Organizations at Vassar have an interesting life. Some are as old as the Philaletheis Society, founded in 1865, and others are more recent, like Big Night In. Rarely does an organization get resurrected from the dead, though. Women and Femmes of Color Alliance (WFOCA), formerly WOCA, is one such org.
In 2015, the presiding members of WOCA graduated and shortly thereafter the org faded away. Three current students, Kate Spence ’18, Ally Fernandez ’18 and Hope Challenger ’19, have revived the group in the hopes of giving a greater voice to women and femmes of color at Vassar. WFOCA has, in a very short time, established an inclusive community and already laid the groundwork towards being a significant presence in the fall.
While acknowledging their previous incarnation, Fernandez explained how the new WFOCA is striving to create its own path: “This is kind of just our own thing. I know WOCA was a thing my freshman year but then they fell off. I’m not sure what happened to it or the kinds of things they did. But this is definitely the creation of everyone here now. And I definitely do say everyone, because this is not just me, Kate and Hope running the show here. I take notes. Kate has the vision. But we’re definitely trying to make sure this is a positive space for everybody.”
WFOCA has already held two meetings this semester. In their first meeting earlier this month, the group brainstormed different communal events to hold and general outreach possibilities. In the second meeting, members held a conversation about cultural appropriation.
Fernandez talked about the group atmosphere that emerged from the preliminary meeting: “In our first meeting, we had this brainstorming session and everyone had so many amazing ideas, like potlucks, movie nights, study breaks. They were all to really create a community, not just getting together each week for an hour and talk about whatever’s on the agenda. We want to really know each other and support each other in and out of the meetings.”
Challenger added, “Our first meeting was about structure but it was very relaxed. There was pizza and everyone was chilling and talking about what we’d love to see. Honestly, it seemed like a safety net, where we’d just love to be together and talk about our experiences. There’s nothing really formalized. I think that was a really wonderful part, just to be in a space that felt very safe and where people could talk to people who maybe have similar experiences to you.”
One of the biggest hurdles WFOCA has encountered is a struggle for all orgs: publicity. Besides relying on word-of-mouth, WFOCA’s plan is to be a greater presence during orientation for incoming first-years.
Challenger talked about how WFOCA will provide a supportive community for the incoming women and femmes of color: “I would love if we could be there for first-years, as people come in, while also being there for people who are already here. As soon as Kate mentioned WOCA, I realized that the absence was so real. I wish this had been a thing when I was a first-year. It definitely would’ve been a good basis, especially going through all the transitions in coming to Vassar. I hope it can be that for people.”
A significant element of WFOCA’s new design has revolved around treating each member as an individual, instead of generalizing, acknowledging the shared experiences and each member’s uniqueness.
Spence elaborated: “I think we’re going to always either speak from the ‘I’ perspective to not generalize and to set up norms so that we can create a space of respect. It needs to be obvious that everyone has different experiences. There won’t be groups based on how you identify because I want everyone to understand that we are all going to be different races. We’re all going to identify differently. And all of those things are going to intersect and differentiate us. We can’t change that.”
The most obvious difference between the old org and the new org is in the name. By adding the F for “femmes,” WFOCA is expanding the representation for their members to support more students in the Vassar community.
Challenger spoke about the ways WFOCA has outreached with a broader inclusivity: “We’d definitely like to be more non-binary and trans-inclusive. That’s been a real focal point as we restart, which is why we’ve added the femmes part. I know some of the girls in Strong have talked about how they messaged people by inviting any people who have ever, will or do identify as a woman or a femme. So that’s exciting.”
For anybody wishing to get involved, WFOCA will be hosting more general body meetings at the beginning of next semester. There will also be more frequent meetings next semester so more students can get involved.
Reinforcing WFOCA’s individualistic approach to forming a community, Spence said, “Even if we just had a Women of Color Alliance, race is always going to be a separate experience for us. And there’s no point trying to unify us by washing over that difference. It’s going to be important to recognize it, and that’s what we mean by uniqueness. It’s really underscoring the fact and making sure that difference is not something to be afraid of.”