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Fall 2013

C o r n e l l ’s M u l t i c u l t u r a l W o m e n ’s M a g a z i n e

Mentorship & Inspiration

Conversation with

Kim Crenshaw ’81 on Race, Gender & the University

Black Women & Entrepreneurship

Hair Inspiration from

© IMARA 2013

IvyNaturals 1

editor’s note To Our IMARA Readers:

Meet the Board

Co-Editor-In-Chief/Treasurer Kyeiwaa Amofa-Boachie

Co-Editor-In-Chief/Treasurer Theresa Anoje

Layout Director Mytien Nguyen Creative Director Stacy Ndlovu

Managing Editor Chardae Varlack Staff Editor Briana King

Advisor: Reneé Alexander

Some of us come to Cornell knowing exactly what we want to get out of the experience. “I am going to be a ___, therefore I need to take X classes and join Y clubs to stay on track to be the best ___ I can be.” Some of us come to Cornell only certain that we have absolutely no idea what we want to do. “Let me try a ton of things, and (cross my fingers) by junior year I’ll figure it out what I want to do with my life, or at least narrow down my list of options.” All too often, those in each group have trouble understanding those in the other. On the one hand, having a one-track focus can cause you to miss out on all the opportunities around you. These opportunities might not directly prepare you for the future you’re set on, but they could offer a new perspective on that future or even lead you down a new and even better path. Conversely, exploring everything that the world has to offer is neat, but… you have to have some focus. Going through life passively taking in random experiences may not help you grow as a person unless you’re doing it with some purpose. In reality, each group would benefit from learning something from the other. This semester’s issue of IMARA encourages you to take advantage of all of those opportunities around you, and of this very important time in your life. This is the time to take risks, learn from mistakes, challenge your assumptions, and find your passion in the process. Never stop looking for ways to gain a new perspective, and here at Cornell you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration. There are friends, courses, professors, advisors, mentors, organizations, and programs here on campus and abroad that can offer guidance and support. Ask the right questions. Make the right connections. Stay open to new experiences. And at the end of the day, go with what inspires you to be your best self. Also, don’t forget to pay it forward and pave the way for others to get inspired!


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mentorship in our lives here lies inspiration hair inspiration just do you it’s actually motivation! entrepreneurship & black women


eye candy student spotlights interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw

FEATURES 13 14 18 23

© IMARA 2013

quiz: what kind of mentee are you?



161 things diva speaks final thoughts



Mentorship In Our Lives

The Importance of Mentorship in Our Lives “In order to inspire others, one must first be inspired themselves.” -Sijuwade Falade ‘16

By Tiffany Maye & Monet Bell | Co-Presidents of The Black Women’s Support Network (BWSN)



hroughout our time at Cornell, many of us have had the great fortune to meet phenomenal women who have graciously offered themselves as a campus support system. Whether they provided a positive example, insightful wisdom or a listening ear, these ladies have taken on the powerful role of peer mentorship, often without even realizing it. But for others, this great source of inspiration and support has yet to be achieved due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps many of us don’t grasp the true value of having mentors in our lives as women. These potential relationships can foster stronger bonds of sisterhood in our community and society as a whole. In college, it is easy to become frequently consumed by overwhelming workloads and extracurricular commitments, yet somehow feel like we can succeed on our own. We see this all the time among our ambitious peers on the hill. It could be especially common among women of color, who don’t always feel supported as the minority at such large institutions. Many of us are even raised (perhaps subconsciously) to embody the image of a “strong Black woman”, a societal stereotype which tends to characterize us as superwomen who are always prepared to do it all, regardless of what is going on with us personally. This common expectation to be strong, unbroken and exceptionally hard working, often to the point of neglecting ourselves, can really be detrimental. But the truth is, we don’t have to go through it alone. Knowing when to seek assistance can be a huge sign of strength. We hope each of you will at least take away this lesson from Cornell. Believe it or not, most women on campus (both students and faculty/staff) are more than willing to help steer you in the right direction and keep you on track. BWSN Secretary, Sijuwade Falade ‘16 certainly thinks so. She said, “I must say that since my entrance into this university I have met many inspirational women (faculty and students alike), who work tirelessly to effectively foster mentorship and sisterhood within our community.” In most cases, these ladies are just as invested in the success of the community as they are in their own. So when you need help, just ask! There is no reason to feel shy about asking for assistance and seeking the wisdom of those who have already been in your shoes.

Whether friends, professors, co-workers, RAs/RHDs, classmates or counselors, potential mentors are truly all around us on campus! Sometimes all you need is someone to listen, and mentors can certainly fulfill that role as well. Our treasurer, Shannon Cohall ‘14 commented, “As a mentor, I think it’s important to be a confidant who acts as a sounding board for your mentee. These college years can be stressful, so having someone just to talk to and confide in is a wonderful thing.” It is common for the more experienced women in our community to informally serve as mentors this way, listening without judgment and providing helpful suggestions whenever challenges arise. For some students, this is the most valuable role that a mentor can have. We believe that the importance of mentorship is often undervalued among women, despite the fact that these relationships are mutually beneficial and can function to improve the overall climate of sisterhood and support in our communities. Coming from our co-facilitator, Cyerra McGowan ‘16, “Being mentored by the lovely ladies of the BWSN Executive board made my transition from high school to a freshman at Cornell a smooth one, and what is continuing to make me feel like part of a close knit sisterhood here on campus. For someone like myself who relies heavily on my older sister’s wisdom and guidance in many aspects of my life, having my mentors in BWSN act as older sisters to me is what makes me feel welcome on campus.” It is crucial that our campus groups remain dedicated to fostering these values, as they can greatly impact the initial experiences of students and create stronger incentive for them to remain at the university. When students feel welcome, campus climate improves and perhaps retention rates may as well. In order to express additional benefits of mentorship, we would like to highlight a recent article by Dr. Angelica Perez, a graduate of Columbia University and clinical psychologist who has dedicated her life to counseling, empowering and mentoring women for over twenty years. Here is some of the powerful wisdom she had to share about the value of mentors in our lives.

© IMARA 2013

Mentorship In Our Lives


Mentor as wise advisers

Traditionally, a mentor is known as a wise and trusted adviser, teacher, or friend who is usually a more experienced person than the mentee in a particular community or role. Mentoring relationships can help individuals advance in their careers, enhance their education, and build networks.

Mentors in the business of life

I propose we broaden the concept of mentorship to include the invaluable role that women serve to each other, as powerful sources of inspiration, guidance, support and encouragement. Undeniably, men can be great mentors too, but it is the commonality of womanhood that makes women true life mentors. Consider the friends you called upon when your relationships were full of questions and doubts. Or the women you reached out to when life was unkind. Think about your go-to person when you need inspiration to balance it all and continue to move forward. And what about the wise women you look up to because they’ve been there and done that – successfully and confidently? These women, I say, are life mentors.

Are you a life mentor to someone else?

You may not be aware of it, but you also have the opportunity to be a life mentor to someone else! Consider the following common characteristics of life mentors and how they might describe you as well: - They have experienced and conquered challenging moments in their lives, which have made them a wiser person - They readily use their own personal experiences to instill hope and share life strategies - They are resilient, positive, and open-minded - They enjoy empowering others and bringing out their best - They are supportive and are able to put aside their interest, for the sake of others in need of help and guidance

Why do we need women as mentors?

Women today are busier than ever. As students and working professionals, we work long hours and hold multiple jobs. As stay-at-home moms, many take care of active and busy children while managing their homes and sometimes even working from home. We are creating new possibilities, starting or running businesses and pursuing our dreams. Today, we need each other more than ever. Traditional support systems, such as extended family members, are less available to provide support due to their own busy schedules or distant living. So in these modern times, we need our small community of women mentors, to embrace us and empower us.

