Meet the woman behind WRAC's Womxn of Colour Network

jessia padilla

This fall, WRAC’s Womxn of Color Network will begin its second year in operation. It is led by Jessica Padilla, who began working at the Women’s Resource & Action Center about two years ago. 

Padilla happens to be a Hawkeye herself. She got her BA at the UI in 2014, where she studied International Studies, Spanish, and Critical Cultural Competency. She then switched sides of the state to get her Master’s degree in higher education and student affairs at Iowa State University. 

Growing up, she never gave too much thought to what she would be doing when she was older. She wanted to graduate college, and be the first in her family to do so. Padilla was a part of UI’s TRIO Upward Bound Program, a college preparatory program for first-generation college students. It was at this program, she says, that she began to see herself as a Hawkeye.  

As an undergraduate, Padilla was involved with a variety of student organizations. She was a member of ALMA, the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead, and a member Sigma Lambda Gamma, which she is now an intake advisor for. She also became a peer leader for Iowa Edge, a first-generation college program for minority students that occurs before On Iowa in the fall. She now resides on the planning committee for that program. 

When she was younger, Padilla said she didn’t even know that working on college campuses was an option. However, she knew she was passionate about serving minoritized students.

“Being in leadership roles is where I unconsciously found my calling,” she says.

Throughout her undergrad years, she worked at the Center for Diversity and Enrichment. During her sophomore year, she met a graduate student, Elizabeth Martinez, from the HESA (Higher Education Student Affairs) program. Martinez asked her what she wanted to do after college, and Padilla said she wasn’t sure. She liked being around the community, and talking to other students about why college can be an option for them. 

Martinez told her about NASPA, a national organization for student affairs practitioners in higher education. They have an undergraduate fellowship program called NUFP (NASPA Undergraduate Fellowship Program) that she became involved with. Through that, Padilla got an internship at La Casa Cultural Latina, the Latino center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

This fall, Padilla will be starting her third year working at WRAC, where her main role is overseeing and planning the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership Institute. The institute is a 5 day program designed to empower womxn and increase their representation in public leadership. Padilla also happens to be an alumna of this program.

In starting the Womxn of Color Network, Padilla knew she wanted to create something that would build community for a group of students who may otherwise feel isolated on a large campus.

“I just wanted to make sure women of color always feel like this center is their space as well,” she says. “We are a center where we work with an intersectionality lens, and we are very inclusive of everyone, so we want to make sure that is seen through our programming. That was my motivation for starting something like this.” 

She was influenced by Iowa State’s Womxn of Color program, which is a two-day retreat. Padilla wanted to do something similar, but as a programming series hosted throughout the academic year. She has made sure that all of the facilitators are womxn of color that work in the campus community, and that each program is designed to build community, provide support, and create a much needed space for womxm of color on campus and in the community. 

The next Womxn of Color Event will take place October 3, at The Bowman House on 230 N. Clinton St. More details are available here: https://wrac.uiowa.edu/programs-and-services/womxn-of-colour-network/.

Donate to help support the Womxn of Colour Network here: https://goldrush.uiowa.edu/project/11131