The Launch of the Audre Lorde Scholars Program

“Who said it was simple?”


Graphic Courtesy of the Cross Cultural Center for Global Citizenship

That’s exactly the kind of group that I need,” sophomore Shruti Punnachalil immediately thought when she first heard about the newly-created Audre Lorde Scholars Program back in September. 

          The idea for the program began several years ago. Former Cross Cultural Center (CCC) assistant director Kortet Mensah, Ph.D, dreamed of a shared student space and a support system for women of color at Saint Louis University. Four years later in the fall of 2021, the program finally came to fruition. 

           Luella Loseille, the current assistant director of diversity and inclusion in the CCC, built on the initial concept and worked to establish the Audre Lorde Scholars Program as “a communal and uplifting space” where group members can share their experiences about race and gender, similar to the African American Male Scholars Program. 

The program is named after internationally renowned activist, poet and teacher Audre Lorde, who in the 1960s was a pioneer in analyzing the intersections of race, class and gender oppression. Loseilleand the student scholars draw inspiration from Lorde’s contributions and envision their group as an extension of her legacy. In their bi-weekly meetings, the 30 scholars in the program usually begin by reading and reflecting on one of her poems. 

         “The whole purpose of the program is to provide support for students who self-identify as women of color while facilitating various networking, social and community opportunities,” Loseillesaid. “There are so few spaces where people of color can just come together and share in a primarily white institution.”

        Group discussions over the last several months have ranged from cycles of abuse, Black mental health and other topics that connect with the group’s four main pillars of feminism, activism, sisterhood and intersectionality.

        “Those kinds of discussions are very pertinent for us because a lot of them are centered on navigating the intersectionalities that a lot of the people in the group have. We break off in groups and discuss personal experiences and connect with each other, which I feel is a primary reason for the group—feeling connected to other women of color on campus,” Punnachalil said. 

          Loseille is also initiating a mentorship component for the scholar program in which students are matched with female faculty or staff members. While it is still in the works, nearly 40 staff members have offered to be Audre Lorde Scholar mentors because, as Loseille explains, they saw the value of providing guidance to young women. 

          “Navigating college as first-generation students or as women of color presents unique challenges in academic spaces, so I’m really grateful for the mentorship program,” Punnachalil said. “I have experienced a lot of academic racism at this school so feeling connected to resources and to somebody who looks like you and who understands your perspective resonates with me.” 

           To mark the first year of the program, Loseille and the scholars are organizing a women’s leadership conference that will take place at the end of the semester. The theme— “Who Said It Was Simple? Navigating As Women of Color in the 21st Century”—pays tribute to Lorde’s life work and her poem “Who Said It Was Simple?” 

           The half day symposium will serve as a capstone project for scholars who, in addition to others in the university, will have the chance to present their own work relating to the theme. Loseille hopes the event will become an annual one with national recognition and attendance. 

         Though the organization is young, Loseille envisions prestige and impact in the future for the Audre Lorde Scholars Program. Adding a scholarship component and growing student participation are just two of many goals she has to make the program well-established on campus.

      “How awesome would it be if just by having this program at SLU, all of us as individuals are better able to understand our systems and barriers of oppression and come up with capable solutions to erasing those things? This is just one part in a large, ordered system to make cultural change happen on campus,” Loseille said.