In Their Own Words: Women’s History Month Spotlight (Heather C. Lou)

A person, Heather C. Lou, has dark hair with multicolored streaks, wears glasses and a turquoise blue scarf, and faces the camera.

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 Heather C. Lou. Heather C. Lou is an angry Gemini earth dragon, multiracial, Asian, queer, cisgender womxn of color multimedia artist and postsecondary education administrator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her art and writing is a form of healing, transformation, and liberation, rooted in womxnism and gender equity through a racialized borderlands lens. Heather works at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as the Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, where she focuses on campus climate, inclusion, and intersectionality in her daily practice.

I am currently the Assistant Director at the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE). I’ve been here for about 8 months. There is no way for intersectionality to not have an impact on any of the work that we all do in the Office for Equity & Diversity. We have to think about who are the students that we serve, who are the people we work with on a daily basis, how do we help students get the resources that they need. For me, I grew up in LA as a one-and-a-half-generation U.S. citizen. My dad’s side of the family is from Taishan, China, and my mom’s side are Ashkenazi Jews from the Middle East so I very much identify as Asian and multiracial. I also identify as a queer womxn of color, and as someone who lives with a disability. At the same time, I have cisgender privilege. I have a Master’s degree and positionality at a university. Whenever I walk into a room, all of the parts of my marginalized and privileged identities show up. In my work at MCAE, I am keenly aware of that. Anytime I do anything whether it’s assessment or budget or supervision, working 1-on-1 or just interacting with students, the center of all of it is intersectional feminism and critical mixed race studies. I use all of these critical theories, and the people who are at the very center of it all are those who are the most marginalized. I very much believe that any services or advocacy or support that we provide is with those people in mind. If I’m serving those who are the most marginalized, that means everyone else will get their needs met as well.

I went to school in Northern California, I was one of the first people in my family to attend college. I almost failed out of my first semester. College is way different than high school; I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have the capital to navigate it, and when I first started I felt really lost and unseen. There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me or identified like I did, I always knew I was queer and I am visibly a womxn of color. I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I know that a lot of college students feel that at first, too. A staff person at my university met me and asked, “Have you thought about getting involved? There are so many student leaders who are thinking like you, who are artists and activists, people who are thinking critically about other identities, so what would it mean for you to get involved?” After that, I had a whole bunch of student leadership positions, but the most influential one was working at our cross-cultural center on campus as an undergrad. One of my greatest mentors was my supervisor. She was also a multi-ethnic womxn of color who really helped guide me and make meaning of my identities, especially in spaces where other people didn’t identify the same as me. Really, she helped get me into equity and diversity work.

When working in this field, we have to think about how much we’ve grown in equity and diversity, and also what we still need to do better. It’s that ellipsis that brings me back the next day. I think, “Okay, we didn’t resolve that, it may never be resolved, but how do I work in community with people I care about and have conversations that will move the dial forward?”

Outside of work, I’m an artist and a writer. I use art as a method of healing and commentary around gender, sexuality, race, and all of their intersections and narratives to demonstrate that we need equitable access to resources. People with marginalized identities should have a seat at the table. Those are the things that I’m often thinking about in everyday life. Whether it’s the mixed media I create or the poetry I write, I try to center it on and highlight the identities of queer womxn of color. I can never remove myself from the artwork, or my work in general. My personal, professional, and political lives cannot be separated. I cannot separate myself wholly from anything I create or do. My art is expressionist, so it’s about the feelings that I put into it and also the feelings that it invokes in other people. I’m sharing narratives and voices of marginalized identities that aren’t always centered on in art.

In a lot of ways, I’ve never strongly identified as a feminist, which is mostly because I have experienced it as a white, straight, upper-middle class, cisgender womxn’s movement. First and second wave feminism have definitely been that. It’s like, “Yay, womxn!” equality work without acknowledging the ways that racism, transphobia, homophobia, and so on affect our community of womxn. In grad school, I focused on womxn of color leadership, and womxn with an x, womxn of all identities and presentations and had to decolonize my understanding of what a womxn was. A few years after writing that thesis, I started working in a womxn’s center where my career was focused on gender equity. When I talked to students there about what feminism was to them, I realized for the first time that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t necessarily identify as a feminist. I would say that I’m a third wave feminist, or better yet, a womxnist. I am because of my ancestors, and their collective knowledge. It’s also important to remind myself that I wouldn’t be here without some of the really rad, aspiring allies who were first and second wave feminists. I’m on the shoulders of those who did the equity work and I want to honor that.”

