Women, men, and people of all or no genders are welcome at the Women’s Leadership Association (WLA). When it comes to diversity and safe spaces for people of all identities, WLA hopes to bring that to campus. “I think everyone in the club . . . sees it as an inclusive space for marginalized identities,” said second-year Vice President Sumitra Bernardo. “We discuss and share our experiences to better understand each other, and also [to learn] how we can empower and help each other succeed.”
Both third-year President Priscilla Villa and fourth-year Secretary Marisol Contreras joined WLA during their first years at Whittier College in order to be more involved on campus. Bernardo wanted to take college activity slow; she was transitioning from a busy and ambitious high school schedule; however, she came across WLA and had a change of heart. “I felt like I belonged in that club. It was a space where my voice could be heard; we shared similar experiences. That’s what got me coming back,” said Bernardo.
In past years, WLA’s activity has been slow, but this semester that is not the case. “This month is Women’s History Month, and we really wanted to do something that showcased that because it fell into line with our club values,” said Villa. The recent events have included the painting empowerment event, pin-making workshop, movie night, zine-making workshop, and their upcoming event, The Femme Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (at 5:30 Thursday, March 14, in the Science and Learning Center (SLC) Room 200). To read more about the Painting Empowerment event, see page four. This event is in collaboration with Thalian Society to hold discussion panels with both faculty and student speakers regarding women in leadership experiences and the importance of empowerment.
WLA meetings thrive off of discussions. “Talking to everyone . . . you’re equally empowered and enraged about certain situations that are going on,” said Bernardo. “But knowing that people are sharing these same experiences [and we’re] hearing each other out is great.” Discussions come from both a variety of experiences in the classroom and on a global level. This makes the club an open platform for those identifying as womxn — not just cisgendered individuals — to participate and discuss those issues they find either enraging, concerning, or positive and worth celebrating.
During Club Rush, Contreras was asked by male Poets if they, too, could be included in WLA meetings. This was concerning for Contreras. “That’s a big thing for us, making sure it’s an inclusive space for all people — not just cisgendered people, not just women,” said Contreras. “Anybody can go, but the overarching goal of the club is to promote diversity and feminine spirit.”
“Especially with cisgendered men . . . I think it’s more important [to be] an ally,” said Bernardo. “This club is here because of the need for it, and the inclusiveness of it, but at the same time, we’ve had guys attend in support and [as] allies to women.” Villa said men’s duty as an ally is to have “a better understanding of the experience of being a woman.” Microaggressions can happen not only in the classroom environment, but on larger scales, such as the work environment, a club, a café — anywhere and everywhere. “A male presence in our group meetings would be nice so they just know when they’re kind of misstepping, or not being as inclusive as they could be,” said Contreras.
“All of us have certain privileges and certain oppressions,” said Bernardo. “It’s all about acknowledging the privileges you have and making sure you can use them to aid others, and become a proper ally to others. I think the proper step is to be part of something like this and really learn.”
Though everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, in order to understand someone’s perspective based off oppressions and privileges, we must be able to listen. “We’re not always going to fully understand each other, but learning to understand and hearing people out, I think, is really a game changer,” said Bernardo.
In 10 years, Contreras hopes to see the club grow to a place of networking and guiding Poets to become leaders. “As of now, [we are] discussing what’s preventing people from entering leadership positions, being empowered and [being] themselves . . . I’d like to see [the club] take the next step,” said Contreras.
“We’re trying to provide [networking] opportunities, but we’re still fairly new; it’s a little more difficult . . . I’d love to see more opportunities for not only women, but all of these other different identities and intersections.”
WLA meet in the SLC Room 200 at 5:00 p.m. every Wednesday. Their Instagram account is @wc_wla. They are able to respond to direct messages quicker than on OrgSync, according to members of the club.