This wisdom can certainly translate to our campus community through initiatives such as Cornell Ladies Achieving Sisterhood and Success (C.L.A.S.S). C.L.A.S.S. was founded as a mentorship program for women of color, which pairs upperclassmen with lowerclassmen in a mentor/mentee relationship. It has been shown that such efforts truly make the social and academic transition into life on the hill much easier. Mentor/Mentee pairs are encouraged to get to know one another and help each other by engaging in various activities throughout the year, creating a pair agreement and goal list, and influencing one another in a positive manner through communication. It is the hope of BWSN that through the dedication of C.L.A.S.S. mentors and the enthusiasm of C.L.A.S.S. mentees, Cornell’s women of color will work to succeed in all areas of their lives, and effectively inspire others along the way. Through partnership with Les Femmes De Substance, which focuses on women’s professional development, and faculty women of color, we hope to spread our mission and © IMARA 2013

inspire greater involvement in the success of our women. We realize the power of collectivity when it comes to providing support to each other, and are always open to collaboration with other women’s groups and communities to unite in our efforts in improving our campus climate. The best mentors are those who ensure our success without judgment along the way. These women are truly a blessing. Our best advice? Seek them out and hold them dearly! That way as you face bumps and curves in your college journey (or in life after Cornell), you can simply reach out to that inspirational woman who was always prepared to cheer you on to the finish line. When your confidence needs a boost, she will gladly remind you of who you are and all that you can become. So next time you’re in need, who are you gonna call? For more information on The Black Women’s Support Network (E-board featured on the cover), feel free to visit their new website at or contact BWSN via email at any time.



Here Lies Inspiration

Here Lies Inspiration, May She Never Rest in Peace


By Iyore N. Olaye nspiration is the reason that my plans for the future are uncertain. Its existence makes it okay to dream without a plan, and believe without concrete proof that it will one day come to pass. It is uncertainty in inspiration that makes it so mysterious, so forthcoming, so necessary. For me, inspiration comes from a will to overcome, to defy the presented odds, to let the world know that there is no stop after I declare go. However inspiration can die, and leave only its uncertainty and doubt behind. It is my belief that the most dangerous place for inspiration to live is in the classroom, in schools and in universities across America. Here, limits are set, boundaries go uncrossed, and when contained in a box, inspiration self-destructs. Some may disagree, but there is a story I must tell, which put my personal views in perspective. When I was five, I promised my father that I would graduate high school as the valedictorian of my senior class. Sealed with a pinky, neither him nor I could ever design the struggles I would face on my pathway there. With my goal set, I went to school everyday and manifested into an overachieving student. In a predominately white school district, I was a unique. I was energetic. Craving to learn; curious and cautious to except statements as fact without fully understanding why they were so. Taller than most, but younger than all (not abiding by the cut-off date for kindergarten registration) and black. I was too much to handle, but more importantly too excited to learn. After the promise was made, my battle with education seemed to begin (perhaps someone heard my whisper to my father). If I explicitly explained all of the challenges I faced this article would transform into a memoir, and so for now I will just list them. From kindergarten to senior year, I was: 1. Denied entrance to Kindergarten at the age of four. Successfully Appealed 2. Denied entrance into Elementary school advanced program. Successfully Appealed 3. Denied entrance into fifth grade advanced math class. Successfully Appealed 4. Denied entrance into middle school advanced program. Successfully Appealed 5. Denied entrance in eight grade advanced algebra course. Successfully Appealed 6. Forced to sign waivers allowing extra class instead of lunch period. Signed 7. Forced to sign waivers to take advanced courses freshman year. Signed 8. Forced to sign waivers to take advanced courses sophomore year. Signed 9. Forced to sign waivers to take advanced courses junior year. Signed 10. Denied advanced calculus course for senior year. Unsuccessfully Appealed *I was the only student to make it to this level, teaching a course to only one student was deemed a waste of district money. And with all these battles under my belt, I went into my senior year a seasoned warrior ready for life after high school. With each situation, my inspiration was threatened but did not waiver in existence. Thus, when I was told I was valedictorian, I melted in my tears knowing I had overcome it all. However my senior year would prove to be more of a test then I anticipated. In English class, I started receiving grades that did not reflect my work. My exams were graded unfairly and were deemed poorly written. This particular teacher targeted me, feeding me thoughts that I was unworthy, unethical, and not smart enough to make my dreams come true. As each situation occurred, I made a habit of documenting the abuse and turned it in to my principal. Before handing in essays, I would have three different teachers read it over for perfection. I took detailed notes to make sure I knew everything she wanted, expected, and more. I refused to let this teacher alter my life, and cause me to break a promise my soul depended on me to keep.


Š IMARA 2013

Here Lies Inspiration


With a year of harassment, I received an A in her class and was named the first black valedictorian of my high school. When this was officially announced, the community was split. There were racist comments made, calls to the school received, and even community members who threatened to boycott the graduation. I had no idea that my growingly diverse town could encompass so much hatred. Honestly I was not all that shocked, after watching the ridicule that President Barack Obama consistently received I was mentally prepared, inspired to stand proud. Despite the growing hostility, I wrote a beautiful speech, one ready to be part of a town’s history. So I read my speech, and in the crowd all I saw were my family, friends, supporters, and even news crews, deleting all negativity from my view. After my graduation, I started a summer program at Cornell University and left everything behind, so I thought. In the middle of July I received a number of phone calls in panic from my friends. Assuming something was wrong at home, I answered the last call I received; a friend insisted that I go on Facebook. I went on Facebook and there it was, a picture of the salutatorian’s transcript with the rank reading one. Below it there lie a comment thread with hundreds of comments; most consisting of personal attacks shaming my name. I found out after days of disappointment, hurt, and questioning that my English teacher tampered with my final grade. This final grade affected my class rank. Her entire scheme was laid out to me over the telephone and I felt sick to my stomach. She was reprimanded and I kept my title, but that did not bring me much relief. There was still question and doubt coming from everyone, but I refused to feed the negativity for I knew the truth. My entire freshman year of college this situation haunted me; I questioned my existence and abilities. I needed to believe in myself again and remember that I had control of my future and no one else. Closure finally came when I faced her one final time at the appeal hearing of her punishment. Face-to-face I told her that I will never be stopped and that I prayed that she would never put another human being through the torment she put me through. Her appeal was denied and my title remained the same. It is up to us to take hold of our inspirations and let them guide the way. We must not gravel in self-doubt putting belief in failure instead of letting the inspirations motivate. While there will always be one (in this case, disguised as an educator that will try to break the inspired, it is the inspired that must withstand and continue to survive the long and difficult journey to success.

Š IMARA 2013



Eye Candy

Eye Candy Noel Alexander

What would I find if I were to reach into your jeans pocket? Chapstick. Gotta be prepared. Hey, you never know what could happen! *chuckles* College Prowler website rates Cornell girls’ hotness as a B+. How would you rate them? A. Cornell has beautiful and smart women. What the craziest/most daring thing you’ve ever done? I went zip lining in Costa Rica. What do you look for in a girl? A girl who is sexy with style and confidence and has her life together. On women and make-up… I think a woman can do whatever she feels she needs to do to feel beautiful. What turns you off about a girl? Possessiveness, and if she is not sweet or not nice.

Year: Sophomore Hometown: Newburgh, New York Sign: Cancer

What’s the most insane thing you’ve done to get a girl’s attention? I was getting lunch at SONIC and got my mom to talk to her. It was risky, but she thought it was adorable, so…

Major: Operations Research and Information Engineering School: College of Engineering Height: 6ft Main Extracurriculars: Men of Color Council, Program

Describe a romantic evening. A lakeside dinner, good dessert, and good music (e.g. John Legend).

