Yes we can! “Womentoring” initiative building a support network

How UIndy’s “Womentoring” initiative is building a support network for African-American women

As the Assistant Director of the University of Indianapolis Professional Edge Center, Jennifer Smith meets with students daily, giving them career advice and guiding them toward a successful future. Through these interactions, she discovers more than their professional goals and academic achievements. She asks about their hobbies, favorite foods and where they grew up. She learns about their lives.

Over time, Smith began to notice common themes emerging from these conversations. Many students, especially African-American women, were feeling pressure as first generation college students. They felt a responsibility to do well for their families and were concerned about fitting in and being able to express themselves. Smith realized these women were grappling with many of the same issues, but instead of connecting with one another, they were ostracizing themselves.

“A strong support system is so important and I thought, ‘If these women just knew each other, they could go through and overcome these struggles together,’” Smith recalled. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to form a community of women empowering each other to grow.”

So in 2014, Smith started Womentoring, a bi-monthly, informal gathering encouraging African-American women to come together, learn from one another and build confidence through mentorship and peer support.

“Having this guidance from friends and formal mentors is integral to establishing confidence,” Smith said. “These people become your advocates.”

Meetings are casual and always begin with food, which Smith emphatically believes brings people together. Each session covers a unique topic ranging from natural hair to hopes for the future. Smith and other mentors to the group—during meetings and beyond—lead open discussions and activities. For example, the group recently created vision boards together and talked about how they could achieve their goals.

“The support system Womentoring has built for me is unimaginable,” says Karlee Taylor, a freshman anthropology and sociology major. “I’ve built lasting relationships with faculty members and other black women on campus—this group has given me the confidence to go into class and show my professors who I really am.”

Learn more about the Professional Edge Center.