Last night, the exhibition “Beauty in Color” opened in the Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union. It featured photos that were taken on February 3 during Bowdoin’s second annual Women of Color Photoshoot, where 40 Bowdoin women of color (WOC), three organizers and general photographers gathered in room 601 of Memorial Hall. Each individual was encouraged to bring any clothing or items important to her identity to feature in her photos.
Raquel Santizo ’19, a student director at the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG), first conceived of the event when she was a sophomore and brought it to fruition with the help of both student organizers and faculty in what was then the Women’s Center. The idea was in part inspired by the “Celebrating Women, Celebrating Bodies” photoshoots, which allowed female and non-binary students to pose both clothed and nude. Santizo said she sensed a need on campus for similar programming pertaining to the experiences of WOC.
“Women of color want to create a community together,” Santizo said. “And I think doing that in this specific environment at this specific event is something that people craved.”
Santizo said she tries to be intentional when she is involved with programming on campus. Throughout March, Bowdoin will be celebrating Women’s Herstory Month, and Santizo thinks the Women of Color Photoshoot is an appropriate way to kick things off.
“It’s at the end of February, which I like a lot because it’s Black History Month, and then the next day is the beginning of Women’s Herstory Month. So it’s like a perfect segue because it’s about women of color,” she said.
Santizo started planning this year’s event in the fall and has spent the weeks since the photoshoot finalizing plans for the exhibit and working the portraits in the Edwards Center for Art and Dance. She is excited for the gallery opening but says that the photoshoot itself was an especially important part of the experience.
“It’s a two-and-a-half hour block where we’re just a community of women of color, talking about our experiences with confidence and beauty and just being in that space which is a powerful and vulnerable and a very happy space to be in,” she said.
Juliana Villa ’19, another student director at SWAG and co-organizer of the photoshoot, said that it was important to choose a WOC as a photographer. The four photographers were Brianna White-Ortiz ’21, Camille Farradas ’19, Oceanna Pak ’19 and Sam Valdivia ’19.
“Having someone that looks like you [and who] comes from a similar place makes it a lot easier,” Villa said.
Santizo hopes that the exhibition of the photos will add to the empowering experience for participants.
“When you walk into space, and it’s like, ‘oh there’s an 11 by 17 beautiful picture of myself that I got to pick out,’ that is what I call a revolutionary act of self-love at a predominately white institution,” she said.
Santizo also hopes that the event will spark discussions among non-participants about their experiences and those of WOC. Santizo was originally most interested in conversations about hookup culture on campus—a topic which she wrote a paper on before organizing the first WOC photoshoot. She hopes to publicize the discussion of issues such as these which tend to come up in conversation among friends or within affinity groups but that rarely permeate other campus spaces.
“This is obviously not everyone’s experience, but a lot of women of color felt either invisible because they weren’t meeting standards of beauty and therefore we weren’t being approached as much or at all,” said Santizo. “That, or they felt hyper visible … Our very white campus leads to a fear of fetishization.”
Santizo has watched her event grow over the last three years. Participation has doubled since the first photoshoot, and this year will see the addition of student interviews about the Bowdoin WOC experience played on iPods throughout the gallery.
Villa says that the most common comment she received from participants is that they wish there were more events at Bowdoin centered around the WOC experience, potentially in more casual settings.
“Some people talked about having 24 College be at night a space where they can come after parties and debrief with other women who have similar stories and identities,” said Villa.
Although all the organizers of this year’s WOC photoshoot are seniors, they believe that there are plenty of underclass women involved in other capacities who can take over when they graduate. They also hope to use the exhibition to stir interest and engage the Bowdoin student body in WOC’s stories.
“Having it in Lamarche was really strategic, because even if you don’t go to the event on the opening night, it will be there for a month,” Villa said. “You’re going to be in Smith at some point—you’re going to look up there and it will be there.”
Editor’s Note (3/5/19): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that this is the third annual Women of Color photoshoot. It is the second.