Why did you agree to be featured as Eye Candy? Because I thought that this magazine stood for something I constantly fight for in all my extracurriculars. And, I couldn’t bring myself to say “No” to a chance to learn more about it and contribute to it.

If you had a documentary made about your life, which actor would you want to play you and what would be the documentary’s soundtrack? Boris Kodjoe would be the actor and “Swim Good” by Frank Ocean would be the soundtrack.

Chair; National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE)

Describe yourself in one word. Patient.

In a relationship, what would you bring to the table? I’m loyal, patient, fun, and I do well with parents.

What drives you? My peers. I’m motivated by others, you know, like seeing other students at the library, hearing that they face the same struggles as I do. I’m also What are you future always striving to do better, to improve, to be the best plans? I want to go to graduate school, get version of myself. a PhD. in the same Tell us about your family. It’s always just been my sister, field I’m currently my mom, and me. Safe to say, I was raised by strong studying, and I would love to have a daughblack women. ter someday. Who is your hero/greatest inspiration? My mother. 8

© IMARA 2013

Hair Inspirtion

Hair Inspiration from IvyNaturals By Briana Cortesiano


big hair on campus. But my goal now is to inspire other women to be themselves 100% of the time, and embrace their natural hair and beauty regardless of what others might say or think. Being in college and away from home is the perfect place to find or reinvent yourself, and that’s exactly what I did. I have no regrets embarking on my natural hair journey, and I haven’t touched a straightener since. More about IvyNaturals: Mission: Through connections with outside organizations and hosting informative and interactive programming, Ivy Naturals will serve to unite natural women and educate those on and beyond the Cornell University campus about being natural.


y natural hair journey started about a year and a half ago, while I was ending my fall semester as a freshman. I had been straightening my hair since the 8th grade and really hated wearing my hair curly. I didn’t think I looked attractive with curly hair and I would get lots of compliments when it was straight, so I found no point in wearing it curly. I even highlighted it and cut it a few times all while it was straight. It wasn’t until I got to college, when my mother went natural, that I decided that I wanted to wear my natural hair myself.

Upcoming Events (Spring 2014): Ivy Naturals Hair Expo – February 22nd, 2014 in Noyes Gymnasium from 2pm-5pm The expo will consist of different workshops on hair tutorials, products, and health awareness. Popular natural hair YouTubers will come to help with discussion and speak about the natural hair movement. Free food will be provided. Ivy Naturals Hair Showcase – March (Date/Time/Location TBD) Women from surrounding schools and the Ithaca community will come out to showcase a wide variety of natural hair styles, along with different outfits and attire. For more information on the organization, and for tickets to events, contact IvyNaturals at: Instagram: ivy_naturals Twitter: ivy_naturals Facebook: Ivy Naturals Email:

My mother was a true inspiration for going natural, after more than twenty-five years of her getting perms and wearing weaves. It was almost like an epiphany for me— “I let their opinions influence my decisions being in college and away from home, I had a place where I about my hair. I have now reached a place could start fresh. I had also worn green contacts through- where I embrace what has been given to me, out high school, and decided that along with my transiand I want others to do the same.” tion to natural hair I would show off my big, brown eyes as well. After not straightening my hair for five months, I chopped off almost all of my damaged hair the following summer. I rocked the short, curly look and was actually happy with myself. So once I got back to campus, I was all about the curly hair and natural look. When I was younger and straightened my hair, I was so worried about what others thought of my looks. I let their opinions influence my decisions about my hair. I have now reached a place where I embrace what has been given to me, and I want others to do the same. Having curly hair on campus can be difficult, both due to the weather and the looks you get from people who aren’t used to seeing © IMARA 2013




Just do you

Just Do You

By Edgar Akuffo-Addo

ocking my head, clinching my palm on my cheek, leaning back and slightly pondering, I wondered, “Why was I even ever born?” It felt like I was outside of my body, looking at myself from above. With my body frozen and my face almost expressionless, I marveled, “Was life really worth living with and under all these conditions?” My mind raced. I chastised myself for being too sensitive, emotional and thoughtful. Nothing has been easy for me. Atypical of many newborns, I was among the few babies born with my umbilical cord tightened around my neck. Many of the professional doctors predicted an undiagnosed stillbirth, since I was still for hours, but I eventually came to be. I have been a survivor since labor! I have been a miracle! I have been a staunch and adamant believer in, “All is well that ends with a cool story.” I have learned from yesterday, but I keep my focus on today and try to keep the phrase, “What if?” from crossing my lips. I have a penchant for success and the drive that takes me anywhere I want to go. I am analytical and in my head a lot of times. I like it when I can pose a weird question about science, history or authority and actually get an intelligent response from someone. I’ve got all the usual passions like travel, outdoor activities, football games and swimming but there exists one passion that only my inner soul can account for, and that is my desire to speak and to be heard. I thirst to have a voice that is heard, respected and valued. As one of four siblings, I spent my childhood on a boulevard less journeyed on than most. I grew up in an impoverished area of rural Ghana, Bonkrong to a dysfunctional and drug-addicted family. In similarity to my troubled environment, war zones, revolutions and unstable living conditions, my early days constituted several unique challenges. I suffered Dysarthria and lack of fluency, which went undiagnosed until some few years ago. All along, I had to live with slurred speech, blurred vision, grave respiratory problems and impaired academic potential. I had no motivation to do well, but I had to be the sole individual to thrust myself to do more than well because had I failed to do that, nothing would have changed around me. If someone had not brought unto the South something that they were not ready for, I would have still been in chains picking cotton barefoot. While these impediments posed challenges and difficulties in my youthful days, they imbibed me with life fulfilling values and principles which I have built my life on. My condition instilled in me a sense for empathy, room for humor and a great heart for tenacity. It also contributed to my independent and analytical thinking. All of my ideas became abstract and internalized since there was little room to have a voice. I was physically torn and thus, developed a deep rooted sense of low self-worth, but my mind was composed. I wish folks out there could tell their mothers, mentors and girl friends how much they love them! Guys should treat ladies like princesses because that is exactly what they are. Ironic but true, I have been shaped into the man I am now by the efforts of women. Iron sharpens iron but it did happen in my life conversely; a woman sharpened a man. Women have been my first teachers, comforters and providers. I have known a lot of feelings, but there is one I cannot imagine, and that is, life without women. Much gratitude goes to my mother, my Mentor, Dr. Isla Garraway, Dr. Fan Hagenstein, Dr. Boroujerdi, Dr. Ong, Dr. Hassanali and


all the women in my life who gave me an alternative to life in the street. Hypocritical as I might sound, I have learned but in the hard way that, “What is behind us and what lies before us are both minute matters compared to what lies within us.” My past has been full of challenges and my present is of no better but I believe these circumstances are not and will never be a prediction of where I am going or of the heights I will or can accomplish. Your attitude sets your altitude. Just as to every poison, there is an antidote. A heavy dose of self esteem, self-help, family values and education will overcome all problems. They are simple antidotes but you cannot swallow them with your eyes closed. Act accordingly to your morals and set principles and call on your success in the morning. “Just do you” is a personal quote I coined from another quote that does not fail to cross my lips: “Everyone wants to find out how you’re doing, it’s not like they care, they just want to be sure you are not doing better than them.” But I will tell you, “Just do you.” We have been sidetracked trying to measure our success with opponents we have mentally created, but in reality, who is our opponent? Our opponent does not exist! The only potential opponent is the attitude we exhibit towards opportunities. Why envy your brother’s or friend’s success? Just do you! Joybell C. could not have said it any better, “There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish and yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” Just do you! It is not only wrong but absurd; a person as desperate as this is a danger to himself. All that matters is giving your best. The satisfaction to you should be rising to the challenge! Envy and success are almost always on parallel roads, and you can only choose to ride on one. Just do you! We are one people, regardless of race and gender and as such our banner should read Justice, peace and love. We are not just a color in the global fabric, but we are each, a thread that holds it all together. Our diversity creates the beauty and satisfaction of the world. We should strive to see each other succeed, for we are all nothing but transient creatures on this earth. “Just do you” means work a little bit harder, wake up a little bit earlier, sleep a little bit later, push a little harder and move a little bit further ,and if opportunity does not come, go ahead and build the door, only then will success come knocking.

