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Historical Foundations of the Women's Center at UMBC

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Daniel Willey

on 27 October 2016

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Transcript of Historical Foundations of the Women's Center at UMBC

The Women's Center at UMBC

A look at why we do what we do and how we do it.
A Critical Social Justice research project
by Daniel Willey

"The [continuing education] centers were the precursors to the campus-based women’s centers which emerged in the 1970s. One of the many goals of the CEW centers was to help non-traditional women students (meaning over the age of twenty-five) adjust to campus life. They concentrated primarily on returning women and provided information, education and career counseling for students" -Teri Ann Bengiveno
Founded 1991
Founding Committee Members
Beth Beck
Shelli Chidakel
Maggie McGrane
Angela Moorjani
Leslie Morgan
Janette Robinson
Wendy Salkind
Lisa Voelkel
and co-chairs

Zoya Fansler
Simmona Simmons-Hodo
The founders of the Women's Center had to ask themselves some really big questions:
Who does the center serve?
What services will be provided?
Where will it be located?
Who will run it?
Where will funding be obtained?
It's hard to answer these questions and the answers change over time. They're influenced by national trends, events, and policies and by campus climate, resources, and need.

Advocacy and Activism: Service or Change?
The first campus-based women's centers in the mid 1960's were
generally targeted towards married women who were returning to school.
These Continuing Education for Women centers offered career counseling and space where women students could become integrated to a campus of younger students, most of whom were men.
As they met and organized and built community within these centers, women discovered they shared similar problems. With the rise of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 70's,
new centers focused more on younger women students and were founded as a place of activism and feminist consciousness.
Some CEW centers expanded their services and evolved with newer centers to develop political ideologies and missions while some pushed back against politicization. These centers remained in the private sphere and served women in traditional roles. Today's centers walk a fine line,
balancing the need to provide services for women on campus with the drive to enact change outside the center.
Women's Centers operate in a
precarious space between institutional policies and resources, the needs of women on campus, and feminist activism.

The role of the Women's Center at UMBC has evolved in a similar way, developing a political, feminist ideology
Early Women's Center events and groups are centered around women's health and women's roles at home and on campus. Meetings for mothers, women who are caregivers for elderly or ill family, and women in STEM fields met regularly. Most of the events and workshops centered on topics like breast health, menstruation, and body image.
While archival and founding documents show a clear and purposeful feminist politic, the Center leaned heavily on the side of providing services and less on political activism.

Despite the differences in the founding principles of various women's centers, in a society that trivializes and ignores the needs, ideas, and achievements of women,
the founding of a women's center is a political and often radical act.
Who Do We Serve?
Our Mission
Today, the Women's Center is a
major agent in the changing and creation of institutional policies and campus climate
that affect student populations such as sexual assault survivors, trans and gender non-conforming students, and black students.
Returning Women
LGBTQIA+ Students
Women of Color
“…the Women’s Center will enhance the lives of people…It will be an advocate for women fighting persistent marks of social inequality and prejudice that limit their potential—whether they are students, staff, or faculty…There is no doubt that the Center will play an important role in attracting students to come to UMBC and in improving the quality of their university and subsequent careers…” ​

-Angela Moorjani, Women’s Center Committee member, 1991
When the Women's Center was founded, a space was needed that: ​
was safe​
provided advising, with special attention to returning women students​
offered information on women’s health ​
was a meeting space for women’s groups
Its mission would be to assist women in achieving their full potential in ​
education, work, and personal lives ​
through personal empowerment, ​
academic and intellectual growth, ​
and professional development
The Women’s Center at UMBC advances gender equity ​from an intersectional feminist perspective through ​co-curricular programming, support services, and advocacy ​for marginalized individuals and communities. ​We prioritize critical social justice as our community value, with a ​deliberate focus on women, gender, anti-racism, and feminism.​