[Header Image Credit: Heather C. Lou]

In Their Own Words: Women’s History Month Spotlight (Sasānēhsaeh Pyawasay)

A person, Sasānēhsaeh Pyawasay, has long dark hair and wears glasses, a black shirt, and multicolored earrings. She faces the right, and there is a building in the background.

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 Sasānēhsaeh Pyawasay. Sasānēhsaeh is the College of Science and Engineering Diversity Coordinator. In her role, she supports underrepresented students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, especially students of color and American Indian students. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, where her emphasis is on Higher Education and her research focuses on how institutions are sites of colonization for native students. Sasānēhsaeh has been in Minnesota and on-campus for about 7 years, but is originally from the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin.

“In the context of Women’s History Month, honestly, when I was reflecting, it never really crossed my mind or struck me as very important at first. Because of my identity as a native woman, I’m from a community that views women as life-givers, women as protectors of water; women are the beings that we all look to for support. I don’t necessarily feel marginalized in that space, in my community. So having a Women’s History Month, to me, was like, “Oh, okay that’s cool,” on a personal level since my most salient identity is native. I’m native first, and a woman second, so my native lens dominates my perspective around being a woman, which is that women are highly respected. I also realize that patriarchy is real – I can’t deny that – but largely where I feel marginalized or experienced injustice was less around being a woman but more about being being native.

Professionally, particularly in the STEM field, women are severely marginalized. Working in this college has been really eye opening, and in my professional role it has been really great to be able to support women – especially, women of color and indigenous women – in a place where they might not always feel supported. Female role models are very important for them, not only in the STEM field but in general.

My undergraduate studies were not focused on the STEM field, actually. I just ended up coming here, to the U, and working for the College of Biological Sciences first before moving over to the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). Really, I just fell into STEM, but working with STEM students, I have gained a greater respect for this field. It’s so different from my field as a professional in higher ed; women dominate education, not most STEM fields. It has been eye-opening to see my students go through an experience that’s very different from mine. By connecting their experiences with the experiences of women of color, I can help guide them through their studies and college experience.

Although there are many women in educational professions, there is still some work to be done to include more women of color and indigenous women. I will say that in general, women of color and indigenous women are always serving their communities as educators and as mentors, but that might not necessarily be in their actual job title. There have been many situations in my career where I’ve been the only woman of color or indigenous woman in the office. It is a tough experience, because although the number of women of color and indigenous women in this field is growing, the culture hasn’t changed. It’s hard to be surrounded by white people, white women and not assimilate into that culture. I often think, “How do you remain who you are in that space?”

CSE does a great job of providing summer programs for youth, especially for young girls. A colleague of mine runs one for girls of color and indigenous girls, which is great because it keeps them interested in STEM and makes a career in STEM seem more achievable. When you think about an engineer or scientist, you think about a white man. And maybe, secondarily, you think about a white woman. If young children of color and indigenous children see a more diverse workforce in engineering and science, it is affirming to think that they can work in that field too. Summer bridge programs are a great opportunity for this.

Getting here [the STEM field], as a young female, is tough. Staying here is even tougher. You’re often the only woman in a study group. Most of your professors are white men that have their own ideas about how you should perform. It’s a hard cultural shift for you to go through. We do have people who will leave the major and a find a new major that’s more comfortable for them. For some students, they’d rather be happy and not go through these challenges. That is not to say we don’t have a lot of students of color, women of color, who excel because we do. I am very honest with my students. I let them know it’s gonna be hard for them because of their identities, but I will be there to support them through it. I personally think it’s important to not sugar-coat the experience for them, or making them think that there will be a ton of people who look like them or identify like them in their classes because that’s not realistic.

When I was thinking about Women’s History Month, I realized that it had never been on my radar before. I think it’s because of my cultural background, and the fact that I come from a line of strong women. It’s really innate in all of us native women; my cousins, my relatives, we all come from strong women. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think this month is important, it’s great to have it. However, I do have to ask myself, “What is the intent?” and “Who is it really for?” Most of the months that we set aside are for marginalized or minority communities, but Women’s History Month didn’t feel like something I could subscribe to because it feels more whitewashed. Those were my initial thoughts on the month.

