Students hope to dust away Women's Center's old image
By MYRA McGRIFF
Saint Mary's Editor
The Women's Center was once only the vision of two Saint Mary's students. Today, seven years after the first opening of the Center, the small room in the basement of LeMans Hall will open its doors once again and try to rekindle that vision.
Working on an independent study project, Teresa Lynch and Karen Jurgenson designed a proposal to create a physical space on campus that could be the hub for women's concerns. Their vision became a reality more than seven years ago when in the last months of their senior year, the proposal for the Women's Center was approved.
The two students started their research into establishing the center under the pretext of addressing problems that had no forum for discussion on Saint Mary's campus. In their constitution, the students proposed that the Women's Center would be the place for such discussion. They wanted a place where students could discuss and educate themselves on sexual assault, abortion, health concerns, AIDS, and other hot topics.
Along with providing a safe environment, they also wanted the Women's Center to stand as a place for community outreach. They wanted to be able to work with along with other organizations in the community. Their vision reached fulfillment when in March of 1992, the Women's Center received a room in the basement of LeMans Hall.
Upon their graduation, Lynch and Jurgenson set up an advisory board to facilitate the progress of the center. So in the 1992-1993 academic year the center opened with the mission to provide programming, events and lectures for women of Saint Mary's. The board, then consisting of two students, one faculty representative, a residential life representative, and an administration representative pushed through the academic year planning events to draw all women of the campus.
That first year the Women's Center sponsored panel discussions, film series and sexual assault awareness events — events the board hoped would reach, uncover, and discuss issues facing women on campus.
"They wanted to connect with the Saint Mary's community as a whole," said Phyllis Kaminski, professor of Religious Studies and coordinator of Women's Studies at Saint Mary's.
Since then, not much planning comes out of that little room nor do students from all groups of campus use the space. Over the years the Women's Center has even developed a stigma — a stigma that goes contrary to everything Lynch and Jurgenson envisioned in their proposal.
"It is unfair that it has gotten the stigma because the Women's Center could be so much more," said Jami Newcomb, a member of the Feminist Collective.
The stigma led to only gender-specific groups using the space — something its organizers wanted to avoid.
"The only groups using the space were CARE [Campus Alliance for Rape Elimination] and Feminist Collective and other students didn't know it was for any other group," said Emily Welsh, a freshman member of the Women's Resource Center Community Leadership Team [CoLT].
In the seven years the room has been available, many students have thought of the women's center as a space only for specific organizations. No longer do people see the center speaking to the issues of all women, but rather speaking to the issues of lesbian, feminist, and radical students on campus. Although the room does house meetings of the Feminist Collective and Peacemakers, those that use the room see the room representing more than just a stigma that may or may not be valid.
In the center's re-opening today, those students with a vested interest in its future hope the "more" that the center has to offer will get other students involved. They hope that with a fresh coat of paint, revived furniture and a little dusting, other students will see that the Women's Center is open to all women from every part of campus life.
A sign of that mission will be represented in a painted mural of two goddesses in the re-opened Center.
"The remodeling will be empowering with a mural painted with different shades of bodies. It will provide a safe and empowering space for women on campus," said Marueen Capillo, a member of Peacemakers.
The Center in the past has served as the launchpad for such events as Take Back the Night, Take Back the Woods, and Week without Violence — all events that strive to unite not only the Saint Mary's community, but also unite with other community women organizations such as the YWCA, said Susan Alexander, a former coordinator for the Women's Center.
However some students still see strides that need to be taken to fully make Lynch and Jurgenson's vision a reality. Student groups, like the newly formed CoLT not only want to make the space more viable for students but also more educational. They want to provide students with updated information in the form of health pamphlets on everything from AIDS to birth control, Welsh said.
Organizers hope the re-opening will stand as a way to open dialogue between other organizations such as Multicultural Affairs, Health Services, and other student groups, and facilitate a wider campus dialogue, said Welsh.
"I hope to it will be able to work hand in hand with other organizations to bring in speakers on women's issues," said Welsh.
All News Stories for Friday, March 30, 2001