Swarthmore Womyn of Color Form Collective

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Dedicated to providing a safe space and community for women of color, the Swarthmore Womyn of Color Collective has re-formed with renewed momentum. SWoCC is a support group that seeks to empower women of color on campus and raise awareness and sensitivity to issues concerning women of color both on and off campus.

In past years, there were similar student groups at Swarthmore. But now, with more than 30 members and a group of sophomores and juniors putting thought and energy into a series of programs and events, the group hopes to take a much more impacting and permanent role in Swarthmore’s community.

First on the agenda for the Womyn of Color Collective is bringing a reproductive justice panel to campus. This panel will consist of four executive directors, each from a different reproductive justice organization.

In contrast to reproductive rights, which founding members of Womyn of Color described as concerned mostly with the right to abortion, reproductive justice is focused on access in addition to rights. For example, among the issues the panel will focus on are the availability of health clinics, birth control, and emergency contraception, as well as sexual violence and abuse. As Cecilia Marquez ’11 put it, reproductive justice is a “multi-racial, multi-class, gender, and sexuality approach to reproductive issues.”

Aside from this panel, the Collective is also creating its own big sib/little sib program, similar to sibling programs in other affinity groups. Upperclassmen in the Collective will be paired with freshmen and sophomores with the goals of providing mentorship, whether academic, social, or emotional. In addition to mentorship from peers, SWoCC also plans to reach out to women of color in Swarthmore’s faculty through faculty-student luncheons and advising.

Also in organizing stages is GROW (Grass Roots Organizing Weekend), a campus-wide event, which will provide leadership training and encourage the empowerment of women of color.

The main motivation behind starting SWoCC is deeply rooted in identity. As Grace Kaissal ’10 explained, joining the Collective doesn’t make members “choose between identities”: SWoCC realizes that both racial and gender identities are important to many of its members.

Extremely central to the group’s beliefs is that women should not have to carry a label that is constantly in relation to men. At their first meeting, the group discussed the spelling of Womyn, and why this was so significant to the group’s identity. Some possible meanings of the label “women” which were discussed included “lesser man,” “wife of man,” “woe of man,” and “womb-man.” By replacing the “e” with a “y,” the SWoCC has defined an identity that is entirely independent.

Emphasizing that women of color should not have just one safe haven, Womyn plans to meet at a different location every week.

SWoCC hopes that as a collective, it will be able to accessible for all women of color. Lisa Sambat ’10 said, “I think that because a lot of cultural groups are closed, it can lead to a lot of communities becoming somewhat insulated, which inhibits our potential to work toward similar goals together.”

For more information about SWoCC or about any events mentioned in this article, contact Cecilia Marquez, Grace Kaissal, Kaitlin Smith, Sable Mensah, or Lisa Sambat.


  1. 0
    Jason's ship with hint of citrus says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that anyone actually change any words, guys. That was my idea of absurd humor.
    And yes, I know the language evolved. How do I know? Because there is no key for thorn on my keyboard.

    No one evolved man into a generic term for humans. They evolved man out of that gender-neutral state. I’d blame the Norman Invasion. They were more misogynistic than the comparatively egalitarian Anglo-Saxons, though the guy who wrote Beowulf clearly had some issues with women.

    Language is not offensive. How one uses it can be. Personally, I think there is more meaning in reviving a dead word than trying to erase the origins of an extant one. Just because English is a bastard language doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pay a little more homage to its forbears.

    This womyn stuff is just an India-ink-and-needle-man-was-i-wasted crust punk tattoo during one of the language’s rebellious phases, which it later grows to loathe and regret. Don’t get those sorts of tattoos, English language. You didn’t even wash that needle before you used it.

  2. 0
    Urooj Khan ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The fact that man has evolved as a so-called gender neutral word IS the problem. Because no, I’m going to go ahead and say that people “back then” using man certainly did not mean to include everyone. When the Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal,” it is not talking about all men, and it certainly is NOT talking about women. So I’m going to go ahead and not assume any good intentions on the part of those who originally evolved man into a generic term for humans. It happened because they weren’t thinking about women, because they didn’t need to.

    With that said, I personally don’t use the term womyn, but only because it doesn’t particularly resonate with me. But I have no problem with other womyn self-identifying as thus, and it is certainly have no place telling them it is wrong to do so.

  3. 0
    Miles Skorpen ( User Karma: 6 ) says:

    Nicholas–the Anglo-Saxon bit is defining the origin of the word, not (at least in my reading) saying that man means “Anglo-Saxon human.” So, a woman of color fits in just as well as a white woman. To suggest that because the word is Anglo-Saxon in origin it automatically excludes all women of color is a bit much–that approach would mean you’d have to toss out most of the English language.

    Uhm. Also, I’d like to point out that these words evolved, there wasn’t a board of linguists back then writing the language. Personally, I don’t have any idea how “man” was used five hundred years ago–but you *know* that it wasn’t used in a more generic fashion? Yes, it has evolved to represent one gender, but I find it conceivable that it was understood in a less gendered fashion centuries ago.

    And it doesn’t bother “Jason’s ship with hint of citrus” — instead, the commentator is bothered by the use of “womyn,” instead of what I guess is a more appropriately gendered term, werman. For human males. I guess the project of renaming others is harder than renaming one’s self, though.

  4. 0
    nicholas says:

    “Man-Anglo-Saxon gender neutral word for human”— That’s exactly what the problem is. How does a woman of color fit in that definition? What if this woman is not Anglo Saxon? Again she is forced to adopt an identity in relation to a man, in relation to a fixed entity imposed upon her. Moreover when Anglo Saxons were developing these terms they were in mind for white men specifically. Clearly it has bothered you enough to feel the need and comment and criticize the use of it, must be radical enough then to elicit such a response.

  5. 0
    Krystyn McIlraith says:

    They’re not “excluding” white women. There are groups on campus that are for all women, and a group FOR white women. Closed groups exist so that groups that feel marginilized in the larger society or in larger groups – groups that feel straight people/white people/men/people of a certain political persuasion/Christians/etc. “take over” any or most spaces they’re in. Closed groups – good thing.
    –a white woman

  6. 0
    Jason's ship with hint of citrus says:

    What’s the deal with the letter ‘y’?
    Man – Anglo-Saxon gender-neutral word for a human.
    Woman – A female man.
    Werman – A male man.

    So if you want to be radical, don’t misspell woman. Just call men wermen.

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