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Black campus leaders give women advice

Emma Driscoll | Monday, March 5, 2007

Six prominent black women within the Notre Dame community gathered Sunday to discuss issues relevant to young women of color – health, finances, spirituality, professions in higher education, community involvement and politics – in an effort to commemorate Women’s History Month.Shades of Ebony and Welsh Family Hall sponsored “Faces of the Ages: Addressing the Trends and Concerns of African American Women Today” in the Coleman-Morse lounge. The event featured six panelists who spoke about a specific topic tailored to black women, and was followed by the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. “I am here to just sort of talk about choices and the choices that you make,” said Executive Assistant to the President Frances Shavers, a certified yoga instructor who spoke about health and fitness. “Your body is the only one you get.” Shavers emphasized the importance of thinking about the preservatives found in food, as well as the quantity and type of food consumed. She also mentioned a survey in Women’s Health magazine that said that black women are less likely to exercise. “Think about what you eat, how much you eat,” Shavers said. “Just move, get some exercise.” During the question and answer session, Shavers advised women who feel busy with the demands of college to start taking steps toward making better health choices now, but to take things slowly and allow themselves “to sort of mess up without blaming yourselves.” In another question from the audience, panel members were asked how they “cope” with the challenges posed by both their gender and race. “Whenever I think I am having a tough time, I remember there is so much to be grateful for,” Shavers said. “Even in challenges, there is so much opportunity to grow.”Focusing on another aspect of personal well-being, assistant professor of marketing Constance Porter examined financial issues faced by black women and financial risk taking. Porter, who never planned on entering the teaching profession, has worked as a banker and consultant.Porter said in a recent study controlled for age and education, black women were investing their money too conservatively. “I was shocked to find this out, barring age, barring education and barring income levels,” she said. Looking at issues involving black women and religion, Associate Director of Campus Ministry and Director of Cross Cultural Ministry Chandra Johnson spoke about spirituality, something she cultured in herself from family experiences that included both pain and love.”As a spirit-filled woman of African descent, I depend on my ancestors to tell me what I need to know to sustain my relationship with God into the twenty-first century,” Johnson said. “God has a relationship with each and every one of you in a particular way.” To Johnson, spirituality gives a sense of resilience. “Because we’re made in God’s image and likeness, there is nothing in this world that could destroy you unless you let it,” Johnson said. A similar idea of resilience was echoed in College of Business advisor Gina Shropshire’s advice to take advantage of all available academic opportunities – even though she acknowledged it can be frustrating being the only black student in a given classroom. Since women were still new to Notre Dame when Shropshire started at the University as an undergraduate, the thought of pursuing a career in higher education as a female never really crossed her mind. Now, she urges young black females to give the profession serious thought. “We need the intellectualism, we need the fresh ideas,” she said, commending current female black students for improving the University from the past. “I see [female African American] students who come to campus, and you own it.”As Shropshire admired the ability of black women to own their roles on campus, Director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services Iris Outlaw urged them to become more active in the community. She suggested seeking opportunities to mentor others or becoming involved in boards accomplish this goal. Taking an active role in the community can “help you see beyond just Notre Dame and you going out and getting a job,” Outlaw said.Also encouraging black females to take an active role outside of their immediate surroundings, political science and Africana Studies professor Dianne Pinderhughes recommended that black women consider a career in politics – a topic that she said is organized around her research.Pinderhughes said data on elected officials of color from 2001 showed, “a little more than one third of total black elected officials were female.” Every time there is a new election, she said, the proportion of black females elected becomes higher. Pinderhughes told audience members that they can be part of this. “You have a role in that ahead of you,” Pinderhughes said. Pinderhughes, who suggested that black females consider the roles of elected officials, appointed officers and roles in administrative agencies, expects black women to play an increasingly important role in the future of politics. “One of our hypotheses is that black women will be important in developing political coalitions,” she said.Law student Tina Ferguson, who helped establish Shades of Ebony in 2002, moderated the discussion.