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Sunday, October 8, 2023

Nellie Gorbea to discuss Latina involvement and civic engagement at URI

Oct. 11 talk part of URI Women’s Center’s new ‘Spill the Tea’ series

Kristen Curry 

Former Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is coming to the University of Rhode Island to join “Spill the Tea,” a program sponsored by the URI Women’s Center.

Gorbea’s visit takes place Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Robert L. Carothers Library (Galanti Lounge).

Gorbea will share the story of her political rise to become the first Hispanic to win a statewide office in New England and discuss the importance of women’s civic engagement.

Gorbea’s visit is the second in this year’s new “Spill the Tea” series at URI, following Zoila Quezada in September.

Under the direction of new center director Ana Barraza, tea-spilling—and community discussion—is a regular event. She hopes women in the URI community attend Gorbea’s talk and find their way to the Women’s Center, which moved to 7 Quarry Road in 2021. 

The center hosts Wednesday afternoon open tea-time from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Barraza is bringing in speakers like Gorbea on a regular basis to extend the conversation on relevant topics.

Barraza started at the Women’s Center in May and hopes these events create connections and center women’s voices and interactions at the University.

Though new in the role, she brings a long connection to URI and to the Women’s Center.

In the 1990s, Barraza did an independent study out of the Women’s Center as a student that led to a conference for women of color at URI. In those days, the Women’s Center was housed in a little red house at the bottom of campus.

“We are the oldest identity center and program on campus,” Barraza says.

Spilling the tea: Nellie Gorbea

Barraza is excited to bring Gorbea to URI.

Gorbea made history in 2015 as the first Hispanic in New England to be elected to statewide office, serving two terms as Rhode Island secretary of state. During her tenure, she introduced technology innovations, drove diversity, and spearheaded civic engagement. These steps helped Rhode Island see record-breaking voter turnout.

Gorbea’s interest in bringing Rhode Island voting up to date also led her to work with URI; she helped Gretchen Macht get started using engineering tools to assist election officials, now established as the well-known program URI VOTES, used nationally.

Gorbea is also the founder of the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund and serves on the advisory board of the Ascend Fund, a collaborative fund dedicated to accelerating the pace of change toward gender parity in U.S. politics. She also serves as a senior visiting fellow at Salve Regina University.

Centering women

Barraza is long familiar with the role of networking and mentoring for women in their professional lives.

A proud URI alumna, Barraza came back to URI with more than two decades of experience in higher education, at URI and elsewhere. Her diverse work experiences and roles affirm for her the importance of support and education for women students and students of color. Barraza remembers sifting through her own challenges as a student and how important it was to see “faces who looked like me.”

She hopes that Gorbea’s visit serves a similar purpose for women students at URI and for all students of Latino heritage.

“The Women’s Center was such a rich place for young women to find a sense of belonging they could use for their time at URI and after, to find the resources they needed for their college experience,” she says. “We are rebuilding now, building on that impact and history. I’m excited to be here.”

Watch for Barraza to bring more women’s voices forward in the years ahead.

“I think Nellie’s story is impactful. In a time when we’re seeing women’s autonomy being stripped across the country, the concerns raised here are valid. We want this series to be a mix of conversation and discussion that pushes and to teach students to navigate spaces outside of and after the University.”

For its next speaker in the Spill the Tea series, the Women’s Center will welcome Jennifer Rourke on the topic of dating and domestic violence on Oct. 25. Email to be added to the center’s mailing list.