I did notice the difference in treatment of women from what I am used to in college. Dating someone who wasn’t native was especially eye-opening. It’s a different experience, having to explain the difference and walk others through the rationale of [women as life-givers] is really what made it click for me, that treatment of women isn’t the same outside of my community. That’s not to say it’s good or bad; it’s just different.

As a teenager, and even younger, there were many times when I was playing sports when we would travel to a non-native community for a game, and the tension was clear. The would refer to us as “you people” and take part in discriminatory actions. Going to those other schools was the first time I realized this is real, that the discrimination towards my community is real. You know, you grow up on a reservation you see your people, and everyone around you looks like you, so the prejudice isn’t there. Interacting with the coaches and people in the stands and refs just being unfair was a bit of a shock.

Foundationally, these institutions were built for white – and often wealthy – men. Institutions, including their cultural values and missions, are a continuing site of colonization for native students. So when you’re at a place like the U, how do you navigate it when it wasn’t made for you? I looked at the boarding school era, when they were using education as a mode of assimilation for native students back in the 19th and 20th centuries. We continue to do that here at universities, because the practices and policies that dictate how we “do school” aren’t culturally inclusive. How certain things are rewarded, and what are considered achievements require a degree of assimilation. If students want to be successful, they need to act and perform in that way. My argument, particularly for native students, is that we continue to colonize education unknowingly. We have all of these services, which are great, but they don’t make up for the ways we define achievement and success. I’m hoping to shed light on this. You have to be here to be successful, but that doesn’t always align with your home community.”

[Header Image Credit: Kianna Notermann, 2017]

2017 IDEA Multicultural Research Award Recipients

The Institute on Diversity, Equity and Advocacy (IDEA) sponsors the Multicultural Research Award (MRA), which supports research that addresses issues related to the IDEA mission “to transform the University by enhancing the visibility and advancing the productivity of an interdisciplinary group of faculty and community scholars whose expertise in equity, diversity, and underrepresented populations will lead to innovative scholarship and teaching that addresses urgent social issues.”

Since it’s inception in 1996, the MRA has awarded over 1.5 million dollars to more than 165 UMN faculty from at least 45 different disciplines working in equity and diversity research.

Award recipients are required to present their work as part of Diversity through the Disciplines Symposia sponsored throughout the academic year. Awardees are also encouraged to showcase their research at the Gallery of Excellence, a showcase of equity and diversity research preceding the annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast.

Congratulations to the following recipients of the 2017 IDEA Multicultural Research Award:

Assistant Professor Gabriel Chan,  Public Affairs, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Understanding Gender-Responsiveness of Multilateral Climate Finance

Assistant Professor Joshua Collins, Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, College of Education and Human Development
Incorporating bystander intervention and ally development in the classroom and beyond: An integrative literature review

Associate Professor Molly Dingel
, Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota, Rochester
Underrepresented students’ sense of belonging: The role of living learning communities

Assistant Professor Lake Dziengel, Social Work, College of Education and Human Sevices, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Resilience and the Role of Pets in LGB & Trans* Communities

Assistant Professor Ona Egbue, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Evaluating the Impact of Peer-Mentoring on Female and Minority Students’ Experiences in STEM Disciplines

Assistant Professor Insoon Han, Department of Education, College of Education & Human Sevices, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Fostering the Development of Social Justice Ally through Diversity Course Transformation: Pedagogical Approaches in the White-dominant Classroom  

Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman, Division of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health
#TinyBlackLivesMatter: An Exploration of the Association between Structural Racism and Inequitable Birth Outcomes 

Assistant Professor Jacob Mans, School of Architecture, College of Design
One House, Many Nations

Assistant Professor Lorena Munoz, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, College of Liberal Arts
Poverty, Health and Race: Improving Healthy Food Practices Through Traditional Indigenous Growing Technologies

Assistant Professor Elliot Powell, American Studies, College of Liberal Arts
The Other Side of Things: Afro-South Asian Collaborative Sounds in Black Popular Music

Associate Professor Arun Saldanha, Geography, Environment, and Society, College of Liberal Arts
Prince from Minneapolis: The Geographies of Race and Genius

Associate Professor Catherine Solheim, Family Social Science,  College of Education and Human Development
Developing and Testing a Financial Coaching Program for Karen Refugees

Associate Professor Michael Stebleton, Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development, College of Education and Human Development

