BYU student Tinesha Zandamela found herself walking into a JFSB bathroom to take an emotional moment for herself one day. She was in disbelief over the news she had just received.
Zandamela had just learned that BYUSA approved the new Women of Color Club, an idea she had since she started at BYU as a freshman but never thought would actually happen.
During her sophomore year, Zandamela reached out to several faculty members who respectfully told her the university would never approve a women of color club.
“I’m not sure exactly what the catalyst for change was,” Zandamela said. “But when I started at BYU, there was a very different attitude towards the sort of things I was talking about when it came to race and feminism.”
Zandamela said she’s seen more discussions regarding race on campus, and the acceptance of such discussions motivated her to create the club. In her senior year, she decided she did not want to graduate with regrets over not trying to develop a space for women of color at BYU.
The club officially began in Fall 2017 with a well-attended opening social. Zandamela said several new members have attended each meeting since the first activity.
The club presidency tries to create activities addressing issues like mental health, academic opportunities and other topics the members want to talk about. The presidency strongly believes in making sure the club members have a voice and feel like they’re being heard.
As Zandamela worked on developing the club, she got in contact with BYU Counseling and Psychological Services faculty member Louise Wheeler. Wheeler had been trying to start a group for women of color on campus for some time. She became the club’s faculty advisor to provide women of color the mentoring and support she felt she never experienced as a student at BYU.
Wheeler said the club’s mission is to create a space for female students of color “where they can be their whole selves without being questioned, a space where they can connect with people that share their experience, a space where they can freely express their culture and history, a space where they can be connected to faculty and mentors, and a space that fosters academic and professional growth.”
The club has held a range of activities, from a night about graduate school opportunities to a night honoring Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade.” Zandamela looks forward to an upcoming mentoring night at which the club will host professors from various departments to speak to club members.
Elementary education student Israel Selway has been involved with the club since it began. She values the club’s specific direction to support women of color at BYU in a way distinct from other cultural and minority clubs on campus.
“We’re a distinct minority as people of color, but we’re even more of a minority as women of color,” Selway said. “Then some of us are international students like myself. We just need a lot more support. There are not as many resources for us. But even the few resources for us, little of us know about them.”
The Women of Color club is one of BYU’s 14 recognized cultural or international clubs. The new club is the only intersectional one, with race meeting gender as its focus.
Animation student Kaede Takeshige has only attended a few club meetings, but she appreciates the space to discuss race issues openly. She said she finds her experience living in Utah more frustrating as times goes on, noting that she feels like an outsider at times.
“Culture is such an important part of Utah,” Takeshige said. “There’s a Mormon culture and people are very proud of their family cultures as well, so it is kind of hard to celebrate your own non-white culture. At BYU, I think it’s important to be able to have this (club), especially at a place where we’re religious and we believe in loving each other for who we are.”
As Zandamela graduates in June, the club will be looking for new leadership. Zandamela, a sociology and French double major, plans to take a gap year and then attend law school. She hopes to come back to BYU in the future and visit with the women of color she will not have met.
Wheeler plans to be part of the club’s future as it expands. She believes the club will be important in regards to the way race is discussed on campus because a club like this has never existed at BYU before.
“I hope that our campus community sees the club as an opportunity to see and welcome the talents of the amazing students that are in it,” Wheeler said. “I hope that we see it as an opportunity to listen to our students’ concerns and experiences and give them a voice. I also hope that the community includes those voices and welcomes difficult conversations around race and gender that are often avoided in our culture.”