A new fixture in Case Library’s Hieber Café has settled in among the crazed study groups, casual procrastinators, and line of students waiting for another dose of caffeine. Today, when students walk into the café, they are greeted with a smiling face and a neon poster that advertises “Womentoring,” a new program that facilitates open discussion among women about their daily lives, challenges, and triumphs.
The Womentors — four seniors and one junior — take turns manning a table by the window and waiting for anyone to stop by and talk, no appointment necessary. The idea is to form a strong community of women by sharing information, commiserating, and encouraging fellow students to become a part of the conversation as well. Founder of the program Christina Liu ’13 is particularly interested in enabling younger women to benefit from advice of their older peers about how to navigate the more challenging aspects of the social environment at Colgate and beyond.
“It’s a space for women of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences to talk, and where barriers between class years are broken down,” explained Louisa Jelaco ’13, one of the women who helped get the project off the ground. “Not that I, or any of the other Womentors pretend to have all the answers. As young adults, we are constantly learning about ourselves, and it’s wonderful to be able to share that process with someone.”
So far, the Womentors say, the program has sparked conversations about sorority life, spirituality and religion, soul searching, life outside of Colgate, and anxiety about future job prospects and workplace equality.
“It’s like an instant friend for 10, 30, or 60 minutes,” said April Bailey ’14, another Womentor. “Sometimes people just really need to decompress a little. Even for those who don’t have specific questions or concerns, it gives them a space to relax, think about things out loud, and regroup.”
The program dovetails with the academic context of Liu’s education in women’s studies. She will use it as the “praxis” section of her senior seminar.
“Praxis projects allow us to put theory into practice and activism,” said Liu, explaining the impetus for designing Womentoring, and the challenges of helping it grow. “There is a disparity between the people who know about the group and those willing to utilize it. This project is about normalizing the act of having these meaningful conversations and to talk about these issues.”
Although the Womentors have helped several women so far, Liu finds that many others are hesitant to share their stories. She attributes this reluctance to the stigma associated with therapeutic and communal conversation.
Lizzie Blanchett ’14, a “womentee,” agrees, and advocates for the program after her positive experience with it. “You are not abnormal for wanting to share, vent, or just talk about these subjects, and Womentoring is a step in the right direction in promoting conversation.
Over time, Liu wants to see a snowball effect of women helping to perpetuate more mentoring-based conversations so they become commonplace. Her hope is to help women realize that they should not be afraid to open up about personal stories and fears.
She is considering expanding to different locations on campus as the program gains more momentum, but said, “I like that the library café is so accessible. People can see what is going on and be encouraged to take part.”