Women’s and Gender Center Renews Presence
Issue   |   Wed, 10/09/2013 - 02:28

When the College became coeducational in 1975, women immediately sought to make their presence known on campus. As per research conducted under the Provost’s Office by Tania Dias ’13, women began organizing for the creation of a women’s center within a few weeks of arriving at Amherst. But, 38 years later, female students still struggle to make their voices heard. Last school year unearthed a messy administrative policy concerning the handling of sexual assault, a trauma experienced by 1 in 4 college women. Currently, only one third of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) is comprised of women, and it was only in the mid-2000s that the College began achieving a student body with gender parity. This academic year, the newly-named and newly-positioned Women’s and Gender Studies Center (WGC) is steering the College toward a more inclusive and interactive future.

Like the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), the WGC recently underwent a complete makeover. Last semester (specifically, in March), the Center was relocated from the basement to the first floor within Keefe Campus Center. Correspondingly, its name was changed, as it was originally called the Women’s Center.

The name change caused divide among the student body. Some claimed the old name would restrict the center’s purpose to women. The more popular alternative name was Gender Center. In the end, both names were combined to form the current “Women’s and Gender Studies” designation.

Gender Justice Collective Chair Gina Faldetta ’16 said, “I don’t disagree with the name. I appreciate the focus on women that the space provides. Some people might say it’s divisive and alienating, but the truth of the matter is ours is a very masculine school, and there are extremely few spaces designed with women in mind.”

Student activism inarguably played a tremendous role in the WGC’s flowering. This past spring, a group of student leaders (namely, Salena Budinger ’15, Dana Bolger ’14E , Sonum Dixit ’13, Kinjal Patel ’13, Larissa Davis ’13, Abigail Bereola ’15, Paula Escobar ’13, Ruodi Duan ’14, Chelsea Michta ’13, and Nancy Yun Tang ’14) sent a letter to President Biddy Martin outlining their requests for the new women’s center. These included a connection but not a strict affiliation with the Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies (SWAGS) department, an acceptance of substantial student input and involvement, a reasonable budget, and the hiring of a full-time director. Until this school year, the WGC had never had a subscribed budget and had always been student-run. In fact, it had never been an autonomous body, serving solely as a support system for gender-relevant student organizations. When these student organizations wanted to hold events through the WGC, they requested funding from the AAS. Now, however, the College has given the WGC a budget of $20,000, excluding staff salary. Additionally, the Center has found a full-time director in Danielle Hussey, who had previously been working with Residential Life as an Area Coordinator.

The WGC’s new location and full-time director are considered milestones in its development.

Liya Rechtman ’14, who was strongly involved in last school year’s initiative to change the WGC, elaborated.

“When we were reviewing changes that the school needed to go through to live up to the Title IX best standards of practice and to make the campus culture more gender-equal/aware, I spoke at an open forum held by President Martin and asked for funding for a full-time gender center advisor and a relocation of the women’s center itself. When I spoke to the trustees along with several other Amherst students, we re-iterated that funding needed to be put aside for a person in that position and for renovations to the campus center. I am a member of the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee, and in our review of campus culture and climate, we recommended the same things. So, I advocated for a new women’s center over the past year and I am incredibly excited that we now have a beautiful women’s center and Danielle as the center director,” Rechtman said.

Hussey is, however, an interim director. The directors of the Queer Resource Center (QRC) and MRC are also temporary.

“As I understand it, the WGC, MRC and QRC have interim directors because there was a need to provide staff support in these areas as soon as possible. Students were clear that this need was urgent and, through their advocacy, were able to convince the senior staff to take action. A national search can take many weeks to complete, and there were well-qualified staff members at Amherst who were able to take on these roles so that the centers could open in time for the fall semester,” Hussey said. “I was excited to take on this role, as I did my graduate work in Gender and Social Policy and have experience in student affairs and program management. Similarly, Mariana Cruz [MRC director] and Angie Tissi [QRC director] have academic credentials and years of professional experience that make them well-suited for their roles. The current strategic planning process will help determine the future of the three resource centers, including plans for permanent staff, organization and budgets.”

Hussey began working towards the development of the WGC last semester. Along with CCE Director Molly Mead, she oversaw the Sexual Respect Taskforce and worked with Dean Charri Boykin-East to push the need for a WGC director into the administrative spotlight. Hussey cited the Provost’s Office (to which the WGC, QRC and MRC answer) and Dean of Students Office as significant supporters in the move to redefine the WGC.

During the summer months, Hussey worked with the Gender and Sexuality Network (GSN), a coalition of student leaders from Gender Justice Collective, Women of Amherst, Amherst Women’s Network, The Men’s Project, The Pride Alliance, It Happens Here, AC Voice and the Student Health Educators. GSN members helped assess the mission statements and goals of other collegiate women’s centers. Hussey then proceeded to travel to other schools (among them Tufts Univ., Vassar College, Harvard Univ., and Brown Univ.) to speak with their women’s centers and their staff. From the information gathered, Hussey and GSN members were able to lay out a framework for the WGC.

In addition to Hussey, the WGC staffs Outreach Student Coordinator Allyson Leach ’14 and Programming Student Coordinator Grace Brotsker ’16. A third student position is expected to be created, particularly one that focuses on the academic facet of gender studies.

The WGC’s regular programming includes weekly coffee hours wherein students can chat with WGC staff over coffee and snacks. This week, a new event, Grab & Go “Purple Bag” Lunch, was introduced. Students are invited to bring their Grab & Go into the WGC to have an informal conversation with a chosen faculty member. Students have the capability of recommending any faculty member. The WGC’s major, upcoming events include a lecture on Oct. 17 by Smith College professor Lokeilani Kaimana entitled "Looking for Jiro: Cinema as Experiments in Queer Intersectional Praxis" which will focus on performance artist Tina Takemoto's video, Looking for Jiro and a workshop and performance on Oct. 25 by Janani Balasubramanian, one of the editors of Black Girl Dangerous. A presentation by the editors of Feministing is also projected to occur in the near future.

In terms of what type of influence she wants the WGC to have, Hussey shared, “My hope is that the center will foster a curricular awareness of gender and create a space to talk about gender … There are issues specific to women that need attention on our campus. There’s a history of marginalization. First, it occurred when women were not allowed to attend Amherst and then it happened when they were admitted. I don’t think we’ve fully resolved that which is why I think the name expresses the effort to specifically reach out to women. That being said, work around gender and campus culture can’t happen in the context of only some members of the community. We need to engage everyone and that’s men, women, everyone.”

The WGC is open on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Regular evening hours will soon be implemented by the two student coordinators. Updates on the WGC’s programming and overall status can be found on their Facebook page (facebook.com/ACWGC) and their Twitter (@AmherstWGC). A WGC website is forthcoming.

women. That being said, work around gender and campus culture can’t happen in the context of only some members of the community. We need to engage everyone and that’s men, women, everyone.”

The WGC is open on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Regular evening hours will soon be implemented by the two student coordinators. Updates on the WGC’s programming and overall status can be found on their Facebook page (facebook.com/ACWGC) and their Twitter (@AmherstWGC). A WGC website is forthcoming.

Anchor
Comments
No comments. Be the first?

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.