After a three year hiatus, Western Washington University’s Empowerment Dinner is returning to campus May 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room.
For the 22nd annual celebration, the Empowerment Dinner will continue to uphold its core sentiments of celebrating women of color of diverse gender identities on campus, with this year's celebration highlighting wellness and self-care.
Doors will open at 5 p.m., with dinner commencing at 6 p.m. Celebrations will include keynote speeches, student performances and scholarship and other award presentations.
The return of this campus fixture has been exciting for many who have been emphasizing a need for such spaces.
“There's a deep sense of isolation for people of color in general, but I would say for women of color in Bellingham specifically,” said Jean Lee, an assistant professor in Western’s women, gender and sexuality studies department.
Sislena Grocer Ledbetter, associate vice president of Counseling, Health, and Wellness at Western and the keynote speaker of this event, shared similar ideas to Lee. She said women of color often have these feelings of isolation largely due to a lack of visibility within their communities and positions of power.
“I'm excited to see so many people of color in one space celebrating each other, celebrating our strengths, celebrating our successes,” Ledbetter said. “I'm excited about seeing faculty, staff, students and community members in one space because that's something that I don't get an opportunity to see.”
The sense of community that this event inspires is vital to combating isolation, Lee said, as it provides women of color a witness to their experience — someone that can understand and affirm the trials they’ve faced.
“I would say empowerment is the conversations that you have with yourself and others. It's what your inner dialogue is, it's what you believe in,” said Navouny Divinne, a second-year Western student and Black LGBTQ+ Thriving Collective co-coordinator for LGBTQ+ Western. “It's how you navigate the world in ways that feel authentic to you. It's the way that you heal yourself from trauma in this life, ancestral trauma.”
The Empowerment Dinner is a platform for women of color in the community to form connections and work through these experiences, while also presenting itself as a safe space that prioritizes the well-being of these individuals above all else.
“They deserve to take care of themselves,” Ledbetter said. “You know, folks always talk about pouring from an empty cup. Sometimes we don't know that there's a crack in the glass and that as much as we try to fill it, it just continues to leak.”
Lee said feelings of isolation, along with expectations of emotional labor that are often placed on women of color, leads to exhaustion and overexertion.
“I am a human being with my own needs and limitations. … Holding space to just separate myself from that is essential, as well as, when I can, even taking myself out of spaces where that becomes too much,” Divinne said.
Ledbetter said the promotion of spaces such as the Empowerment Dinner is important both as a means of connection and in order to preserve and protect the experiences of women of color in our community, not letting them be forgotten.
“Come with good energy and an open mind, positive thoughts and well wishes for the colleagues and the community members that you have — come prepared to give support and come prepared to get a goodie bag,” she said.
Morgan Merriam (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year journalism/public relations major. Outside of reporting on the people of Western, Morgan enjoys jewelry making, hiking, and going to concerts. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.