This past March, Dr. Marvette Lacy and I hosted this year’s Black graduate women and alumnae photo sista circle (#BlackGradWomenSC) at our alma mater, the University of Georgia- a historically, predominantly white institution. The response from sista-scholars to the 2017 Black Graduate Women’s photo experience encouraged us to (re)turn to the same space and (re)claim the joy, support, and sisterhood that we co-created the year prior with sista-scholars.
Marvette and I conceptualized and embraced this work as a Womanist project designed to create and foster a space and experience dedicated to fellowship, sisterhood, and community building among Black graduate women and graduate alumnae (read: Black women who had graduated from graduate and professional programs at UGA). The goals remained the same: expand the networks within communities of Black women in graduate and professional studies at the university, remind sista-scholars that they are not alone on that campus because they are part of a larger network of sista-scholars, and (re)claim space on a campus that denied/denies us space as African ascendant people.
The seventeen of us, as well as two baby sista-scholars (read: daughters of two sista-scholars) began the experience with a few words to set the intentions for the space and experience at the Holmes Hunter Building named for Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, the university’s first accepted Black students. From there, we moved to several locations on North Campus, beat out the rain that tried to steal our magic (but only refreshed our coils and curls), and saw this thang through.
As alumnae, Marvette and I were extra excited because this was a reunion with some of our sista-scholar friends still in study there, as well as a welcoming of new(er) sista-scholars who we only knew because they signed up for the event. The hugs, loving embraces, hand holding, and varied facial expressions felt so familiar, even among sista-scholars who were knew to us. We were blessed by the individual and collective presence of each sista-scholar that day.
Marvette and I want to thank each graduate and alumnae sista-scholar for sharing time and space with us. Based on verbal and written feedback from sista-scholars, the feelings of joy, wonder, familiarity, and community were mutual. In our research with Black women in higher education, sista circle methodology, and this photo experience, we are reminded that our commitment(s) to community and one another requires our attention and dedication to survive and thrive.
Thanks, Honors, and Acknowledgments
We want to thank the photographer, Tiffany R. Smith, for her creativity, craft, and fellowship.
We honor Mary Frances Early, a graduate student who made history as the first Black graduate of the University of Georgia in 1962, just a year after Hunter and Holmes’ admittance to the institution.
We honor the work(s) of Black women, past and present, who have made/are making our way possible.
We would like to acknowledge that the land we gathered on during the photo experience in Georgia is home to Native peoples, including the Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee. Sista-scholars honor and respect the rich and diverse traditions and beliefs of Indigenous peoples connected to the land that greeted us as we gathered together for this experience. (Adapted from ACPA- College Student Educators International)
Memories from the #BlackGradWomenSC
“I love everything about Black sisterhood. For me, there is something spiritual about seeing us work, push through obstacles and win.” Participating Sista-Scholar
“Taking pictures with my peers to celebrate our beauty and strength as black women would be a positive experience.” Participating Sista-Scholar
“It will be empowering to be around so many accomplished Black Women.” Participating Sista-Scholar
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
“But it’s in the speaking that we find our voices.” Dr. Cynthia Dillard
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisholm
“That’s the thing about knowing exactly who the fuck you are. No matter what anyone has to say, you can always draw power from that truth. You can’t be tripped up. A rose is a rose is a rose.” Munroe Bergdorf
“I’m convinced that we Black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through, and to get over.” Janet Jackson
“I say ‘magic’ because it’s something that people don’t always understand. Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.” CaShawn Thompson
May we give light so that people will find the way (Ella Baker). May we give up the things that weigh us down so that we can fly. May we create the experiences and content that we wish to engage when we recognize its absence (Toni Morrison). May we be deliberate and afraid of nothing (Audre Lorde).
In service to sisterhood and scholarship,
Sista-Scholars Joan Collier, PhD and Marvette Lacy, PhD | Co-Creators and Sponsors
Joan Collier, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio in San Antonio, TX.
Marvette Lacy, PhD, is the Director of the Women’s Center at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI.