“In college, I found girls like me: Black girls, feminists. But to white feminism, we weren’t voices, but objects. We were problems to solve. I quickly understood Black feminism was more focused on girls like me. Instead of feminists talking “about” women living in low-income communities, they should listen to them. To us, for us, bullets were a bigger concern than things like pregnancy.”
Such were the words of Mikki Kendall, the celebrated writer and diversity consultant, offered during the opening keynote at ACUI’s 2021 Virtual Annual Conference. Author of works such as Hood Feminism and Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists, Kendall offered a first-hand look as a Black woman from a low-income community who has helped define black feminism.
With the keynote moderated by Tari Hunter, director of the Office of Student Life & Cultural Centers at California Polytechnic—Pomona, and Erin Dewese, interim director
at the Center for Student Involvement at the University of Colorado—Boulder, Kendall answered questions about topics ranging from her life experiences to what student union administrators could do to reach out to low-income students.
Kendall came from a majority black community with a 98% low-income population, and that was where she began to see the divide between white feminism and feminism for women and girls like her. “The women in my schools, my neighborhood, represented feminism for me,” Kendall said. “But, I didn’t see it applied to what folks talked about on TV, like the concept of girl power. It was divorced from my reality.”
A major topic Kendall discussed during the keynote centered on a school’s role in reaching out to low-income communities, particularly those directly in the school’s own neighborhood.
“Sometimes, universities dissuade students from reaching out to the community,” Kendall said. “We need more focus on how to get ready for college, starting with K-8 students, and to talk about the benefits of college besides just getting a degree and a job. As a parent, I would like to know that tuition money is going to help all types of people.”
For student unions, Kendall praised their role as a safe, air-conditioned escape with video games, food courts, green spaces, and more. However, Kendall did also echo the challenge low-income kids and teens face when trying to learn more about the student union itself.
“I’d like to see student unions welcoming kids who are curious, especially during the summer,” Kendall said. “We go on campus, we see those buildings, and we wonder how to get to that place. Then we get chased off campus. Unions are super cool and fun. Sometimes neighborhoods around them have none of those cool or fun spaces or activities available.”
Kendall also urged student unions and schools to reach out to the youth through social media, particularly via newer platforms such as TikTok where hard-to-find information or difficult processes, such as college applications, are explained for everyone to understand. Kendall also recommended looking to social media as a way to connect to students during the global pandemic and beyond, especially as a way for students to interact with people who are different from them.
“Students have been getting through the pandemic with social media,” Kendall said. “I’m watching students talking about harassment, complex topics live with each other. All of that work is possible because social media makes them no longer feel isolated. Before, people had to figure out how to be an adult, how to be a woman, in real-time with no support. It’s comforting to watch how people learn how to interact with people who don’t look like them.”
In the follow-up session, Kendall also explained how white women could support Black feminism.
“There is a tendency to assume all women of color will be poor,” Kendall said. “Watch out for coded language. Watch out for whiteness. Build trust. Listen to people who you want to support. One solution to bigotry is people in a privileged group talking to other people in their privileged group about racism, sexism, and more.”
Thank you to everyone who attended ACUI’s 2021 Virtual Annual Conference! We will see you again next March in Chicago.