On the history of People of Color Empowerment Week

The purpose of POC Empowerment Week is to celebrate students of color, unite the racially diverse community at Lawrence and to have fun. Started in 2014 by All is One! Empowering Young Women of Color (AIO), it began as a movement kick started by social justice activists of the time, including Brienne Colstone ’15, who attended this year’s POC Empowerment Week (and has consistently for the past few years) in her Brown Girl Recovery workshops. A small community of outspoken, racially diverse advocates and allies envisioned a campus where people of color are not only seen but are celebrated for their diverse identities. Each event held are forms of social justice to provide knowledge about our history. As our campus grows in its racially diverse population, it becomes ever more crucial that we create and sustain support systems that serve as resources for Lawrentians of color, students, faculty and staff. It is also important to recognize the history and struggle that came with it. Coming to a predominately white institution is no easy feat, especially for students who come from communities of color and whose identities include low-income, first-generation backgrounds. 

Relating to our white counterparts is difficult. Adjusting to a private, liberal arts college that is an inherently white dominated space puts these students of color in vulnerable positions. They are often seen as the representatives of their race, their culture and their backgrounds. POC Empowerment Week seeks to dismantle these stereotypes, and elevate the identities, talents and relationships that underlie our everyday lives as Lawrentians of racially diverse backgrounds. We exist on this campus and fight to be seen in our classes, in our professors, in our institution. Our resilience is resounding. Our existence on this campus is an act of resistance against the upheld structures that this institution was founded on. As the faces of Lawrentians begin to shift, our cultural consciousness demands more spaces dedicated to this upliftment. 

POC Empowerment Week is that step closer to that representation. It becomes more than just talent and performances, this year we included a volunteer event to help and uplift others in our Appleton community. Beta Psi Nu recognized the efforts of faculty such as Dr. Brittany Bell, who’s unwavering support for diversity efforts and student of color on this campus has no end in sight. While there is still work to be done, we celebrate this week and relish in it. It can be difficult to find moments of union for the diverse racial community on this campus, even within the POC community itself. But for many, POC Empowerment Week is among the most anticipated events of the year. We hope to continue this legacy for years to come. AIO is eternally grateful for the continued work, dedication and strength exhibited by the organizations who continue to support this and allow it to happen. Special thanks to: AIO, Alianza, Beta Psi Nu, Black Student Union, the Diversity & Intercultural Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Student Organization for University Programming, the Ethnic Studies Department, and who ever attended these events with a full heart and an open mind.