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Lora Shinn and Zach Powers '10

Members of the PLU dCenter meeting in a virtual meeting room
Stepping Up 1024 377 Lora Shinn and Zach Powers '10

Stepping Up

Photo: (Top, left to right) Tolu Taiwo, Angie Hambrick, Jarel Sanders, (Bottom, left to right) Nicole Jordan, Nayonni Watts , Ally Livingston ’11

A cross-generational, supportive community for those who care about the Black Lives Matter movement created a virtual discussion group in the Spring of 2020.

PLU alumni met over Zoom to discuss current events, including Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd. All were members of Diversity Center Alumni, an affinity group for anyone interested in equity and justice, and those previously connected to the Diversity Center (dCenter).

Three dialogue groups of about 8-12 alumni met every other week — one for Black alumni, one for non-Black people of color, and one for white alumni.

“We were intentional about making very joyful space,” explains Center for Gender Equity Director Angie Hambrick. Hambrick is PLU’s assistant vice president of diversity, justice and sustainability, and the Black alumni group leader.

People gather in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

“We’re modeling for recent grads that you can be engaged in the movement — angry, upset, hurt — but still reminding folks there’s joy in being Black,” Hambrick says.

“Angie leads by example, and embodies the phrase ‘Black joy is resistance,’ ” says Ally Livingston, ’11, a group member who lives in Everett, WA.

At a meeting, members might need to vent, share a positive experience, speak openly about a traumatic situation, or ask for advice about starting a workplace group.

For Livingston, it feels like a virtual extension of the physical dCenter — a safe, nonjudgmental environment to be vulnerable, and share concerns.

“I feel like I’m home,” she says.

At a recent meeting, Livingston described how health concerns constrained her options for action.

“At PLU, I learned how to be an advocate and an activist. It’s been eating me up inside that I can’t express my voice and advocate for change,” she says. She asked for ideas.

“We were intentional about making very joyful space. We’re modeling for recent grads that you can be engaged in the movement — angry, upset, hurt — but still reminding folks there’s joy in being Black.”

Members suggested donations for events and organizations. “If you can’t be out on streets protesting, many groups need supplies, food, water, and bail money. It’s part of the movement that goes forgotten, but is still needed,” Livingston says.

Staying healthy was an action, too, as everyday life offers many options for affirming choices. For example, Hambrick watches “Into the Spider-Verse,” with her 2-year-old son. When the young Black man (and superhero) named Miles Morales is on-screen, Hambrick is thrilled to hear her son exclaim, “Miles has skin like mine, hair like mine!”

Xochilt Pena, ’13, currently lives in Virginia Beach, VA and has regularly joined the Zoom non-Black POC meetings. “We reflect how each of us plays into this, because we’re all complicit in some shape or form,” Pena says. “It’s our responsibility as non-Black POC to address the anti-Blackness in our own communities and stand in solidarity with the Black community.”

The group shares actions for a lifetime commitment to anti-racism, including reading books, listening to Black community members, voting, sending e-mails and signing petitions, while also recommending good Netflix programs. Pena suggests the documentary “13th” and the miniseries “When They See Us,” both by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay.

Now that Pena has graduated from PLU, meetings are another way to reconnect with dCenter friends. It’s been helpful during the pandemic lockdown to avoid feeling isolated when significant or traumatic events occur.

Livingston echoes that sentiment.

“It’s been beautiful to see old friends and other students I’ve known through the dCenter, who’ve been touched by and transformed by that space the same way I was,” Livingston says. Friends old and new are Zooming in from Washington, New York, and Atlanta. “Meetings have been comforting in this time when connecting with people is a challenge.”

“It makes me so happy to spend time virtually with such a diverse group, who are invested in justice and equity across racial lines,” Hambrick says.

Yet hope and fear are both in play.

“I wonder if this is a moment or movement,” she says. “Is Black Lives Matter a snapshot that will fade away because attention is pulled elsewhere, or will it sustain itself? Will people stay engaged? What will be the next thing to take attention from the problems of anti-Blackness and people dying?”

“We have to hope that things will get better and change, or a movement can become hard to sustain,” Hambrick says. “We’ve been in this struggle for 400 years. We can’t forget happiness and joy.”

PLU alumni can engage with the dCenter, even if they haven’t before — and even if it causes some discomfort.

“No one wants to be uncomfortable. I don’t want to be uncomfortable when I walk out the door, and people look at me like I’m dangerous. But still, I do my best,” Livingston says. “There’s no better time than now to connect with people outside your comfort zone. Something is shifting, and change is coming. The only way to get on board is to get uncomfortable and have conversations nobody wants to have.”

“However you identify, you’re welcome, and there’s space for you,” Livingston adds. “That’s what we’re here for, so there’s no excuse. If you don’t have people in your life for safe conversations, we’re here and have built up this community and safe space for these conversations. It’s like the building is there — you just need to be willing to step inside.”