All are welcome as long as they respect women. ​
Their experiences. Their stories. Their potential.​
We will encourage authentic dialogues among students, faculty, and staff to facilitate consciousness-raising, transformative learning, and self-determination.​
We will embody our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and social justice in our operation, staffing, and programming.​
We will operate from a holistic and non-hierarchical anti-violence framework.​
We will challenge the barriers that reinforce inequity and oppression impacting our university and broader communities.​
We will cultivate women’s empowerment, involvement, and leadership in all aspects of university life.​
Advance gender equity and an inclusive campus climate​
Support student success and community well-being for women and marginalized people​
Sustain and strengthen social justice education and engagement​
Cultivate a survivor-responsive campus as a means to address sexual violence
The needs of women and other students on campus have changed over time, and the Women's Center has followed suit. Today we meet many of the same needs as we did then, but with an added
emphasis on social justice and anti-racism
Our first mission, 1991
This mission
emphasizes the role of service to women
on campus and the needs of the Center at the time.
Our current mission, 2015
Our current mission
intentionally prioritizes politicized values like critical social justice, anti-racism, and feminism.
Our Leading Priorities
These are the goals to which we hold ourselves accountable. Our leading priorities are
we are trying to do.
Our Guiding Principles
These are the the values and principles of the work we do. Our guiding principles are
we do what we do.
When searching archival material, it is clear that the Center was thinking about women of color around the world. The film series the Center hosted each semester for a number of years often focused on the lives
The Women's Center has always supported LGBTQ students and student organizations on campus, but
we were not always actively involved in movements for change or setting aside intentional space for queer students.
Today, LGBTQIA+ students are some of our most frequent visitors.
We host two bi-weekly groups for queer students and events centered on topics affecting and voices from the LGBTQ community on campus. Many of our professional and student staff identify as queer and are excellent resources for students and faculty/staff alike.
Tracking who uses our space and why is one of the primary ways we collect data about our visitors and what they gain from us. This data is essential when it comes to funding and understanding the space.

Up until about Fall 2011, we tracked visitors by gender. As we grew and understood gender in a more complex way, we realized that
it is not only impossible but awkward to try to visually interpret the genders of the people who come to the center.

In order to be a better ally to transgender students, we eliminated the gender category. The Women's Center is
dedicated to improving its allyship, making an effort to provide space and voice for trans students, faculty, and staff.

In what is likely an early attempt at trans allyship, we tracked transgender students as a separate gender category. October 2004 is the only instance of this.
Trans women have historically been excluded from feminist and women-centered spaces, and this continues today.
Though there is no archival evidence to suggest trans women were excluded from our center or its programs, there is also no evidence to suggest trans women were included either.
Lesbian separatist movements began to pop up within feminist communities around the time that campus-based women's centers were politicizing and catering to younger students. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual women found community among other queer feminists and developed their own spheres of activism. However, campuses and the rest of the world had yet to catch up and
students experienced tension between homophobic institutions, women's spaces, queer spaces, and feminist spaces.
and struggles of women in other cultures and around the world. But, it is also clear that
the center was not prioritizing the lives, works, or voices of women of color on our own campus and our own community.
Our new mission, updated Fall 2015, intentionally includes the word "anti-racism." It was a conscious choice made by students, staff, and the advisory board because
we acknowledge the ways in which women of color are excluded and erased from the history and narratives of feminist activism and because we recognize race and racism as structures of violence.

We hold ourselves accountable to anti-racist work, especially within the Baltimore community, because
race is a pervasive institution in all of our lives whether we know it or not.
We hold space for women of color to build community and heal together, showcase the many talented students on campus, and hold critical discussions on race, anti-blackness, and whiteness in order to
uphold our anti-racist values.

It was difficult to find any academic or archival text mentioning, taking into account, or focusing on black women and women of color in campus-based women's centers. This is certainly not to say that black women and women of color did not engage with these centers or found centers of their own. Rather, it
says much about who wrote the histories, who was included, and whose voices and issues mattered enough to become archives.

In June of 1972, Title IX changed the way campuses handle sexual assault. It hasn't fixed everything and far too many universities (including UMBC) are currently under Title IX investigation regarding the handling of sexual assault cases, but it
laid the groundwork for holding perpetrators and universities accountable for sexual and gender-based violence.
The Women's Center has always been a safe haven and place of support for survivors of sexual violence. Through the Clothesline Project, Take Back The Night, and numerous workshops and presentations,
the Women's Center is a fierce advocate for survivors on campus.
We're Not Done Yet
We are proud of how far we've come and we're excited to see what comes next.

As the needs of marginalzed students change, so must the Women's Center, its programs, and its policies. It is our job to listen to students and create space for their voices, lest we become yet another outdated institution creating obstacles for the groups it is meant to serve.
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