© IMARA 2013

Student Spotlights



Student Spotlights Biology Student Advisor, iGEM (Sponsorship Coordinator), Biology Service Leader (Founder, Head Coordinator) Tina is a dedicated and hardworking junior in Chemistry and Biology. This summer, she founded the Biology Service Leaders, a service-learning program within the Undergraduate Office of Biology. Biology Service Leaders seeks to provide both short- and long-term service-learning projects to students, connecting them to the Ithaca community and building camaraderie within the Biology major. Tina founded the program with a vision to bring together the Biology community in developing leaders and connecting academia with community service. Tina’s advice to readers is that you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Go out there, explore, and live with passion. Remember that life’s not just about finding yourself - it’s also about creating yourself.


Black Women’s Support Network (Co-President), Footprints (CoFundraising Chair), Infant Studies Lab (Student Researcher) Monet Bell is a senior in Human Development. She is currently a mentor in the C.L.A.S.S. (Cornell Ladies Achieving Sisterhood & Success) Peer Mentorship Program, a recent development under BWSN, as well as a mentor in the Peer Partnership Program (HE 3100) within the College of Human Ecology. Monet looks to her older sister for motivation and inspiration, which has helped her realize her own potential and purpose to achieve. Monet hopes to set the same example for her mentees. When faced with a roadblock or challenge, she encourages her mentees to change their approach and make mental adjustments to adapt to the situation. She believes that this is where mentors come in, to encourage their mentees by instilling the “if somebody can do this, I can too” mentality. Monet’s advice to readers is that you’re never too knowledgeable for a mentor. In order to reach your full potential, it is important to find a mentor at different points in your life. To accomplish your desired success, find a mentor that is in the position you hope to achieve. Having multiple mentors in different areas of your life is ideal, and nothing is too trivial to find mentorship in.

© IMARA 2013



It’s Actually Motivation!

from college; you can do it too. You just need to be determined enough so that you become your own inspiIt’s ration. Look, you’re actually trying; you’re putting effort Actually... into something. That sense of pride in investing some part of yourself into your work, whatever it is, will be come the drive for you to continue it and finish it. By Rene Tsukawaki You’ve already written one word on your paper. Why not make it a sentence? And while you’re at that, why don’t you string together four sentences and make a paragraph? Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter, finish hat is inspiration? writing it and then edit the heck out of that thing.



Is it something you go out and look for? Like a wanInspiration comes in the form of many things. A pretty dering artist would, intentionally getting lost in an art supermodel might inspire you to go on a diet, and your museum, hoping one of those works will shed light on friend’s latest photography album might inspire you to how he will start his own personal masterpiece? go out and take your own photos. But when it really comes down to it, the inspiration is not actually inspiraOr is it something you must wait for? Like how college tion if you don’t go ahead and do what you want or need students stay up late into the night simply staring at a to do. The key to all of this, my friends, is therefore both blank screen, anxiously waiting while still hoping that motivation and desperation. paper due tomorrow will magically finish itself? The answer is this:

So don’t just sit there and daydream about the “what if ’s”— be your own inspiration and get to it!

There is no such thing as a miraculous inspiration that will just come upon you. You can’t just sit out in the field and wait for something to hit you in the head that will whisper the secrets of life into your ear. Unfortunately, despite how much we wish, life does not work that way. Do not worry though, my fellow procrastinators. I especially know the feeling of that slow rise of panic from your chest as you claw your fingers through your hair, internally screaming as you read, re-read, and re-read another time, the seemingly cryptic prompt your professor had handed to you two weeks ago. You can finish that paper simply by becoming your own inspiration. That is, inspiration created by determination - and also desperation. If you really want to write a paper, you will find a way to write it, as long as you stop thinking about all the reasons you should not write something else besides your name on it. Here is the inspiration: everyone else has gone through the same thing. Everyone at one point in their lives, had had to do something they did not want to do— and at times did not even know how to start to do— but they did it. I mean, there are millions of people who graduated 12

© IMARA 2013

Quiz: What Kind of Mentee Are You?


QUIZ: What Kind of Mentee Are You? In order to find a mentor, you need to know a little bit more about yourself and the kind of person you are. And, in order to have a mentor that understands you, you need to understand yourself. Do you know the kind of mentor you need? Try out our quiz and find out! 1. When you think about your development and growth, which of the following statements best represents your beliefs? a. I am responsible for my own development and growth. b. Things change too fast; it is best to go with the flow. c. If you work with good mentors, they will take care of your growth and development. 2. What do you believe is the most effective role for a mentor? She or he should… a. …teach me what they know. b. …tell me what I need to do. c. …help me to clarify my thoughts and actions. 3. When should you let your mentor know about your expectations for the mentoring relationship? a. It doesn’t matter to me; it depends on what the mentor wants and needs. b. Whatever their expectations are, they should be clearly defined and communicated to me at the beginning of a mentoring relationship. c. The expectations will emerge as the relationship develops. 4. How aware are you of who you are, what you value, and what skills and talents make you unique? a. I am continually trying to define and redefine what I understand about myself. b. I sort of have some general impressions about myself. c. I haven’t really thought about these things. 5. What do you feel the mentor should get out of the relationship? She or he should… a. …get a good feeling about helping someone like me. b. …not get much; they’re already pretty successful and accomplished. c. …learn as much from me as I do from them.

6. Which statement best represents your belief about plans and ideas you and your mentor discuss? a. I would take a long time before actually taking any action. b. I need to be willing to implement, take action, and put things into effect. c. I would take action only when it involved very little risk. 7. How will you react to feedback and observations from your mentor? a. I will be open-minded, willing to change, and coachable. b. I will take everything with a grain of salt; after all this is just one person’s opinion. c. I will reject the things I do not agree with if my mentor doesn’t understand the situations I am in. 8. What should be your role in finding a mentor? a. I should sign up for a mentoring program and wait for an organization to assign me a mentor. b. I should wait for someone to ask me if I would like to be mentored. c. I should watch for people who could help me and ask them to be my mentor. 9. What should be your responsibility in maintaining the mentoring relationship? a. The sponsors of a mentoring program should define and monitor how often and for how long we meet. b. It is my responsibility to keep in touch and request times for us to meet. c. The mentor should define when and how often we meet. 10. Which statement best describes why you want to enter into a mentoring relationship? a. I want to develop my potential and career. b. I would really like someone to listen to me and give advice on the problems that I am facing. c. I have nothing better to do and it sounds kind of interesting.

