(W)omxn of Worth returns to UNC with in-person spring conference
After a two-year hiatus, the annual (W)omxn of Worth Spring Conference returned to UNC last month.
The event was organized by Student Life and Leadership and the (W)omxn of Worth Initiative, a program that supports "womxn of color and womxn who identify as members of underrepresented groups at UNC", according to their Heel Life page.
For keynote speaker Tiffany Waddell Tate, the founder and CEO of Career Maven Consulting, the conference's focuses were in line with her own.
“I am a big advocate for women and women of color, especially," Tate said. “Thinking about career pathing and career agency. So, the theme is aligned with my values as a professional.”
(W)omxn of Worth Initiative
The initiative was originally established in early 2016 by Angie Matos and Arienne Milkles with the goal to foster community among women from underrepresented communities at the University. Matos and Milkles were community directors in the Department of Housing and Residence Life.
The initiative also grew out of the Carolina Union-run initiative SPARK, whichaims to help incoming women-identifying undergraduate students from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities in their transitions into and through the University.
The initiative has also organized annual fall welcomes, monthly luncheons at the Graduate School and career chats with University Career Services, former Assistant Dean of Students Dawna Jones said.
(W)omxn of Worth was created and organized by UNC faculty and staff, including Jones.
“This was a really unique opportunity to come together and provide holistic support that wasn't just around academic retention, but really around how we supported young women through all of their experiences, whether they be celebrating the wins or helping them through challenges,” Jones said.
Jones said she was one of the people who helped organize the first (W)omxn of Worth welcome event in fall 2016. She said the event was such a success that the Union had to bring in more seating to accommodate all the attendees.
“I got emails from all over campus, from both women who worked for the University (and) who were there to support, who said, 'Man, I've never seen anything like this, where we've had all these women of color of all different origins, of all different kinds of backgrounds come together and be empowered by one another,'” Jones said.
However, around 2019, many of the faculty and staff who originally established the (W)omxn of Worth initiative left the University, Jones said.
“With COVID and then a couple of faculty members going to other places and different leadership, it kind of fell through the cracks,” Student Leadership Coordinator and senior Keoana Nettles said.
Nettles said she pushed to hold the 2022 spring conference again after hearing that the fall 2021 conference had fallen through. She didn’t want the initiative to fade away and said it was important to establish unity between organizations on campus.
“I don't want other people to feel isolated," Nettles said. "I want other people's organizations’ cultures and identities to be embraced, so that we can all kind of learn from each other and do a lot of different things together."
The 2022 spring conference, designed around the theme “Make Room for More," aimed to equip participants with the tools for academic and professional success.
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As the keynote speaker at the March conference, Tate drew on her experience as a woman of color navigating academic and professional spaces.
She is a two-time graduate from Wake Forest University and has coached various professionals as a consultant.
“I was making a lot of decisions early in my career based on what I thought other people wanted me to do,” Tate said during her presentation. "And I will tell you a little secret — you can never control what other people think about you, no matter how hard you try. Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter how perfect you show up, doesn't matter how prepared you are, doesn't matter how great your outfit looks. People are going to have their perception of you no matter what. So imagine how freeing it is to just make a decision for yourself.”
Although the (W)omxn of Worth initiative mainly serves the UNC community, conference attendees came from other areas as well. Attendee Johnna Lambert, who works at the Duke University Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, was invited to the conference by Jones, the center’s current director.
Lambert said she felt that a session on professionalism and what it means for Black women really struck a chord with her.
“My hair is pink. I have a nose ring," she said. "All these different things, being told you have to look a certain way, perform a certain way, especially as a Black woman. I think that what was really cool about this last session that we went into was that you can define your standards and you decide what choices you want to make. All choices come with a cause, but being conscious about those choices and being aware that you do have a choice. I think that’s really cool.”
Though Jones is no longer at UNC, she hopes that the (W)omxn of Worth initiative will continue to grow and even expand beyond the University into neighboring schools.
“I'm a person who values community and so anywhere we can make those connections, we can do that,” she said.
With the spring conference, Nettles hoped to reestablish the initiative’s relationships with campus organizations, like Omega Phi Beta Sorority and other multicultural organizations.
“The programs that (the faculty and administration) did host were really helpful and beneficial to a lot of different people," Nettles said. "And I want it to have more outreach, so it's not just a specific minorities that are present, but a lot of different places. So that, one, we can learn from each other and, two, so that their voices to be amplified as well.”