Semran Sahota, QCC student and member of the Veterans Club

To celebrate Womxn's History Month, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the Health & Wellness team sponsored a Womxn’s Symposium, featuring an engaging panel of amazing and inspiring womxn coupled with a resource fair of womxn-owned businesses and community resources. The event also included live music by K Fingers, a New England-based R&B, Hip-Hop and Jazz-Funk Keyboardist, producer and performer.

Two QCC students kicked off the symposium by telling their stories of their experience at QCC and what it is like being a woman in today's world.

President of the Student Government Association Dignamar Figuero said that as a single mother of two children, she knew starting college would be a difficult journey. QCC resources and supports such as the Future Focus program, the TRIO program and Parenting Student Support Services made all the difference for her.

"With all these resources, I was able to make it to where I am now. I am able to not just support myself, but support other people through similar situations," Dignamar said.

Semran Sahota, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and active member of the Veterans Club, explained how she faced challenges and biases as a woman in the military, but relied on her Sikh heritage that emphasized equality and compassion.

"There's a history of strong women in my culture and my family. They taught me that courage isn't just physical, it's also love, forgiveness and perseverance," said Semran.

The keynote speech by Dr. Nicole Johnson, director of Educational Equity & Justice for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, encouraged women to move through self doubt into a state of empowerment, which she described as a "blooming season."

Johnson recounted  her upbringing and of being sent to a predominantly white school in the suburbs, which led her to feel inferior among her classmates and out of place with the children in her own neighborhood. While she didn't realize it at the time, this experience fueled her desire to work in education. She has since developed an approach to her work that relied on collaboration and listening to the voices of those who are most impacted by the issues she works on.

"There are so many opposing forces again women, we shouldn't be against ourselves or each other. Do away with doubting yourself. Celebrate each other's success. Speak with grace and bloom unapologetically," Johnson said.

The panel that followed was moderated by Vice President of External Affairs Viviana Abreu-Hernandez and discussed modern issues that womxn face and ways to handle those issues. A major thread throughout the panel was "intentionality" in supporting other women.

"As women, especially women of color, can you emphasize what another woman already said? How can you help through mentoring?" asked Gina Plata-Nino, senior policy advisor for Nutrition and Agriculture for The White House's Domestic Policy Council.

Sasha Viands, associate director of Equity Initiatives for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts also emphasized mutual support between women and acknowledging and uplifting all identities, regardless of our own.

"Solidarity looks like this room, right now," said Viands.

Sofia Perno, director of Wellness and Healthy Equity at the YWCA  promotes solidarity through many initiatives such as a breast cancer support group and health screenings with translation services. Perno described translating for her Portuguese grandmother during medical visits and how watching her navigate the U.S. was a source of inspiration and also informs her work today when tackling language barriers.

"She was always there for me and told me to never give up," said Perno of her grandmother.

As someone who has been in the film industry for decades, Sharon Contillo, president of Women in Film and Video New England (WIFVNE), brought a creative perspective to the panel.

"Film and tv are so important because they are a delivery of who we can be and open up our minds to how we can act," said Contillo, as she described the increase in women's representation in media. "It's taking a long time but we're going to persevere and get there." 

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