(Quiz adapted from

Score 75 – 100: You assume your mentor is an ally and will be there to help you in your growth and development. You are open-minded, willing to change and coachable. Argumentativeness, resistance, hesitation, and suspicion are not in your ingredients for a productive and satisfying mentoring relationship. You know exactly what you want and will be able to handle what life throws your way because you will use your mentor as exactly that—a mentor. 45 – 70: Your ideal mentor is a little more hands-on with your relationship. Just remember that your role in the mentorship relationship (like any relationship) is essential. It’s a two-way street! If the relationship is of value, work at keeping it going by keeping in touch, asking for time, understanding your mentor, and putting decisions into effect. 0 – 40: You need a mentor who is very involved, but where is your input in the relationship? Simply joining a mentoring program does not replace your responsibility for your growth and development—just remember that you make the choices and take the actions. A mentor can only help by asking questions, posing situations and providing resources. Also, a mentor has the right to expect you to know and be able to articulate what you want from the mentoring relationship. The expectation is reciprocal. Without this up front discussion, it is impossible to determine if a good fit could exist. Answers 1. a (10) b (5) c (0); 2. a (5) b (0) c (10); 3. a (5) b (10) c (5); 4. a (10) b (5) c (0); 5. a (5) b (0) c (10); 6. a (5) b (10) c (0); 7. a (10) b (5) c (0); 8. a (5) b (0) c (10); 9. a (0) b (10) c (5); 10. a (10) b (5) c (0)

© IMARA 2013




161 Things

things to do

For Women of Color: Part VI

Cornell is brimming with sources of inspiration. Whether it’s a new course offered in or outside of your major that you’ve wanted to explore, a new club related to something you’ve always wanted to try out, a new professor, a new hobby, a new book, blog, or even a new friend, there is something on campus for everyone that can set them on a more fulfilling path. It just takes a little bit of digging and open-mindedness to get there. IMARA hopes that just one of our suggestions helps set you on that path. Enjoy!


Rush a sorority! Even if you think Greek life isn’t for you, you can have fun checking out each house and meeting new people. Be sure to check out sororities that are part of the Multicultural Greek Letter Council, who have informal rush events throughout the year.

102. Social sororities not for you? Join a pre-professional organization or honors society for your major. There are many multicultural professional groups, like Minority Business Student Association, or ones just for women, like the Society for Women and Law. 103. Remember how lost and naïve you were as a freshman? Help an underclassman navigate Cornell by becoming a mentor through C.L.A.S.S. (Cornell Ladies Achieving Sisterhood & Success), sponsored by the Black Women’s Support Network and open to women of all ethnic backgrounds. Offer your wisdom and free time to young women off-campus too! There are plenty of community outreach programs through OADI (Office of Academic and Diversity Initiatives) and Cornell’s Public Service Center where you can act as a youth role model, such as the Women of Purpose Alliance’s Teen Mentorship Program.


105. Of course, there’s always more advice you can gain from others. Sign up to be a mentee through Cornell’s Alumni-Student Mentoring Program to get guidance on life at Cornell and beyond. 106. Spend a lot of time in OADI, which provides resources through career and graduate school discussion series, academic skills workshops, as well as study space and free printing. 107. Attend a “Career Conversation”, hosted by Cornell Career Services, to get guidance from a variety of successful alumni on the path you should take after college. 14

© IMARA 2013

161 Things


108. Support the inspiring men and women of color around campus by attending Le Femme De Substance’s “Men of Substance Showcase” or Alpha Phi Alpha’s “Miss Black & Gold” scholarship pageant. 109. Take a class that has nothing to do with any of your major/minor requirements. You’d be amazed at how useful and exciting a literature course can be without having to relate it to STEM courses. Learn about a new topic without worrying about what it’ll do to your GPA by taking a one-credit pass-fail exploratory seminar. Cornell’s Institute for African Development holds a Thursday seminar series each semester on “Issues in African Development” that you can even attend without enrolling in the course.


111. Enroll in a class like HE 1115: Critical Reading and Thinking or ILR 3620: Career Development – Theory and Practice. They can help you navigate your undergraduate and post-graduate career. 112. Complete your PE requirements by signing up for something completely out of your comfort zone, like Open Water Scuba Diving, Handgun Safety, or Skiing! 113. Try out for a dance troupe, like Teszia’s bellydancing troupe, to shake things up while staying in shape! 114. Don’t want to commit to joining a troupe? Cornell’s fitness centers offer a ton of dance and other workout classes held throughout the week each semester, like Zumba, Latin Heat, and Dancefit. Buy a full gym membership (or a $7 day pass) to check one out! 115. Try your luck at finding a free fitness or dance class around campus, like the free yoga classes held in Willard Straight Hall every Thursday this Fall! 116. Don’t go through your four years at Cornell with the same hairstyle. Get bangs, dye your hair, do the big chop or transition to natural hair—just switch it up!


Don’t want to go through your transition phase alone? Join Ivy Naturals or other hair and beauty organizations, whose members support each other through the trials and tribulations of natural and chemical-free hair.

118. Take advantage of *FREE* manicures, massages, and other spa treats offered at Noyes Community Center throughout the semester and during finals week! 119. Inspire kindness around you by saying “have a good day” to a complete stranger on your way to class, on the bus, in Starbucks, or anywhere you can. And lastly, let someone who’s mentored you know how grateful you are to them. And we don’t mean a simple “thank you” either. Let them know how much their guidance has helped shape the person you are today, it’ll make you both happier!


If you missed the last 100, check out previous issues on! © IMARA 2013



Entrepreneurship and Black Women

lack B d n a p i h s r neu e r p e r t n E y ven a e Wh H n i e d a hes M c t a M e r a n Wome By Olivia Davis

“Have Americans Given Up on Business Ownership?” was a headline in my LinkedIn newsfeed and as an entrepreneurship enthusiast, I knew I had to take a look. The first few sentences shocked me. “In the 1950s, 25% of Americans were business owners. Today, just 7.8% own a business. Less than 10% of Americans are pursuing one of the greatest freedoms we have: The ability to be our own bosses.” Little did I know that this article would articulate my exact feelings and invigorate me to tell others of a new movement that needs to happen, truly a revolution. Entrepreneurship is the way to fight for what’s right or yours, whether it’s a social cause or a longstanding name for your brand. This undertaking isn’t just for black women. But for now, I want to directly speak to my sisters while we are having a revolution of our own.

and Bantu knots). Women of color have been empowered to flaunt the natural curls everywhere, even in the workplace, but what is the cost of the natural hair movement? What has been accomplished? I’ll begin with a personal angle. I’ve had every hairstyle under the sun except dreads and Beyoncé-style weaves. Short, long, big afro, or even a “TWA” (teeny, weeny afro). However, dyed but “fried” (otherwise known as chemically altered straight hair) is my all-time favorite. I am the minority within this minority of women. I love my natural hair, but also feel that one of my best hairstyles is a pixie cut. If I were to make this announcement in a room filled with women of color, I think I’d hear a bunch of teeth-sucking, if not something more confrontational.