A Hunger Crisis: Examining Food Insecurity and its Impact on Undergraduate Students 

Assistant Professor Christopher Terry, School of Journalism,  College of Liberal Arts
Gender, Race and Eligible Entities: An Evaluation of the Empirical Evidence in the Federal Communications Commission’s Minority Ownership Policy Proposal

Associate Professor Bhaskar Upadhay, Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education and Human Development
Case Studies of Teachers’ Experiences Teaching about Race and Beyond


In Their Own Words: Women’s History Month Spotlight (Uyenthi Tran Myhre)

A person, Uyenthi Tran Myhre, wears glasses and holds a cat, while looking into the camera.

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]

In Their Own Words: Women’s History Month Spotlight (Angela Carter)

A person, Angela Carter, wears glasses, large hoop earrings, a brown jacket and a purple shirt. She faces the camera and smiles.

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 Angela Carter. Angela Carter is a 6th-year PhD Candidate in Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota. In undergrad, she was a Ronald E. McNair scholar, and upon earning her BA Angela became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Her dissertation explores the dominant discourses of trauma and PTSD through a feminist-disability studies analytic. Angela is passionate about teaching and loves the opportunities available to her in GWSS to constantly evolve and grow as an educator. Outside of her academic endeavors, Angela enjoys drinking too much coffee, playing with her puppies, and watching minor league baseball. Here is her story:

“I think in [Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies] classes, the importance of women’s history is thinking about what history gets remembered and taught and what history gets left out, and who really benefits from that system. In a lot of our classes, students often say things like, ‘Why was I never taught this?’ or, ‘Why haven’t I heard about this before now?’ and that’s always a great conversation because I think it’s really important to say, ‘Yeah, why HAVEN’T we been taught this?’ or, ‘What does it mean that we’re not taught so much of the history of our country or our world or our society?’ I think Women’s History Month is important because it encourages us to take a moment and reflect as a society, as a culture, as a campus and think about how we talk about history, what history matters, whose history matters, and who gets left out. Those exclusions and inclusions shape the way we think about ourselves in the world that we’re in.

For me, as a Feminist Studies Ph.D candidate, I think a lot about history, specifically the history that I wasn’t taught and how that shaped how I came to think about myself and my place in the world. Then, as I’m learning and unlearning and relearning things through my education, that all has changed how I think about my place in the world and the place of other people like me, particularly people from marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Like the fact that I was never taught about the Disability Rights Movement — I had no idea that there were vast social movements and great numbers of critical thinkers and organizers working for Disability Justice decades before I was born. I was just never taught that. Then I became disabled, and society told me what that meant and that disability means all of these tragic things. Later, I learned about the movement and disability justice and amazing people like Corbett O’Toole, who was, and still is, a big leader in disability issues organizing in the Bay Area. I got the chance to meet her in person and learned about women and organizers and activists that were thinking about disability differently. It changed the way I thought about myself and my body and my place as a disabled activist and scholar.

The more that I learn about history, the more that I learn about so many people’s voices who have been left out or who haven’t been considered that have done really amazing things to help shape our society. One of the biggest push-backs on things like Women’s History Month or Black History Month is people questioning why there isn’t a “Men’s History Month” or a “White History Month” but history, as we’re taught, is predominantly white men’s history. What these [Women’s and Black History] months do is not say, “Here are a few days or one calendar month of the year to think about women or people of color,” but signal to us how we should be thinking about history in general and push us to think about who gets left out, and how that all shapes our future. Another important aspect of Women’s History Month is to not let it become “White Women’s History Month.” It’s really important that when we think about women’s history, we think intersectionally. We need to think about women of color, we need to think about indigenous women, we need to think about poor and working class women, disabled women, trans women, GLBT women, and so on. That’s one of my biggest critiques of Women’s History Month because so often it gets mobilized in campaigns on social media or even in some libraries, despite well-intending people, it turns into “White Women’s History Month” and then we become segregated. For example, Black History Month is about race and Women’s History Month is about gender, in terms of female identities, but it’s important that we think broadly and intersectionally about how these things intertwine and that we work as activists, scholars, and changemakers on this campus and beyond to make Women’s History Month be about looking at all of women’s voices, not just a select few. There are amazing white feminists and women in history, but so much is looked over when we only focus on them.”

[Header Image Credit: Kianna Notermann, 2017]