Activists planning campus women’s center

By Marie Wilson

A group of 17 women and three men met Thursday evening to discuss the need for a campus women’s center.

When a sign-in sheet was passed around, participants listed their contact information using a pen from the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“We want our own pen,” said Ross Wantland, coordinator of sexual assault education for the Office of Women’s Programs.

But the 20 people at Thursday’s meeting want more than a pen. They want a space of their own.

“There’s no central space where groups can meet each other, and having one can go a long way to bridge cultural and racial gaps on campus,” said Jacque Kahn, associate director of the Gender and Women’s Studies department.

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    Women’s centers at other universities include libraries with books on gender issues and sexuality, flexible spaces for seminars and group meetings, and an open atmosphere for students to discuss anything that bothers them, said Beverly Halloran, junior in LAS and activist to get a women’s center built.

    “It’s not that the issue has never come up,” said Pat Morey, director of the Office of Women’s Programs. “Actually, it’s come up every few years, but now, for the first time ever, it’s part of the University’s strategic plan.”

    Improvements and expansions to all the cultural centers on campus, as well as the Office of Women’s Programs and the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resources are all part of the University’s plan for self-improvement this year, Morey said.

    “If cultural centers get expanded and women aren’t included, that makes a statement about how the University feels about women,” said Anita Hund, clinical counselor at the Counseling Center. “If we’re not included, that means something and that’s what makes me angry.”

    However, some on campus question the fairness of building a women’s center without constructing a similar facility for men.

    “People are always talking about how things need to be equal,” said Amanda Armour, freshman in ACES. “And if you’re going to have a women’s center then men probably have issues too.”

    A women’s center could host programs to address male privilege and gender equality, Wantland said. It could also provide a space for students to voice concerns about all aspects of their lives without the shame of seeing a counselor.

    Others at the meeting said a center for resources specific to women’s needs is necessary because it could bring together services to help people deal with sexual assault, eating disorders and body image issues. Those resources are not currently centralized.

    “A women’s center has the same connotation as hearing the word ‘feminist,'” Halloran said. “Some people don’t want to be associated with it because of the stigma through society.”

    To move the idea of a women’s center forward from the planning stage, Halloran and others at the meeting brainstormed techniques to create a grassroots movement.

    “We’ve pretty much been given the message that if we don’t raise awareness that a women’s center is needed and indicate that it’s wanted, then it’s not going to happen even now when we have a window of opportunity,” Morey said.