Over the last few years, the enthusiasm behind “black I say all of this to say that a movement is beautiful” has carried most black women to embrace about empowerment has turned into our natural curls and shy away from chemicals. The pera new version of slut-shaming spective that there is grandeur with a head of “s-curls” or a few months of “protective styles” is now the fad, a except, this time, women who love chemically treated new popular lifestyle to pursue as a woman of color. hair are labeled as the whores to mainstream, whitewashed culture. I won’t even touch on the chronicles of Regardless of what it may look like, wars over hair length and mixed girls. I’ll keep it simit’s important to remember that this ple: this in-group discrimination disqualifies the natural hair movement as empowering. If you don’t believe me, movement shouldn’t only be about a just search black hair on Google. Blogs, Instagram posts, Vines and tweets will show you exactly what I mean. bunch of curly hair follicles. The crusade for natural hair lays the battleground for changes in fashion, empowerment, and politics for women of color. “We are better than our hair, but we must treat our hair better,” is how I would describe the new motto. Hair enlightenment is what many other ladies call it. Chemicals kill. Blow-drying blows. Let the curls flow naturally (or after a night’s rest with flexi-rods 16

Anyways, in this worship of the hair from our motherland, there has been increased objectification of black hair, which has led to more ostracizing in the streets and the workplace. Many cry out that movements like “You Can Touch My Hair” failed to educate people, but only furthered the problem of ignorance. In addition to those claims, I think that the whole natural hair move© IMARA 2013

Entrepreneurship and Black Women

ment has lost sight of the importance of moving on to the next level. There are inherent problems with black hair in the workplace. It’s safe to say that a black woman with a huge curly afro will never sit at a Goldman Sachs board meeting, at least no time soon. In fact, in the middle of writing this article, I Google-searched “black women in business” and nearly all (as in a guestimate of 98%) of the pictures showed a black woman with straight hair.


their rate before the crash, which stood at 7.1 percent in December 2007.” In the same LinkedIn article, the author highlights what might prove to be the future of the working world: stop looking for a job and start looking for a problem to solve. I think you get my drift by now.

Black women, my sisters, let’s recharge and make This is the image that keeps black this movement go beyond our hair. Instead of being self-destructive by creating in-group discrimination, women from progressing in the let’s build from our mistakes and misfortunes, and corporate world. build an empire that respects black hair and culture. Let’s be the new Madame C.J. Walkers and Oprah This isn’t only racist, but it’s largely sexist. White men Winfreys (who don’t depend on the government), dominated the work place since the beginning. Sleek hair- and form our own corporate world. We have the styles, like controlled up-dos or not-too-long straight hair, choice to become problem solvers and overcomers are the accepted hair-dos in the corporate realm. Some like many of our ancestors, whether we have a huge believe that Affirmative Action is black women's public afro, braids down our back, or a mohawk of curls. enemy #1 in the workplace, but actually, I think it's hair. Most people won't argue with me. Nearly everyone agrees After all, we as black women make that black hair in its natural form, whether braids or curly the perfect entrepreneurs. afros, is seen as unprofessional and hurts so many people in the recruitment process. But most people won't agree that the natural hair movement isn't helping the case for working black women in industries other than beauty and fashion. Does this mean that we should fall victim to the “creamy crack” lye relaxer just to get corporate jobs and then, when we’ve worked our way up, sport huge, curly afros and waist-long box braids? Sounds like a great idea for a black comedy, but absolutely no. The afro won’t be accepted until everyone in the board room has an afro. But this shouldn’t be our sole goal. The corporate world isn’t our industry anyways. All parts of our culture will never be accepted or understood in an industry dominated by the norms set during the times our ancestors were forced to slave in the fields. Does this seem mindboggling to you? President Barack Obama once said, “Even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes, inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder…” The numbers don’t lie. According to a recent ThinkProgress article titled, “Unemployment Rate for Black Women Higher Now than Four Years Ago,” the seriousness of the current state of black women in the workplace comes to light. “Their unemployment rate currently stands at 12 percent, compared to 11.8 percent in June 2009. It is also nearly 1.7 times higher than © IMARA 2013 17


Diva Speaks

Diva Speaks

Dear Diva Speaks, I am so overwhelmed! It is my second year at Cornell and I feel like it’s my fourth. I’m at my wit’s end and I just want to give up. Last year was great. I loved every single one of my classes, I made great friends, and I was able to go out at least once a week while keeping up with all of my assignments. This year, it seems as though everything is so much harder. This semester, I’m taking classes relevant to my major and I hate them. I just can’t seem to focus in them and I never want to do my homework. I wish I could go out on the weekends sometimes to alleviate this stress, but I feel like I just don’t have the time. I barely see my friends because they live so far away now. So, I am not only strained but lonely. Please help me. Sincerely, Going Crazy

Dear Going Crazy, I completely understand how you feel! The honeymoon is over and it’s time to get down to business. However, as overwhelmed as you may feel, remember that you are here for a purpose. Whenever you feel like giving up, take a moment to stop what you are doing and envision the life that you would like to live in the future. Think about your career and life goals. What excites you about the future? That is what you need to focus on when you’re having your worst days. Sometimes it my feel like the work you are doing won’t even benefit you in the long run, but it is one step closer to getting your degree. Most importantly, the best part of college is enjoying the ride, which includes the ups and downs. At Cornell, it may feel like there are more downs than ups, but that just means you have to make the ups the best part of your experience. Are you a part of any organizations? Make it a point to find one that really sparks your interests and invest as much time into it as you can. The best part of joining an organization is working and participating in an activity that you love doing, which will give you a break and help you to regroup come homework time. You will also meet plenty of new friends that you’ll constantly see as you become more involved in the club. You may feel like you barely have any time to have fun on the weekends, but perhaps try to distribute your time differently. For example, maybe one Friday you turn in early so you can wake up early on a Saturday and spend the entire afternoon doing work. Then, that evening call a few friends and plan to do dinner and a movie – or even a party! It is okay to make time for fun, but just make sure that when it comes to schoolwork, you are one hundred percent committed to it. Life is not easy, especially at Cornell. Even when you feel really down, call a friend or family member at home that can console you. If that may not be comforting to you, try Gannett Health Center, CAPS, or EARS where there are also open ears and hearts. I hope my advice helps. Keep your head up! Sincerely, Diva Speaks


© IMARA 2013

Interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw


One-on-One with

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Cornell Alum Kimberle Crenshaw (BA ’81) is an important figure in Critical Race Theory and the theory of Intersectionality. Currently, she is a professor at both UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, with a focus on issues of race and gender. She was invited to speak at Cornell on Thursday, October 17th, and IMARA was lucky enough to sit down with her for an interview during her time on campus. In the interview, Crenshaw speaks about her personal experiences as a woman of color in academia and extends some of those issues to the broader spectrum concerning affirmative action, relationships, Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantel, as well as mentorship. IMARA: Thank you for sitting down with us, we really appreciate it. Our first question is: what led you to apply to Cornell for undergrad and what sparked your interest to major in Government?

CRENSHAW: No problem, thanks for having me! I actually applied and came in as a transfer student. My first year I spent at a local community college in Akron, OH, where I’m from. I wasn’t ready to leave home when I graduated, it was too traumatic to think about it. My mother and I lost both my brother and my father very young in life, so I was very homebound and attached. But after the first year at the community college I was thinking, “This might not be so good for my future.” So I started to think about pursuing some of the schools that I was looking at when I was a junior, and I had two friends in Canton, OH who were attending Cornell. They spoke very, very highly of it. [...So I came to visit and] when I got here on campus, I saw how many people like me were walking around, which was not the case at the other places that I was looking at. The fact that there was an Africana Studies Center was important to me. The fact that there was a space for people who had my same historical interests and background was important to me. The fact that there was Ujamaa was important to me. There was a program called COSEP [Committee on Special Education Projects], that many of us came into Cornell under. It was a continuing presence in all of our lives, so it just felt like a warm, welcoming place to be. I: It sounds like Cornell back then was very interested in promoting diversity and making sure that views of students of color on campus were recognized and heard. We were wondering, since you’ve been back and have gotten a taste of different diversity programs currently here on campus (Intercultural Center, OADI), do you think Cornell is doing better in this area or worse? C: That’s kinda difficult to talk about, not really being here [regularly on campus], but I can talk about what © IMARA 2013

