When thinking of health and self-care, spirituality isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. This is why the fifth day of the second-annual BIWOC Week was dedicated to discussing the validity of spiritual health.
Story by Adriana Rezal
Photos by AJ Lazo-Kim
BIWOC is a week-long event during the spring semester that aims to empower UT students who identify as Black, Indigenous women of color (inclusive to non-binary femme identities). BIWOC organizer Sarah Ogunmuyiwa says the events create space for BIWOC’s to come into contact with each other. "(BIWOC is) fostering communities so people can meet each other … and know that there's people like them on campus," they say. "(It’s) just a place where we can all meet, build community, feel safe and talk about things, … learn which resources we can have for ourselves."
On Thursday afternoon, a small, intimate crowd gathered in a circle on a rug in the Gender and Sexuality Center. Event hosts Celine Rendon and Diane Campos began the event by passing around a bowl of popcorn. As an ice breaker, attendees shared their names, preferred pronouns and “x” number of things they liked about themselves, according to however many pieces of popcorn they held in their hand. Campos says she wanted to include spiritual health into BIWOC Week because spirituality is often neglected when thinking about overall health and well-being. Campos also said that women of color can be surprised to realize they often practice spirituality on a daily basis without even knowing it. “There's a lot of things that have been passed down to us generationally that we don't even recognize that it has been affecting us spiritually,” Campos says. “It's a good way of grounding yourself, especially being in college–it’s so stressful."
Event attendee Mehdia Mrabet says even though she didn't consider herself to be a very spiritual person, she attended the event to hear what other people had to share about their experiences. Mrabet said she spoke when wanting to contribute, but mostly spent the time listening. “Mainly, I wanted to hear other people’s relationship to spirituality so I could maybe explore my own," she says.
In addition to openly discussing each other’s experiences with spirituality and BIWOC identity, the event also offered resources for different spiritual practices that attendees had the opportunity to learn more about. Attendees were invited to experience an altar honoring loved ones who have passed away. Photos and names were placed on a small table donned with electric candles and yellow flowers that brightened the space.
Campos says the altar was inspired by her own Mexican culture and represents how spirituality is tied to culture and ancestry. For Campos, spirituality means to be in tune with herself and where she comes from. "I understand that in everything I do, it's because of my ancestors,” Campos says. “I'm an artist and I'm creating art because someone who has passed away was in my ancestry and gave that gift to me. I recognize and am acknowledging that they're with me in every step that I go."
In addition to the altar, the event also had women demonstrating and explaining other spiritual practices, such as crystal healing and tarot card reading. The event hosts clarified that these practitioners might not be experts in these practices, but can still serve as resources. Campos says this part of the event was meant to serve as a way to connect people who might be interested in learning more about nontraditional spiritual practices. "There are a lot of BIWOCs within our university who do these things and it's important to give them that recognition and representation,” Campos says. “Like, 'Hey, here's this BIWOC that does practice crystal healing, let's use them as a resource.'"
Crystal healing practitioner Kae Thomas says she uses crystals as a form of guided meditation to identify and sort through difficult emotions. For Thomas, spirituality is about understanding herself and where she comes from. Thomas said that spaces like the BIWOC Spiritual Health vent allow her to share her interest and knowledge in crystal healing with anyone who is curious. She says the event validated her spiritual practice and gave her the chance to share her passion with others. "Especially on university campuses, it's really important to have these groups to explore your spirituality … and finding what your place is, so you can find your own personal growth," Thomas says.