Niki Elliott, clinical faculty member in the special education department, shared three key points about sisterhood on International Women’s Day in the Campus Center Ballroom.
Roughly 50 people were seated at the tables, draped in mint green cloth, decorated with desserts and tea accessories.
Elliott, co-founder of the Center of Neurodiversity and ordained minister, began the Sisterhood Tea event with a prayer that asked the audience to think about the women who have impacted them.
“I take the best of what you had to offer and I take the best of your legacy,” Elliott said. “I magnify it, I multiply it, and I commit to go forward to do more and to be more and to elevate myself henceforth and forevermore as a woman.”
Sponsored by the La Verne Experience Fellowship, the gathering was arranged by Melissa Moss, executive assistant to the offices of the provost and diversity and inclusivity.
Moss said most of the time, we do not have the space or opportunity to speak about issues that impact women.
She thanked Kat Weaver, associate professor of biology, who encouraged Moss to apply for the fellowship that made the event possible.
“This fellowship gave me the opportunity to design a program that would empower and have conversations about women,” Moss said. “Conversations about women in higher education and more so how we create opportunities to network and advance those women.”
Elliott spoke about her personal struggles, defining what it means to be a sister and learning to appreciate her role as a woman.
“There have been many times in my life where I have thought it would just be easier to be a man,” Elliott said. “It was a very long journey for me to come to a place where I absolutely loved being in this female body and identifying as a woman. I find it absolutely delicious and nourishing to my soul.”
The journey to understanding the true meaning of sisterhood was not an easy one for Elliot. As an older sister, she always dealt with someone who wanted to be her.
“There came a day where I did not want my sister to be me,” Elliott said. “I felt like a bad sister, because I wanted to go places with the older kids and leave her behind.”
Becoming a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., at UC Berkeley was another test of Elliott’s understanding of sisterhood.
“In those days we had to pledge, which meant we walked around campus all dressed alike, had to say the same thing at the same time… we had to operate in unison,” Elliott said. “I failed again at sisterhood, because if everyone was wearing red, I wanted to wear white.”
It took these events for Elliott to realize sisterhood does not mean conforming to a particular type of woman.
“The power of sisterhood is in your eyes,” Elliott said. “Not how you look at your sister about how she dresses, is her makeup on right, I mean see into your sister’s soul as a witness of her magnificence and possibilities.”
Elliott said her biggest gift of sisterhood is looking into any woman’s eyes and seeing her divinity and power.
“I can see her potential and I can see her dream coming into fruition before she can even formulate what it would look like,” Elliott said.
Elliott discussed three elements of what it means to be a sister. The first is to have a clear and positively stated intention. The second is to have an elevated emotion of love.
“At the end of the day what breaks the heart open and makes any kind of healing and transformation possible is the elevated emotion of love,” Elliott said.
The last element is to find an objective witness who sees your truth and dream already coming to fruition.
“If you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, your objective witness is not looking at you seeing cancer in your body,” Elliott said. “They are looking at you healed and whole and transformed and climbing mountains and sailing with your children.”
She then asked everyone in the room to pair up. With a partner, women were asked to share a clearly stated intention while the other person implemented the elevated emotion of love and became her objective witness.
Laura Cantrell, administrative assistant, found the activity empowering and said it is hard to not walk away with everything Elliott says without having your spirit lifted.
“It is not the kind of getting to know you exercise asking where are you from,” Cantrell said. “It is a question of what is your deepest darkest dream you have never told anyone before and they will envision its success for you.”
Kaylee Cruz, senior biology major, was invited to the event by her academic adviser Kat Weaver.
Cruz said her outlook on the world shifted after listening to Elliott’s speech about sisterhood.
“This changed my perception on what it means to be a sister and a friend overall,” Cruz said. “I feel empowered to be kinder, to believe in my friends’ goals and dreams and support them.”
Elliott said sisterhood does not say “be me,” it says “see me.”
“Your commitment to sisterhood requires you to see the divinity in any woman that comes into your path and call that divine expression to come forward,” Elliott said. “When we do it for each other we are doing it for ourselves.”
Layla Abbas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an earlier version of this story, Niki Elliott’s name was misspelled. It was also incorrectly stated that she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta while at Columbia University. She actually joined while at UC Berkeley. The Campus Times regrets the errors.