Representation Matters – Oral History Project Highlights Outstanding Women of Color Award Recipients

March 1, 2023

by Jari Xiong, Libraries Communications Specialist

Representation matters, yet so many untold stories and soft-spoken voices often get lost, especially on a bustling campus like the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But Lucia Anais Estrada, a student at UW-Madison, is turning up the volume on those stories through her work on the Outstanding Women of Color Awards oral history project

“For women of color, academia is a big gap in visibility, and I think this is pretty apparent on UW’s campus,” says Estrada. “We have very few women of color in professor positions. For many students, it is also hard to visualize having a career in a field where you do not know anyone who looks like you.” 

After finding out about the project through another archives student not long into her undergraduate studies, Estrada says the topic needed to be more interesting to ignore. She set out to help put focus on further celebrating the women who have received the Outstanding Women of Color award throughout the years. 

The Outstanding Women of Color Education Awards was established by UW System in 1994, with UW-Madison launching the Outstanding Women of Color Awards in 2007. From Vice Chancellors to professors to community leaders, to even yes, librarians – the list of more than 100 recipients is full of breathtakingly accomplished women of color who leave their mark on their field, and their community. 

The oral history project aims at hearing more from these women, what they do in their fields, how they have worked to make an impact, and why an award like this is so important. 

“The most interesting thing I have come across with my research in work is the stories themselves,” says Estrada. “Many recipients are connected either by their work area or their communities on campus. There are 101 recipients, and I don’t think I expected so many of them to know each other from year to year. It shows a community aspect within the Outstanding Women of Color Award alone. Whether it is because of the award or the identity of being a woman of color on UW’s campus, it is exciting to interview with different recipients and for them to reference each other.”

Through the project, the spotlight becomes brighter regarding the broad and unique range of work of the recipients and how it has become an integral part of campus. 

Estrada also notes that while we have begun to see women’s struggle and celebrate women’s collective achievements of women, this narrative is not necessarily representative of all women of color, nor does it address the additional barriers women of color face. Raising visibility is essential to highlight the stories of marginalized groups of color.

With the support of University Archives staff like oral historian Troy Reeves, the project has been expanding to gather the stories of the women. The project team hopes to launch a website where people can soon hear the oral histories gathered. 

“There are two fundamental pieces to any oral history project,” says UW-Madison Oral Historian, Troy Reeves. “The first would be the people. I’m fortunate to collaborate with stellar students, like Lucia. We also wouldn’t have the opportunity to create projects like this if we didn’t have extraordinary subjects to work with. The women we’ve been fortunate enough to interview help bring this project to life – it’s their stories, their words. Second, this project wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of the women who donated to create our Women Inspire fund. It takes a dedicated group of people to bring projects like this to fruition.”

Estrada will graduate in the spring of 2023. She notes that during her time at UW, she’s only had two professors whom she’s been able to identify as Latina. She hopes to continue to push for representation or highlight the lack thereof, which will help celebrate those who have made an impact and encourage others who have yet to find their path.

Learn more by visiting the Archives Tumblr and check out the interviews:

Karma Chavez, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 2

Karma Chavez, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 1

Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 2

Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 1

Jennifer Gauthier, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 2

Jennifer Gauthier, Outstanding Women of Color, Part 1