Women’s Spaces and Diversity

In a list of the most diverse American liberal arts colleges, 4 out of the top 10 are women’s colleges (Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Mount Holyoke). According to Best Colleges and their list of the most diverse colleges and universities, women’s colleges rank higher in regards to diversity on campus because

“Women’s colleges were created to provide education to those who were normally barred from the ivory tower, and although this initially meant women, administrators applied the same inclusive attitude to admitting minorities.”

My own alma mater, Agnes Scott College, is 55% students of color.

logo_small_500x334_jpgBut inclusivity was not always the case. Out of the Seven Sisters (Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Barnard, Radcliffe and Vassar), only Mount Holyoke was concerned with students of middle class backgrounds. The others were institutions of the elite wealthy woman. And while the Seven Sisters were progressive to offer rigorous educational opportunities to women, they were less forthcoming to offer these opportunities to women of color. As W.E.B. Dubois noted: “Negroes, while not exactly refused admission[to the Seven Sisters] are strongly advised not to apply.” For more information on black students who attended the Seven Sisters, take a look at “The African American Female Elite” by Linda M. Perkins.

Women’s spaces, not just women’s colleges, must be advocates and allies for racial diversity. We must be inclusive of queer students, trans students and students outside of the gender binary. It’s necessary work to ensure that feminism isn’t a white, straight, cisgender, middle class movement. Feminism and women’s spaces must include people of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and ability. Feminism must expand beyond women’s spaces and into all spaces.

And while I can only speak from my personal experience with women’s spaces at Agnes Scott College, the creative writing courses I took were diverse. We were a room of different races and genders and our writing reflected our experiences and a desire for diverse literature. We wrote stories of female protagonists, protagonists of color and queer protagonists. Intesectional feminism was the norm.

Since graduating, I attended a writing workshop at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. There were about 20 of us and we spent the majority of the time free writing to generate ideas. When we shared our drafts, I noticed:

  1. even though there were approximately an equal number of men and women (I don’t know everyone’s gender identity), nearly everyone wrote stories featuring male protagonists
  2. everyone at the workshop was white
  3. no one specified the race of their characters under the blanket assumption that their characters were white

There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the writing these authors produced, but it reflects such a small slice of the world. A small homogeneous slice of world many of us never see or never would want to see. This is where women’s spaces come in. Using women’s colleges are a model, women’s spaces, like LSQ, can be the leaders of inclusive and diverse writing, if we are intentional with our work.This is the place to support female authors. Read their work in Issue 26. Submit your work for publication!

For more spaces that support women’s writing and writing as inclusive feminism (on and offline) take a look at the list of Feminist Bookstores and Feminist Presses. I can vouch for Women and Children First (Chicago, IL), Charis (Atlanta, GA), and Bluestockings (New York, NY). Let me know if you’ve been to any of the others! I’d love to hear your opinion.