UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

Women of color panel sheds light on a minority perspective


Food for Thought is an open discussion series put on by the Campus Activities Board (CAB) Spotlight Committee. These CAB events focus on relevant issues in today’s society and provide a specific space for students to have these important conversations so that they can learn and grow.

On Feb. 22 in the Garden Room, CAB hosted another Food for Thought focusing on the experiences of women of color, specifically in the workplace. This event was panel based and Yolanda Barnes, assistant director of the Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE) program, and Iliana Melendez, associate dean of students, made up said panel.

The event was very informal, and Barnes and Melendez began by sharing some of the experiences that they’ve had as women of color. They then began taking questions, which is where the real conversation began.

Various questions focused on the hardships, stereotypes and sexism that Barnes and Melendez had faced. I learned things as a man that I otherwise would have never known women had to go through. For example, black and Hispanic women can receive backlash for simple things like the way their hair grows. Since their natural hair doesn’t fit the mold of a Eurocentric beauty, it has been deemed “distracting” and “unkept” even though it’s literally the hair that naturally grows out of their head.

One topic that we focused on for a long time was the certain microaggressions that Barnes and Melendez faced. Microaggressions are loosely defined as everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which serve to communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to impact individuals based on the marginalized group that they are a part of.

Although Barnes and Melendez definitely experience these assaults more frequent than I do, I could still empathize with them since I have gone through some of them as a black man. When Barnes explained how microaggressions serve to further disenfranchise marginalized groups, I got chills because I realized just how many microaggressions I had brushed off in the past instead of confronting them head-on.

Another topic they focused on was how exactly to initiate an uncomfortable conversation. Barnes and Melendez explained that a lot of microaggressions and insults come from a place of ignorance and privilege and the only way to really combat these issues and educate people is to have these uncomfortable conversations.

Melendez explained that she always initiates these conversations by innocently asking, “What did you mean by that?” to get the individual thinking about what they said and why they said it. Furthermore, she explained that not every person will be open to having the conversation and you have to be at peace with whatever reaction you get. This is why choosing your battles is important.

Overall, this event was inspiring and reaffirmed some of the feelings that I had been struggling with. I’m glad that UHCL is able to have a Campus Activities Board that puts on events like this, and I’m even more glad that UHCL has faculty that are willing and able to participate in panels. I look up to both Barnes and Melendez, so it was a really cool experience to pick their brains and hear the experiences that they’ve been through and how they handled each situation.