When Ya-Ya Fairley first saw the job listing for womxn’s coordinator at Salt Lake Community College, the deliberate spelling immediately caught her eye.
“I saw myself,” Fairley recalled saying in her interview for the position. “My response was, ‘this is one of the first times I can see that a job is for me.’”
Fairley got the job, a newly-formed position within the school’s Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center, and started last February. SLCC established the center in the fall of 2019 after students and staff pushed for a physical campus gathering space dedicated to gender issues and the LGBTQ+ community.
But there was a glaring omission – a lack of a woman coordinator to work with other women.
“We felt it was important to have a woman coordinator lead the women’s initiative for the center,” said Peter Moosman, GSSRC coordinator.
But “women,” Moosman noted, encompass far more than cisgender women – a term used for people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, according to the Trans Journalist Association. The position for a womxn’s coordinator was created with the “x” spelling, he said, to better include all people who identify as women or are affected with women-related issues.
While the position received broad support from the college community, the spelling of “womxn” caused confusion and pushback. The spelling originated from feminist movements during the mid-20th century aiming to separate patriarchy from the word “woman.”
Some argue the term “womxn” is used to exclude trans individuals, Moosman said, but he explained this is not the case at the GSSRC.
“The spelling here is intentional in being representative of all women, whereas not all women are included with the spelling of w-o-m-e-n,” Moosman said.
Fairley echoed that view.
“When we say ‘womxn’ that includes all women. White, cis women; Black, trans women; disabled, queer women,” she explained.
Confusion about the spelling also prompted Fairley and Moosman to host a virtual event earlier this month. The program, called “Womxn vs. Woman: Why The ‘X’” addressed the origins of the spelling and the conversations surrounding it.
While Fairley’s new job aims to help anyone who identifies as a woman or is affected by women’s issues, she hopes to specifically aid groups of individuals with histories of marginalization.
“There’s an emphasis on highlighting marginalized experiences we don’t typically see illuminated at the college. Women of multiple marginalities including, but not limited to, of the queer and trans experience,” said Fairley, who received her bachelor’s in Gender Studies and focuses on Black, Queer, Womxn / Femme identities in Higher Education.
Fairley expects to use her position to enable women at the college and help amplify their voices.
“I want to be that bold light of advocacy and support for students who are oftentimes silenced,” she said. “As a coordinator, I would love to impart empowering knowledge onto students so they can also advocate for themselves. That would bring me so much joy.”
For Womxn’s Heritage Month at the college, Fairley helped build a roster of events that includes the Unsung Sheroes Awards Ceremony on Monday, which this year will honor women involved with SLCC’s Black Student Union.