The University of Wyoming supports diversity through the Students of Color Circle.
Former UW Black Student Program Advisor Natawsha Mitchell, Project Coordinator for Multicultural Affairs Melanie Vigil and Native American Program Director and Advisor Reinette R. Tendore saw a need and created the Students of Color Circle (SOCC) in January.
The group, which meets every week from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, is open to any student who self-identifies as Black, Latinx, Asian, Native or otherwise marginalized, provides a safe space for students to come together and “see themselves’ in others.
It’s no secret Laramie is a rural, predominately white community; according to the latest available data, nearly 90% of Laramie’s 32,711 residents are white. And the UW campus nearly mirrors those statistics. Vigil emphasized the importance of letting students of color know they are seen and supported.
“Literally my job [in multicultural affairs] is to make sure that marginalized students are feeling supported and welcome at the university,” she said.
SOCC creates an open space for students of all backgrounds. Vigil explained the extraordinary amount of diversity within the group. She stated it isn’t just Black and Latinx Studies students, but engineering, nursing and humanities majors, too, who round out this group.
“The attendance alone shows for itself how important this is,” Tendore said.
Although it would seem a group called Students of Color would receive criticism or skepticism in the current racial climate, Vigil and Tendore expressed gratitude and amazement at the amount of support the group has received.
SOCC’s exclusivity is intentional. To allow white students or students who do not identify as a person of color within the space defeats the purpose.
“Creating that safe space [is crucial] for them to be able to identify with people who are just like them,” reiterated Tendore.
Tendore also spoke to the reality of persons of color who look for commonality between lived experiences.
“We tend to seek others out who look like us and come from where we come from,” she said.
The distinct separation is not meant to discourage others, specifically white students, from engaging with students of color — in fact it encourages them to seek personal edification on the matter.
As a remedy for the separation, the Circle partners with the Service/Leadership/Community Engagement (SLCE) office which acts as resource for white students who want to learn more on issues of race, awareness and marginalization.
Vigil speaks to the support her SLCE colleagues provide and is grateful for the office’s willingness to help white students gain better understanding of the racial spaces around them. White students in turn have their own platform for sharing inquiries about social justice and issues that affect marginalized peoples.
Some may question the validity of such a group because there isn’t a need when there isn’t racial marginalization. Vigil and Tendore refute such arguments by reminding the general community these individuals are part of the community, too.
“Our students live here … this becomes their home,” Vigil said, “[We] are your neighbors.”
Students of Color Circle embody the essence of community: inclusion, support, and above all else, respect for one another’s differences.
The group welcomes the marginalized and provides guidance for those who may not know better. The extraordinary amount of diversity within the group exemplifies our nation’s own diversity, and even now — perhaps especially now — it is important for persons of color to be seen and feel supported.