremacy, and tokenism of people of color remain today on the campus. Because of those legacies and history, we thought it important to purposefully and boldly take up space on our campus.

Y’all, we took up ALL THE SPACE! We had a blast that Sunday on north campus. We laughed. We slayed. We played. We loved. We existed. We celebrated ourselves, our brilliance, and our creativity. I posted the finished photos to my social media profile and sista-scholars reposted the images with their own captions. The following caption accompanied the photos’ release on my profile:

“May our presence in this space remind other Black graduate women and ourselves           that we are not alone here. We are each others’ strength, comfort, joy, peace, encourager, and sister. May this physical representation of us be a testament to our collective and individual strength, courage, and agency to care for ourselves and one another.

To the Black graduate women of UGA, our sista-scholars, who joined with Marvette Lacy and I to make this magic happen, thank you 

We invite viewers to post empowering quotes from Black women under photos (bell hooks, Andre Lorde, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Michelle Obama, Cynthia Dillard, Bettina Love, auntie, mama, sista-girl, etc.)

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. ~Audre Lorde

#BlackFeministPraxis #BlackGirlMagic #CiteASista #SistaCircle

Below are photos from the experience. Photos are captioned by sista-scholars’ own expressions for why they wanted to be a part of the experience or quotes they offered for the project.

In the tradition of Toni Morrison who “wrote what she needed to read”, we took the pictures that we needed to see (Thank you Daisy Hernandez for that reminder). Black women, take up your space. Take up/continue community building. Commit to fellowship. Commit to love. We are not alone when we have each other. #WeGotUs

In solidarity,

Joan Nicole (on behalf of Joan Collier, PhD and Marvette Lacy, PhD)

Dedication

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first African American woman to attend the University of Georgia.

Mary Frances Early, a graduate student and the first African American to graduate from the University of Georgia.

023

“I want to be part of the representation of this dynamic group and meet other women as well; it’s a great platform to fellowship and encourage each other.”

013

“I love supporting other Black graduate students, socializing, and taking pictures!”

011

“Sharing in all that Black Girl Magic wonderfulness.”

052

“Inclusion and representation- I may be the only ‘sista’ in my department but that doesn’t mean I should have to fade into the background… “

062

“Wanting to support sista scholars as they transition to their next journey. Just wanting to take this last opportunity to participate in an activity and space they are providing for celebration and fellowship.”

057

“My support network while in my program has strongly consisted of the community of Black women that I have come to know while here. Nothing would make me happier than to celebrate graduation with this community.”

048

“As a woman of color at a flagship PWI, I feel that it is so critical to create an image that reflects pride in culture and solidarity. I feel that whenever possible, we should take the time to celebrate Black excellence and academics to create positive imagery. While I am ever grateful for choosing UGA as the institution to continue my educational journey, I feel that opportunities like these are what have assuaged my personal discomforts.”

043

“The celebration of the strength, intelligence, and beauty of Black Women.”

040

“Once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry anymore.” Nikki Giovanni

039

“Invest in the human soul. Who know, it might be a diamond in the rough.” Mary McLeod Bethune

035

“I love that we can get together and celebrate one another. It is also fun to be able to get together and dress up.”

034

“I love supporting and empowering Black Women.”

030

“I love celebrating Black Success! This is a great opportunity to do that!”

028

“No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.” Alice Walker

026

“I would like to be a part of the shoot in order to put a face to ‘sista scholars’ and to celebrate our perseverance as a community.”

022

“Phenomenal wom[e]n, that’s [we].” Maya Angelou

016

“I believe in Black women and the work that y’all have done.” (L-R: Joan Collier, Marvette Lacy)

014

“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within- strength, courage, dignity.” Ruby Dee

010

“All of you are my sisters! I appreciate and value your vision. We need the vision and we need each other. This photo shoot will be an embodiment of that!”

009

“Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with you the same way.” Nikki Giovanni

008

“This is a beautiful testimony to the truth of our value and keeping where we come from visible. Much respect and appreciation.”

007

“Representation is so important and as much as our society has progressed it still has a long way to go for the holistic liberation of the oppressed. It is also an honor to mark this moment in history with my sisters and bond over self and Black love!”

006

“Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” First Lady Michelle Obama

004

“The universe bears no ill to me. I bear no ill to it.” Phylicia Rashad

003

“Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.” Mary McLeod Bethune

Photographer: Ronald Latimer, IG @cityboylife215

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