was meaningful for me at the time and you guys can compare it to how people talk about it now, being a student here and familiar with different perspectives on how that history has played out in the current period. On the conceptual level, we’ve moved from that period of time where [a lot of ideas] were circulating, and people could come to campus feeling as though their presence here had some kind of rationale that made sense to them. At least some people could, and there were some people who never liked that idea. I think in more contemporary terms, because a lot of those rationales had been pushed way off the table, and the only thing that is left for a lot of people is diversity—but only diversity for diversity’s sake, not for any of these other things—it’s narrowed the conversation about the presence of students of color. And for some people, the narrowing of the conversation leaves them somewhat unsure about the rationale, unsure about how to relate to other people of color, and unsure about the relevance of their own diversity to the study that they’re engaging in. I: Did the atmosphere at Cornell in any way influence your decision to major in government? C: Sure, yeah. [And] part of it came from my family. My mom, when she was 4, integrated the local swimming pool. My grandmother put her in the pool, the white people took all the kids out and drained the pool. So my grandma took her out, went around the neighborhood, got a whole lot of other kids, and then took them back… And this is the story that every in town tells even now. It was from [integrating the pool], to the movie theater, to the high school swimming team… So part of [my decision] grew out of my mother’s history, sitting around the kitchen table hearing these stories. It was only natural for me to engage and think about some of the ways in which race played a role in subordinating and limiting the options of people of color. And my father came from a minister’s family, so we sat in church every Sunday. That tradition of spiritual uplift and striving forward, and having aspirations that might not be attainable in the here and now, that was also part of the family ethos. I think those two strains were deeply interwoven before I probably could speak, to tell you the truth. It felt to me more or less the natural connection, to be deeply interested in the history of race and racism and the struggles of people of African descent in this country in particular, but more globally as well. One would want to learn more about [the] history [of race] having been fully aware of its consequences and focus their attention to the ways that the government could be made to be more responsive to these issues. So for me, it was a great match.



Interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw

I: Could you go a little bit more into your ideas and theories about racial framing and pitch that were mentioned at the lecture on Thursday? C: So after one of the big affirmative action cases, Newsweek Magazine ran a cover story on affirmative action titled, “Do We Still Need Affirmative Action?” The cover image was a young preppy African American man. Then I asked the audience to discuss at least three ways that the picture encourages people to think about whether we still need affirmative action and, in particular, who is now the beneficiary of affirmative action. It’s kind of obvious that it primes you to think only in terms of race and not gender, and in terms of only blacks and not any other people of color. And, also particularly from the dress, it wants you think of it in terms of, “Is it really necessary to benefit elite, preppy, middle class blacks? Because it’s not doing anything for the most down-trodden.” And you know, some people might argue that you’re reading too much into the cover and this was a random photo taken of, perhaps, a University of Michigan student to indicate that it’s about a student at university. But if you look at the inside cover you’ll see that it’s a staged photo. The guy’s not a student, he’s a model. The clothes aren’t his, they are part of a creation of a subject so that the story can be told through this creation. So that’s imaging with a particular narrative in mind about what that image-maker thinks affirmative action is most likely to be about. The dimensions of [affirmative action] are produced rather than reported. So I used a couple of other images that are not in the newspaper but are covers of books that elevate other similar kinds of ideas. There’s a book that has— I: With the pencils, right? C: With the pencils! *laughs* There are five pencils and four are yellow and sharp while one is of a different color and very dull: [the picture implies that] affirmative action is mismatch. It puts black students in environments where they can’t compete and you don’t even have to read the book to figure that out. You just look at the image and the image does all the work for you. I used that to get people to think about how many of the debates that are on race are actually shaped by the actual reporters on that level. And then to show that, as far as the book is concerned, common images trigger thinking that is deeply situated in our culture already. The association of color with different intellectual capacities is deeply structured into our society. Just give people a picture and they kind of get the argument. We’re in a paradoxical situation now, in which you can’t readily talk about racism because that’s a thing of the past. People will often say you are being racist to talk about racism. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about race; you can talk about it largely through some of the same old-age stereotypes that used to be [around]. So that picture of the pencils? That’s race-talk. People get that. Race-talk justifications are still available. You can see how people are now saying that black people—particularly African Americans—have to work harder, stay in dual-parent families, not feel entitled, stop listening to rap music, start reading to their kids... A whole range of things, many of which either they already do, or it’s completely unrelated to the inequalities that they’re experiencing.


Talking to your kids has nothing to do with the fact that study after study shows that black people, when they go into hospitals, get less treatment for the same diseases. They are two completely different things and yet you can use racial stereotypes that’s imposed upon people as a ready rationale for inequalities that happen. And no one seems to have a problem with that. There’s cognitive bias [too]. It has been shown that there’s implicit ways in which black people in pain are not seen as sympathetically as white people in pain. Black people are seen to be aggressive even when they’re doing exactly the same things that white people do, and a lighter in the hands of a black body is far more likely to be seen as a gun than as an object in the hands of a white person, etc. But to talk about this stuff is to run a foul. So coming to Trayvon Martin, here you have a situation where there were many numbers of racial factors likely laid overall across the entire spectrum of moments that issued, from the time that Zimmerman decided Trayvon was a suspicious character to the time the juror after the acquittal basically empathized with Zimmerman (“He was scared.”), yet had no similar empathy for a seventeen year old who’d been chased down by a guy who turned out to have a gun. Even the ability to weigh the two wasn’t represented in what she had to say. So you have a society that doesn’t talk about race, generally. Then you have this racial moment where lots of things that we know are associated with race are playing out, and we’re not literate as a society nor prepared in a mature way to actually look and think about this in many of the ways that our scientists and historians tell us race has been playing a role for centuries. We have difficulties being able to speak in these moments because the social literacy around race has been undermined by the belief that to talk about race is the problem, rather than what race does is the problem. *pauses* It’s frustrating. And another part of our difficulty is that the way race intersects with gender and sometimes class is not [addressed]. We’re not even literate to talk about that in our communities. The way that Rachel Jeantel was characterized by mainstream media was actually amplified within black spaces as well, you know? And the idea that we can participate in that kind of caricaturizing of the main witness and still hope that at the end of the day there would be a conviction is just ridiculous. In some ways I see it and think it is the microcosm of a broader problem which is, we tend to think we can make some progress by focusing exclusively on the conse© IMARA 2013

Interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw quences of racism to men, without at the same time understanding the way racism plays out in how black women are perceived, shaped, and treated both as a cultural social matter but also as an economic matter. It’s just impossible for us to think that we can effectively advance the interest of our men and boys without at the same time addressing the interest of girls and women. And I’d say the Trayvon Martin case is a prime example of what happens when racism differentiates how it visits upon men and women. But the idea that we can jump into the same frame and dump a whole lot of this stuff on black women and girls and not in some way come back and undermine even what we think we care about more is just mindboggling to me and, I think, a tragedy. A serious tragedy. I: This is slightly unrelated, but there was an article about Kenan Thompson, a member of Saturday Night Live (SNL), talking about why there’s no black female comedians on the show. He basically says that there are no black females because black female comedians aren’t ready and prepared to be on-primetime TV. C: Not to mention the fact that they don’t have black women comedians on the show because he can play all the women. I: Yes, and for Kenan Thompson to have said something like that implies that he wants to justify having his role and being that single black face… And to maintain his own dignity he had to drag down those who aren’t in the same place as him. We seem to do that to other members of our community with colorism, for example. C: Absolutely. Absolutely! You know, just across the board in entertainment and in politics and in culture and in all these different spaces, where I take it as a given with the weight of racism and, in particular, anti-black racism. There are certain aspects of it that other groups share which are located in anti-black racism. So hierarchies of skin color are, in my view, a foundation of anti-black racism. Now, it also intersects with other things like gender, so the impact of color hierarchies on women I just think are greater across many more arenas like in entertainment and marriage markets, in employment markets… I saw a study a couple of weeks ago that suggested the expulsion and suspension rates for black girls is higher than for any other racial cohort of girls. And, on top of that, there’s a color hierarchy within the cohort of girls most likely to be interpreted as insubordinate, not respectful to teachers, and all the subjective kinds of things. Not absolute things like, “She was smoking in the bathroom,” but the things where there’s a judgment call. The color hierarchy is a significant factor in determining which girl gets the punishments and which girl does not. So what happens when we get to a point where, as a group, we are less prepared to denounce the kinds of intra-group ways that some of us experience racism in more intense ways than others? What happens when we no longer feel compelled to denounce our exclusion as a group? What happens is you get stuff like [Kenan] saying, “Oh, well, it’s not the problem of society or NBC—it’s them. [Black women.] They’re not prepared.” He begins to articulate a set of rationales that ten, twenty years ago, people were saying about all of us, you know? So there’s an ethos that I think has deteriorated over the years. Now I’m not saying that there was a period where everything was great and that everybody was on the same table, because they weren’t. But I do think that the sensibility about seeing the struggle © IMARA 2013

