March is Women’s History Month. The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) asked students, faculty and staff around campus to talk about the importance of this month, in their own words, through the lenses of their identities and experiences.
by Kianna Notermann
Meet Uyenthi Tran Myhre. Uyenthi (pronounced “Wing-T”) is the Assistant Director of the Women’s Center in the Office for Equity and Diversity. She got her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Journalism and Mass Communication before coming to the U of M for her Master’s degree in Educational Psychology. Before working in the Women’s Center, Uyenthi was an academic advisor in the Martin Luther King, Jr. program on campus, and has also served on the Board of Directors for the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis.
“I was a Women’s Studies minor in college, and I remember taking a couple of classes just to fulfill some requirements. One was a class about women of color authors, and we read these really brilliant books from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I just loved it so much, and I started to take a couple more classes. Eventually, I realized that I was getting close to a Women’s Studies minor so I decided to do it. I’m really glad that I did, yet I don’t remember taking classes about feminism and women of color. I didn’t learn about people like Kimberlé Crenshaw, or the concept of intersectionality in my undergraduate courses, and not in a critical way in grad school, either.
I’ve been in the Women’s Center as the Assistant Director for about two and a half years now, and I get to work with some really rad students and colleagues. Being a Vietnamese-American woman working in higher education, I don’t see a lot of people who look like me in leadership roles. I still get mixed up for the handful of other Asian-American women on campus, even though we look nothing like each other. People confuse us and think they’re emailing me but they’ll be emailing a director of another office or a colleague somewhere else on campus. There’s that piece of it, but then also there’s also a part where I’m not really seeing people who look like me in Women’s Centers in higher education. What I learned as I came into this job is that Women’s Centers have a history of being predominantly white spaces. And of course that’s not just campus-based Women’s Centers, but how the women’s movement and feminism overall has a history of erasing the experiences of indigenous women and women of color.
It’s interesting to do this work as a full-time job because you can’t really separate out your personal identities from your professional identities, so what does it mean to be the only person who looks like you in this area? It makes you feel like you have different obligations and responsibilities, depending on the situation or the day. At the same time, I’m really lucky to be surrounded and inspired by really fierce and resilient indigenous women and women of color, who remind me that I’m not alone.”
[Header Image Credit: Uyenthi Tran Myhre]