FAU NOW president, vice president speak out about racial inequality and feminism

The two activists discuss their accomplishments, being a woman of color, and how to begin to change societal norms.


Joi Dean and Lillie Feller. Photo by Alex Liscio.

Kendall Little, Managing Editor

With a history of fighting for equal rights and fierce determination to change the FAU community for the better, Joi Dean and Lillie Feller are a force to be reckoned with.

Dean joined FAU’s chapter of the National Organization for Women as a freshman in 2017 and now serves as the president of the organization. Feller joined in 2019 and now serves as vice president of the chapter.

The FAU chapter of NOW began in 2017, 51 years after feminist activist Betty Friedan started the national organization. 

“NOW’s purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life,” according to the official NOW website

Dean and Feller lead the FAU chapter by holding weekly Zoom meetings, organizing events such as protests and tabling in the Breezeway, and sharing petitions.

Over the four-year course of her FAU academic career, Dean won the Student Executive Leader of the Year Award, spoke at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., and spoke on a National Public Radio podcast.

“Getting in front of people and pretending like I know what’s going on was very much an act until it kind of started working,” Dean said. 

Feller feels that she is doing commendable work with NOW that is truly making a difference.

“With NOW, I’ve been able to learn so much about different inequalities and injustices that I can now share with other people in my life,” she said. “NOW has become an incredible platform of information that I am privileged to pass on to people in my life that are curious about how to get involved, how to effect change, and how to advocate for equality.”

While they feel accepted and celebrated in NOW, Dean and Feller reflected on how different they are treated by other communities on and off campus as women of color.

“Not everyone looks at you the same way. They don’t look at everyone on equal playing fields,” Dean said. “When I’m in my business courses…they’re all like, looking at me funny and I’m like, I just did like a whole fucking dissertation of like all these amazing things and y’all are looking at me like I can’t read.”

Outside of her courses, Dean shared how she experiences instances of microaggressions in casual settings like daily conversations. According to Merriam-Webster, a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.” These groups can include racial or ethnic minorities.

“You notice things here and there. You notice people getting surprised about you and your accomplishments and being surprised about the way you speak or being surprised about where you say you’re from,” Dean said.

Feller shared that she didn’t even know that the microaggressions she experienced were harmful at the time.

“I did not experience many outward expressions of discrimination. Rather, I internalized a lot of [microaggressions] that I had no idea were problematic at the time,” she said.

Because of the microaggressions, Feller is just beginning on her self-acceptance journey.

“I only really began genuinely celebrating my own Blackness in these most recent years,” she said. “It was the more subtle underestimation of my abilities that influenced my own self-doubt, and I’m still learning to overcome that.” 

Though they face their fair share of subtle instances of racism and sexism frequently, Dean and Feller are proud to be women. 

“There’s so much history and shared oppression and shared experiences that women have no matter what they look like, what their race is. That does unite us in a way, that we all have shared experiences,” she said. 

Feller loves being a woman, but she didn’t always feel that way.

“I spent a long time wishing I had an easier path to tread, but being a woman of color is a unique and wonderful gift. Our ancestors are the foundation of literally everything this world has amounted to,” Feller said. “Women are the backbone of life itself, and that is an incredible thing to celebrate. I don’t just mean the ability to give birth, I mean the ability to nurture prosperity!”

Dean and Feller take pride in their race as well, but feel that there needs to be a change in how society views Black women.

“I definitely think that there needs to be more of an emphasis on actively trying to protect Black women and actively trying to stick up for Black women and other marginalized communities,” Dean said.

Feller echoed a similar sentiment.

“Black women’s pain is not taken seriously because our society has been taught that Black women can take care of themselves, they don’t need help. Are Black women strong? Absolutely, but it’s because we have to be,” she explained.

Dean noticed that many university clubs are typically made up of members that are similar in some sort of way, whether it be race, sexual orientation, or mindset. She believes that the division between the student body isn’t benefiting anyone. 

“If we’re never coming together and having conversations, then what’s the point? We’re not learning from each other,” she said.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.