By: Brandie Quarles – 3rd year Biology Major and AAS Minor
There are plenty of clubs at the University of Virginia catered to the black community. However, at the end of my first semester, even after going to BSA’s activity fair and reading all of the event emails, I still found myself struggling to find a club I truly felt like I could be myself in. That’s when I got an evite to the first ever meeting of the Black Women’s Initiative (BWI), a new organization aimed at creating a safe space where black women could come together and speak about issues that are pertinent to them. I was instantly interested and RSVP’d immediately. Walking in to that first meeting and seeing all of the beautiful, smiling brown faces looking back at me I knew I had found my place.
I have not missed a BWI meeting since that first one my first year. The intellectual, thought-provoking, soul-healing conversation keeps me coming back every time. Now, as a third year, I am one of the leaders of BWI, helping plan the meetings, keeping people informed about the organization, and helping facilitate the conversation during the actual meetings. 10-15 girls come to the meetings regularly, encouraging a sense of community and comfort during the actual meetings. I find that people are more willing to share their personal experiences if they are around people they know. BWI meetings are also established as a no judgment zone and my fellow leaders and I make a strong effort to make everyone feel like their opinions and experiences matter as much as anybody else’s, even if they are different than the majority.
So far this year we have had a meeting about “Finding and Maintaining Your Identity as a Black Woman at The University Of Virginia,” “Black Women in the Workplace,” and “Black Femininity and Sexuality.” The first meeting, while directed mostly at first years, also allowed upperclassmen to reflect on their time at UVa and give advice to the first years. For our second meeting we invited in black female professors, faculty, and grad students to participate in the conversation about what it means to be a black woman in the workplace. Lastly, during our most recent meeting, a discussion about black femininity and sexuality, we had one of the richest conversations we have ever had with people sharing what it meant to them to be black and feminine in a world that tends to distort black femininity.
Being a part of BWI has reminded me that I am not alone in my experiences as a black woman at this predominantly white school, but it has also taught me how diverse the black women at this school are. BWI has really helped me discover who I am as a black woman and I hope it continues to do so for many years to come. I will end this post like we do all of our meetings, with this quote: “I am enough. I am worthy, just as I am. Once I realize my worth it makes space for a greater appreciation of yours.”