Women of Excellence provide safe place for sisterhood, women of color


Students and faculty discussed their personal experiences as women of color. Photo taken on Feb. 11 by Gabriela Rudolph.

Women of Excellence hosted their Welcome Back Brunch on Feb. 11, at Selvester’s Cafe on Chico State’s campus as a kickoff to the semester. Women of color were invited to have a conversation with their peers and faculty about their personal experiences.

“Women of Excellence exists to improve persistence, retention and academic excellence for all participating students,” said paraprofessional Jennifer Mendoza. “We serve our historically underserved and underrepresented self-identified female students.” 

Women of Excellence is an academic retention program that consists of a cohort of 40 young women, and was created by the STAR Center. Throughout the semester, the program holds events meant to foster success in these women. 

Stickers and information about Women of Excellence. Photo taken on Feb. 11 by Gabriela Rudolph.

In addition to the program, there is also a course available each fall semester called Multicultural & Gender Studies 145: Learning from Women of Color in Leadership. In this class, students develop skills that will help them in their professional life as well as with other life skills, such as mental wellness and healthy relationship management.

During the Welcome Back Brunch, the women discussed imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome refers to the belief that one is “undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held,” according to Psychology Today. Imposter syndrome is common among people of color pursuing a higher education, primarily due to racial stereotypes that induce anxiety into their academic performance.

Mendoza described her experience with imposter syndrome when she had to write her candidacy speech for the vice president position with Associated Students and brought her speech to Women of Excellence for feedback. 

“I didn’t feel like, in a sense, good enough to be even running for the position,” Mendoza said. “But I also felt a lot of pressure because there weren’t a lot of women of color at that moment in Government Affairs.”

Each table went around to discuss a series of questions led by a facilitator. Photo taken on Feb. 11 by Gabriela Rudolph.

Government Affairs, the representatives of Chico State’s student body, still consists of a majority white students — with only five people of color out of the 17 students on their council.

“It’s definitely not seeing someone that looks like me,” she said. “Or trying to create a path for others that was so overwhelming.”

Mendoza said that Women of Excellence empowered her and made her feel that she could achieve her goal. She added that she wants the same for others who walk through their doors at the STAR Center.

Yer Thao was a facilitator at one of the tables at the Welcome Back Brunch and told her story to her table. 

Thao is a Hmong immigrant who moved to Oroville as a young child where she lived in poverty. She later attended Chico State as a first generation student. During this time, she said that she neglected sisterhood and didn’t realize its importance until much later.

While attending Chico State, she had two roommates who were older and weren’t home very often, so she spent much of her time alone. 

Participants enjoyed free coffee and brunch. Photo taken on Feb 11. by Gabriela Rudolph

“I remember just not knowing that what I really wanted was sisterhood,” Thao said. “Because I’d never seen sisterhood, I didn’t know what it meant, so I didn’t know I was missing it. And I navigated most of my college experience very similarly to that.”

Thao said when she attended Chico State, there weren’t many programs to help people of color or first generation students through their college experience. 

“In a place like Women of Excellence, they all came looking for sisterhood,” Thao said. “I love that they provide this opportunity.”

The Welcome Back Brunch allowed for other women of color at Chico State to meet and network. Photo taken on Feb. 11 by Gabriela Rudolph.

Along with Women of Excellence, the STAR Center also hosts Men of Chico, which represents the men of color at Chico State. Similarly to Women of Excellence, Men of Chico has a cohort of 40 young men and a supporting course, MCGS 140: Learning from Men of Color in Leadership.

“Growing up as a man of color we’re conditioned to bottle everything and not to speak about our issues,” said paraprofessional Marvin Herrera. “Because we have to be strong and have to be a man and not let anything break us down in a sense.”

Hererra also describes how Men of Chico does something called “Basements and Balconies” as a way to encourage men to talk about their emotions. Every Monday, members are asked to go around to discuss their highest moment of the week and their lowest moment of the week.

On March 8, Women of Excellence and Men of Chico will host a professional development mixer with Gallo Winery, which will focus on self-marketing and career readiness.

Those interested in Women of Excellence and Men of Chico can visit the STAR Center, or enroll in MCGS 140 during the spring, or MCGS 145 during the fall.

Gabriela Rudolph can be reached at [email protected]