Spotlight against racism as a collective enterprise isn’t as robust as it used to be. And that allows for other things to be said and done that have always been the underbelly of our community. So the color issue, the gender issue, the class issue, I mean… When Bill Cosby goes on and on and on about, “Why would you name your children these crazy names? I wouldn’t hire them either!” and some stuff about ‘she doesn’t know her baby-daddy’… You know, if white people had said this stuff, we would identify it as racist. But because it’s coming from inside our community or out of the mouth of a black person, people are less sure about whether to denounce it, and some people actually think they have to embrace it. I: In general it seems as though black men are at the bottom of the totem pole. C: Well it depends on which factor you’re looking at and that’s one of the complicated things. It’s like, if you as a group choose certain metrics to determine what’s important and you choose the metrics that you want to base it on ([like] how one group experiences racism), then you can easily always come out with black men are at the bottom. But it depends on what you choose. If you choose wealth, black women’s net wealth is like minus $5. Mind you, you’re aggregating and so there’s extremes on both sides. But if you’re looking for the aggregate, black women have the lowest rate of wealth accumulation. It’s a little more complicated when you start comparing other groups. What does that mean, you know, in terms of access to lots of things, like health, networks, community, support, and some of the good things like [relationships]? What’s it like to go for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years and never have a significant partnership? That’s not something that’s happening to black men. Sometimes I think we kind of internalize the metric. Clearly incarceration is a horrible thing and it’s awful that the black male incarceration rate far surpasses anybody else’s. But the question is, who’s worse off when it comes to specific things? We tend to then take that and apply it holistically and, as a consequence, the ways in which black women and girls are suffering is not part of our consciousness. We don’t even know it’s happening. That kind of differential, I mean... there’s always been traces of it even in the hay-day of the civil rights movement and black power movement with ‘the black man this’ and ‘the black man that,’ right? The idea now that you can talk about the black community in all the ways that the differentials are playing out [without the] black women’s voice... [their voice is usually] an afterthought. Black women and girls might come up but, more often than not, they don’t. I: There’s a lot of suffering in the shadows for black women. C: That’s a great way to put it: suffering in the shadows. The idea is not to push the men out of the spotlight. It’s more like, “Can we get a little light over here?” *laughs* I: Well, our time is almost up. What advice would you give to undergrads now, as far as having a successful time here and taking what they need from this experience? C: That’s a hard one. Well, I guess people should clearly pick the kind of people that they want to get their advice from, in terms of what were the ways they navigated their environments to the



Interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw

point that they have arrived. So, I don’t know if my advice would be advice for everyone, having said that. *smiles* One of the things that I did was follow my passion. Things I really care about don’t feel like work; talking to you guys is fun for me! So passion means a lot. It gave me the energy to create when it seemed as though the possibility would tempt what was limited, and I wanted to do what was once impossible. Having passion gives you that extra inspiration, that extra push, and that extra bit of excitement about what you’re gonna do. Even if I can’t change it, I’m still passionate about trying to figure it out or at least have something to say about it, you know. So that’s made a great difference. And the other thing that’s worth doing is really seek out mentors, even if the mentors aren’t seeking you. When I was in law school, I had professors who I liked a lot, and they were really exciting to me. But, you know, I was a little stand-offish. I had a little study group of friends and they called the professor by his first name, and said, “He said so-and-so,” and I’m like, “When did he say that?” or, “We went out to lunch,” and I’m like, “You went out to lunch?” or, “We went drinking,” and I’m like, “You went drinking?!” They went [and hung out with him] and it didn’t occur to me that you could have an intellectual conversation with a professor. So I said, “Okay, well how do you do that?” And they were like, “Just go to his office hours.” So the next time he has office hours, I go and plop myself down and the first thing he asks me is, “What are you having trouble with in my class?” And I was like, what’s the right answer? Because I wasn’t having trouble with anything, I loved the class. I thought I was in the groove. So I thought, okay, maybe this is how you start a relationship. So I threw out something and he went over it in an elementary fashion, and we got to the end. Then he says, “Okay, well if you have trouble again, come back.”


There wasn’t a door that was clearly available for me to walk through in order to get to the other side and it really bugged me because I knew there was a secret hatch somewhere. But I ended up having a very close mentorship relationship with him, he was really influential and helped me navigate becoming a law professor at a certain point. It was [also] through this alternative course [that we] actually began working together with a political set of projects that became academic. And I said [to him once] that he was terrible at the beginning because he didn’t see the possibility that I actually might not be there for help, but in the same way that some of my other friends were coming in to speak with him, I wanted to speak with him as well. He confessed [he was wrong] and apologized, which I appreciated, but I [still] thought I was lucky because I had another opportunity to develop that relationship. And I think that a lot of us don’t make the first effort. Or, if we make the first effort, we can’t figure out where the lash is. So we go , “Okay, it must not be for us.” But I think we have to be as determined about building the relationships as we are about doing our studies and preparing for our exams, and work really hard. Almost every study says black students actually spend more time studying and studying alone rather than with others. So it’s not that we’re not studying. It’s that building these relationships, just like living in different neighborhoods, is always more of a challenge, and we just need to choose mentors carefully, pursue doggedly, *laughs* and appreciate them. They are our guides. A lot of people grow up with them in their families, but many of us don’t. I: That was very well said. Thank you again for sitting with us today. It’s going to be really great for our readers to have someone like you to look up to as a mentor! C: No problem, take care!

© IMARA 2013

thoughts final

“People will forget what you said and people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Marian Wright Edelman

“Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.”

Mary McLeod Bethune

“I do not see how colored women can be true to themselves unless they demand recognition for themselves and those they represent.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“You must be brave. You must be fearless.”

Tamron Hall

© IMARA 2013

“Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists… it is real… it is possible… it’s yours.”

Ayn Rand

“A role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.”

Sonia Sotomayor

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”


“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”

Vince Lombardi


Special thanks to

Dr. ReneĂŠ Alexander, SAFC, & KimberlĂŠ Crenshaw ! The IMARA woman is... Cosmopolitan by nature She is modern by choice She is a queen by birthright She holds the puissance of Cleopatra The confidence of Nefertiti The allure of Aphrodite She embodies the Agape Theon She is the progeny of Isis She is fervent and resolute She is stronger than the strongest diamond And just as precious She is flirty, fun and fleeting She is a scholar, an athlete and a leader She excels, she succeeds, she overachieves She is the personification of IMARA

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IMARA Magazine Fall 2013 Issue  

Mentorship & Inspiration