By Alysse Vaccaro '11
Although F&M celebrated 40 years of coeducation in 2009, when women first came to campus there was not a place to gather and discuss current events and issues of interest, or even a place to call their own. In 1969, all the bathrooms still had urinals, women faculty were severely underrepresented and each woman forged her own way and often felt stronger because of her time at F&M. By the time the Women’s Center was founded in 1992, women were integrated into life on campus, benefited in terms of extracurricular sports and activities from Title IX, and attended the college in almost equal numbers to men. Why is it that a Women’s Center was necessary?
Quite simply, the reasons the Women's Center was established 20 years ago still exist today. These issues were the topic of the first discussion of this semester: Women are still paid less than men even when life choices and type of job are the same; domestic violence and sexual assault occur frequently and women are often blamed: and women’s basic rights are being fought for everyday in the United States and internationally. Finally, until stereotypical gender roles and unrealistic body images are no longer perpetuated by the media, men and women have the same roles in society, and girls and boys can play with the same toys, the Women’s Center will still be necessary. The Women’s Center was formed to support women and develop women’s leadership. Today, it is a hub of leadership and provides support for many student organizations and programming, such as:
· The International Women’s Outreach Committee (IWOC), which raised funds on campus to build a school in Cambodia to give girls and boys equal access to education.
· VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, which attempts to slow the growing amount of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies by distributing free condoms and information about safe sex.
· S.A.V.E.: Sexual Assault and Violence Education, which educates the community about healthy relationships and holds the annual "Take Back the Night" event in support of victims of sexual assault and violence.
For me, it’s hard to imagine F&M without the Women’s Center and affiliated organizations. I was an executive board member and spent a lot of time in the basement of the Steinman College Center planning events, talking to friends, and discussing current events with professional staff and faculty. Without the Women’s Center, I would not be pursing my current career path. When I came to F&M, I wanted to do well and eventually become a lawyer. I can honestly say that when I enrolled at F&M, I was not searching for my passion or how I would contribute to the world, but that is what I found. Through my professors at F&M, I learned to love learning and became an active member of the campus community. I was urged to join the Women’s Center by a professor and found something I truly loved: engaging community members and helping people. I volunteered and spent time planning events like "Take Back the Night," where people who are affected by sexual violence are empowered. When my senior year came, I didn’t want to leave F&M. I had found what I loved doing—learning and engaging in the work I did with the Women’s Center—and I had no idea how I would continue to do those things after I graduated. Fortunately, through searching for jobs that interested me, I realized that I wanted to combine what I learned in my American studies and women's and gender studies courses at F&M, and the event planning and activism I did through the Women’s Center, and get an advanced degree in nonprofit management. Without the Women’s Center, I would not have had experience event planning and confidence that helped me land my first internship within weeks of getting to New York City.
The Women’s Center is known for weekly discussions on Friday at noon that have occurred since its inception. Every week the Women’s Center puts out fliers around campus with the week’s discussion topic. Free bagels are the draw for very few—most come to hear a wide variety of opinions from Lancaster community members, students, professors, the College chaplain and professional staff. When possible, expert guests are invited to share an opinion or teach the group something new. The Women’s Center encourages student leadership, by allowing student executive board members to pick the discussion topics that interest them, research the topic fully, plan questions for the group and facilitate the discussions. Discussions usually include 35-60 members of the F&M community and continue long after attendees have left the Center. Like it has for me, the Women’s Center has enriched the lives of professors, staff and students, and impacted many career paths and opportunities for F&M students by providing leadership skills, project management opportunities, and a critical outlook on current events and popular culture.
In 2008, in honor of Professor Alice Drum’s retirement, the Women’s Center became the Alice Drum Women’s Center to honor F&M's first female vice president, who was instrumental in the founding of the Center in 1992. The Center has become a successful and important organization on campus over the last 20 years, and was even able to bring guests such as Gloria Steinem to campus for a Common Hour appearance in 2011.