On Friday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m., the Women’s Center will be hosting it’s annual Women of Color Lyllye B. Parker Speaker Series, featuring three of “the New Jersey 4”, a group of young gender-nonconforming and lesbian women who are famous for their part in a high-profile case where they were arrested for practicing self defense against a man who catcalled and made physical advances on them. When the three others involved decided to take a plea deal, these four rejected it and instead stood their ground and fought for their case, henceforth becoming The New Jersey 4.
The story with this year’s speakers is one about a group of women who experienced the impact of intersectionality and their experiences with a justice system that many feel did not properly support them when they needed it most.
“I thought it was really important to highlight intersectionality and race and how people who go through that experience life, and how that unfolds with the justice system and the media,” said Akilah Powell, the racial justice coordinator for the Women’s Center.
Powell, along with a few others involved in the planning of the event was first introduced to the case of the NJ4 at a conference she attended where she watched the documentary Out in the Night. The movie paints the picture for viewers of what the NJ4 went through, down to the details of the initial encounter with their harasser to how they were portrayed as a “gang of killer lesbians” by the media while they were enduring their case.
Because of the impact this had on Powell and others at the Women’s Center, the group will also be holding a screening of the film in PLC 180 on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. to encourage those who are interested in the series to gain some background on the issue, since the event will be mostly a Q&A panel discussion.
“I really hope that a lot of people feel outraged,” said Suzie Barrientos, public relations representative for the Women’s Center. “Especially when it’s something not a lot of people know about, I want them to feel the same outrage I felt when I first saw this and heard this.”
In honor of Lyllye B. Parker – a former University of Oregon employee who Powell says created an array of opportunities for women of color on campus and paved the way for them to have a real platform to speak – this series brings in more attendees every year to listen to the influential speakers and learn more about the issues they bring to light and the way people can affect positive change in our society.
“It’s really easy to fall into a bubble that is our community when we don’t reach out,” said Barrientos. “I hope that having that personal experience hearing them and seeing them, that it moves people so that conversation and action can happen. That would be amazing.”