To learn more about the dCenter visit To sign up for the monthly newsletter email Follow the center on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @dcenterplu.

Sista Circle 1024 504 Lora Shinn and Zach Powers '10

Sista Circle

Photos by Iana Mae Abinales ’17.

Sista Circle began with humble yet powerful roots in 2015.

Its earliest meetings were informal gatherings for women of color in the on-campus apartment of former resident director Mercy Daramola. Those gatherings were a place for discussion and support, tears and laughter, self-care and community care. Since then, Sista Circle has grown, rippling beyond the PLU campus.

For example, consider the annual, day-long Fall Sista Circle Leadership Retreat for students. In the inaugural year, 2018, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards (then a member of City Council) was the event’s keynote speaker, which also included panelists of community leaders. Attendees met women of color from campus and the Tacoma area, and spent time creating art, eating good food, and discussing mentorship, activism, and the intersections of gender and race — within a leadership context.

Last year, the retreat welcomed students, staff, and faculty members from the University of Puget Sound, widening the circle.

But the small, intimate gatherings of 20 or so Lutes remain the program’s foundation. Last school year, monthly events kicked off with a watch party for Beyonce’s “Homecoming,” and a meal cooked by Barbara Gilchrist ’20, who served as the Women’s Leadership Intern with the Center for Gender Equity (CGE) for the past three years and helped guide much of the group’s recent growth.

This year, when COVID-19 made in-person gatherings inaccessible, Sista Circle launched virtual get-togethers over Zoom. The first April event focused on self-care and the sustainability of self. Then, on five Mondays, members discussed healthy relationships and conflict management. For fun, there was a game night and karaoke night.

“It’s a mix of conversation and fun, because that’s super important as you’re building relationships,” says Nicole Jordan ’15, a Center for Gender Equity (CGE) coordinator since January 2020, who now coordinates Sista Circle.

Sista Circle’s embrace

Sista Circle’s growth isn’t surprising, considering who’s helped to drive much of its successes. Gilchrist is a triple (yes, triple) major in global studies, political science and psychology. In addition to her work at the CGE, she also worked as an Admissions Ambassador, was a Rieke Scholar in the Diversity Center, and was appointed vice president of ASPLU her senior year.

Gilchrist first became involved in Sista Circle to empower her peers, but the group helped personally, too. After growing up in a Black household, adjusting to the predominantly white PLU was challenging.

“This was my first time not being surrounded by my own culture within the place that I live,” Gilchrist says. “It was just really strange for me. I didn’t know how to navigate stuff. It took a lot for me to say things like, ‘I don’t feel comfortable,’ and ‘That is a microaggression.’ “

In Sista Circle, Gilchrist could say: “I feel uncomfortable with the fact that there are just three people of color on my entire floor,” without being required to explain why.

“Sista Circle was healing for me in that sense,” she says.

“Sista Circle is about finding your place on campus, and being able to be vulnerable with people who share a common thread,” Jordan says. “I think that’s what Sista Circle is — to value what a safe place can be and invest in that.”

Many of the students who attend Sista Circle events also attend events produced by the Diversity Center and CGE, but Jordan says Sista Circle offers something different. “Sista Circle is an opportunity for us to get a smaller group of people together for a more intimate connection,” she says.

A member of the Sista Circle smiling
A member of the Sista Circle listening to the group

Sista Circle mentoring

Students involved with Sista Circle have received help with finding jobs, cultivating business plans, and networking. “We bring in many community leaders and speakers who hear students’ dreams and skill sets and invest in them. You eat lunch with leaders, and they get to know you,” Gilchrist says. “The next time they’re sitting in a meeting, and someone says, ‘Well, who could be great for this?’ The leaders are like, ‘Well, I met someone last weekend who I think would be great for it.’ “

A former political campaign manager and student lobbyist for the expansion of the Washington State Need Grant, Gilchrist is now the campaign director at Argo Strategies, a political consulting firm based in Seattle. She credits a Sista Circle event for help forging one of her fist connections with a local elected official.

“Victoria Woodards keynoted our SC retreat my sophomore year and I performed a spoken word piece that she really liked,” Gilchrist remembers. “She said it was powerful and gave me a standing ovation, which was very meaningful.

“A couple of years later, when I was campaign manager for State Rep. Melanie Morgan, Victoria was a supporter and a resource for our campaign and it was cool to have that brief earlier connection from Sista Circle to build on.”

Gilchrist says that a defining quality of mentoring and fellowship in Sista Circle is a deep, authentic commitment to listening and giving thoughtful advice. “Sista Circle opened up a space for something I was raised with and attribute to Black culture — the idea of seeking counsel,” Gilchrist says. “Before you make decisions, before you respond to something, you go to your community and ask them, ‘Okay, what do you all think? Check me on this. Am I totally way out of line, or is something going on?’”

“Sista Circle helped create that space for me. I can contact people, and they’re able to give me advice and counsel.”