What do Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an anonymous Instagram account and Cal Poly have in common? Together, they inspired public health sophomore Tanya Patil to establish a new club on campus —“Womxn Empowered” (WE). 

“Finding womxn who have similar values and who are there to support you is needed on this campus,” Patil said. 

Beginning in the summer of 2020, an Instagram account called Shades of Cal Poly provided a safe space for Cal Poly students and alumnae to share anonymous accounts of discrimination at the university. 

“These stories demonstrate how our university has continuously failed to educate all of our students and make meaningful changes on campus,” the owners of Shades of Cal Poly wrote in their first Instagram post. “The time for silence and neutrality is over.”

These posts struck a chord with Patil and inspired her to create the space of acceptance and challenging conversations she was looking for. 

“Everyone wants to find a community and support network when they first enter college. Many women look to sororities for that,” Patil said. “However, sororities were built on exclusionary systems, which makes it difficult for womxn of different identities to feel like they truly belong.” 

Although this is specifically a womxn’s empowerment club, they welcome people of all gender identities, according to Patil. 

The “x” in “womxn” is purposeful. This one letter stands for inclusion and intersectionality. The “x” signals to minorities historically excluded from womanhood — nonbinary individuals, womxn with disabilities, womxn of the LGBTQ+ community and womxn of color — that they belong.

“The x is used to interrupt the word women and asks us to pause and reflect,” Patil said.

Cal Poly Womxn’s Empowered offers a unique and safe space for womxn and their allies to find a social and professional community outside of their involvement in other organizations on campus, liberal arts and engineering studies junior, and the club’s programming coordinator, Siri Talatam said. 

According to Talatam, this community provides members with opportunities to not only network and connect about what it means to be a womxn at Cal Poly, but also aims to contextualize this experience on a global level. 

“We hope to draw in people interested in activism, networking and fun,” Talatam said. 

The isolation of the pandemic and a lack of campus events has been a struggle for some students, causing heightened anxiety and increased loneliness. The club aims to foster a friendship and a sense of security at Cal Poly for those searching to connect.

“We don’t care about your background or whatever baggage you carry. We want to support you in any way possible. We strive for growth versus perfection,” the club’s Vice President, communication studies sophomore, Kaitlin Van said.

By creating a space for female empowerment and support, according to Van, Womxn Empowered hopes to squash the idea of toxicity among womxn.

“We must create a nonjudgemental social environment with womxn of different backgrounds, interests, and life experiences to get rid of the toxicity present today,” Van said. “The first place to start is within our community.”

Open dialogues over Zoom cover topics ranging from healthy relationships and campus climate to the recent Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett and the 2020 election, according to the club’s secretary, environmental management and protection sophomore Tess McIntyre. 

The club bonds over movie nights, meditation sessions and more. Future programming includes a book club, educational presentations, and events aimed towards creating a sense of community between members, such as a pen pal network. 

According to McIntyre, the executive team’s high focus on diversity, equity and inclusion within the club extends into each event and meeting. 

Cal Poly’s Womxn Empowered aims to uplift, support and celebrate different identities by creating a “welcoming and inclusive space for people to learn and grow towards actively promoting gender equality,” McIntyre said. 

The club is dedicated to creating lasting friendships between like-minded individuals who value learning and independence within a support system.

“From these friendships and relationships, womxn in this club can learn from each other’s point of view and experiences to become empathetic and educated leaders in our communities,” the club’s public relations manager and business junior, Karenna Case. 

Looking towards the future, Womxn Empowered considers how much the world is growing and changing, and how to grow and change along with it. 

“Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, WE can establish a place at CalPoly where womxn can escape to and find support for any concerns, thoughts, or feelings that they may have about anything,” club membership co-chair, biology sophomore Aly Gallego said. “This club will be there for you through thick and thin.”  

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