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Advancing Culture

‘I am because we are’

Sisters in Session sheds light on driving change at JMU

Sisters in Session is a self-defined, individually selecting group for women of African descent, primarily from the JMU community. We represent the diverse identities of African, Black, Caribbean, South American, multiracial and African American. We are partnered, single, members of the LGBTQ* community, parents, caregivers, international, from distant states and natives of Harrisonburg. Black women have historically recognized how their multiple identities create multiple societal jeopardies, and that subtracting any identity does not improve their realities. Today, this concept of intersectionality identifies our status and felt oppression as exponential as race x gender x class x ableness x ethnicity x sexual orientation—rather than simple addition.

“I am because we are,” the African philosophy of Ubuntu, shapes our thinking, being and doing in relationship to others embracing collaborative processes and recognition of ALL humanity and personhoods. It recognizes that as women of African descent, we are interconnected and interdependent through a universal bond. Our common connection is reflected in the support, advancement, professional development and self-care of one another.

We are here for the well-being of JMU students who might feel disenfranchised because of their identity, first-generation or economic status. Whether in an office, dining hall or a community location, many SIS members find the time to speak with, support and encourage students toward their successes or to troubleshoot concerns. We invest in finding appropriate support systems for students as needed. SIS’s presence on campus for many students is a light in the dark. 

Sisters in Session convenes on campus in 2017 to discuss experiences, interconnectedness and interdependence.

In this moment, where the disparate realities of Black people and transcultural trauma are laid bare, SIS engages our context as members of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities. We continue to: address micro/macroaggressions; call for the recruitment and retention of Black staff and faculty to generate the critical mass necessary for change; advance greater campus integration into opportunities for research, scholarship and leadership; be co-conspirators with others on campus who seek equity of experience and opportunity; and share in the reconciliation of JMU with its past. 

Through our shared cultural and professional experiences, we are able to create spaces where we not only belong—but where we matter. Our successes, challenges, growth, experiences and, most importantly, all aspects of our identity matter. At the core of SIS is a commitment to excellence for ourselves, to use our resources to make a better world for all, the JMU campus and the Harrisonburg community.

Sisters in Session, an organization dedicated to the support of women from African/Africana and Black descent as they navigate and traverse academic and higher education at James Madison University, was formed during the 2015 JMU Diversity Conference. This guest column was written by three sisters who have helped coordinate many SIS events. Learn more about the group on its Facebook page.

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