What is the world’s perception of a black woman? A black woman is filled with anger and hate. She is ugly. She has low self-esteem.These and other common misperceptions are exacerbated when “young” is added to the discussion.

“We cannot understand young black women’s lives if we don’t understand the various elements that impact their lives, namely their diverse kinds of relationships with men and each other,” Dr. Kimberly Chandler, an assistant professor of Communication Studies, told 11 female Xavier students during the opening session of a “wisdom circle” on March 9 at Xavier South.

Melanie Powers, the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies program manager for Yeah-NOLA, and Chandler said the purpose of the Xavier wisdom circle is to help the members identify and address the challenges of being black and female.

The wisdom circle is a focus group in which participants learns, share, and use information to change their world. The Xavier event included students from several majors, including political science, pre-law and communication studies.

Powers read an excerpt from “Crooked Room: Stories from New Orleans,” a collaboration of stories and quotes shared by women with similar wisdom circles held in the City of New Orleans. The “Crooked Room” collection symbolizes black women trying to stand straight in a room made crooked by the multiple societal stereotypes of black women, she explained.

Powers then asked students to reflect on the gender specific burdens and daily stresses of black women. She asked students to consider whether being male equates to a better life. While the groups’ comments remained within the circle, Powers said the students were thoughtful and provocative in the examination of their own personal lives.

Among the group was Caze Holloway, a junior Communication Studies major.

“The focus group was inspiring for a young black woman,” Holloway said. “I was able to express the issues and burdens of black women and it was a relief to hear everyone share their thoughts and ideas.”

Chandler and Powers said the inaugural wisdom circle meeting was a prelude for a visit in June by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Columbia University scholar and author whom they said coined “intersectionality,” described as a feminist sociological theory. Intersectionality examines the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination and discrimination, Powers said.

The wisdom circle was an opportunity for participants to discuss how they negotiate life within this complex, intersectional identity of being black and female, Chandler added.

        More information about wisdom circles, the “Crooked Room” collections, and the many programs and services it offers is on the IWES website at www.iwesnola.org, by calling 504.599.7712, or visiting the offices at 935 Gravier St. Powers’ email is mpowers@iwesnola.org. Chandler’s office is in Xavier South, suite 510, office L, and her email is kchandle@xula.edu.

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