Symposium provides support for black women’s well-being

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Young women wrote down their favorite and least favorite physical attributes in a body image exercise at a symposium Sunday.

The women found the features they disliked were often what someone else liked best about them during the exercise.
“It reinforced self-beauty, and I felt it really empowered some people,” said Ariel Taylor, chair of Umoja, a black women’s student group that sponsored the event.

About 30 people attended the Black Women’s Symposium workshop on issues affecting black men and women, including body image, sexual health, relationships and future aspirations. The 14th-annual symposium’s theme was “Lyrics of Our Lives,” and parts of the program included music, poetry and song.

“We try to find something that resonates to the lives of African-American women,” Taylor said. “We definitely know that music has a big part in our lives. Music is everywhere. It is all around you.”

The event gives an opportunity for like-minded people, not just African-Americans, who want to promote the health and well-being of black women to get together, said Keisha Bentley, assistant professor of African and African diaspora studies.
Bentley said media and popular culture do not always portray examples of healthy black relationships.

“Often, black women are missing from the curriculum in courses that they take here at UT, so it means that students have to look at other sources to learn more about black women’s experiences,” she said.

She said black women often feel a need to maintain a certain appearance that is portrayed in the media, and young women should be honest with themselves about their reasons for altering their appearance.

Kinnisha Joseph, the group’s second vice-chair, said the event helps bring black female students together and overcome issues they may face.

“I know I didn’t have that push — a sense of ‘What are you going to do with your life, and how are you going to make that happen?,” said Joseph, an applied learning and development senior.

The group’s name, Umoja, is a Swahili word that means unity, said Trenicia Olotu, first vice-chair of the group and a chemistry senior. She said the event creates a positive environment in which students can change their outlooks on challenges.

“It gives them a different outlook on the situations they may face while here in college, bringing up the discussions so they’re able to talk about it,” Olotu said. “We’re all college students, and it allows us a place to talk about the issues we face.”