In 1992, Franklin & Marshall College opened the Alice Drum Women’s Center in a little-used pottery studio in the basement of the Steinman College Center, as a space for dialogue and feminist programming.
On March 29, supporters of the Women's Center celebrated 25 years of activism at F&M in a new space, which they share with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance on the second floor of the College Center.
“The new space wasn't given to this group — they earned it with their inclusiveness, concern for local and global issues, good programming, and cooperation with academic departments,” said the Women's Center's founder, Alice Drum, vice president of the College emerita and English professor emerita.
At Thursday’s event, Chelsea Reimann, interim director of the Women's Center, introduced a series of toasts starting with Maura Condon Umble ’83, director of parent relations and campaign initiatives. Umble was the first to head the center in 1993.
“She was the perfect director: calm, smart, committed, and fair. The early Women's Center became known as a place for discussion, dissent, and civility,” said Drum of Umble. “[The center] was a safe place and attracted many participants, including female and male students, and faculty.”
Judy Pehrson, another former center director, toasted, “My six years convinced me that not only were the kids all right, they were out front working to make change.”
Other former directors include Barbara Verrier, Beth Graybill, Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland and interim directors Marci Nelligan, Marion Coleman, and Kerry Sherin Wright.
Further toasts were given by Maria Mitchell, professor of history and chair of the the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, Karolina Heleno, a senior from New York on the center's student board, President Daniel R. Porterfield, Sue Washburn ’73, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, and Drum herself.
“I am proud of that spirit of civility and the culture of cooperation that has dominated the center,” Drum said. “I value the increasing inclusiveness of the group and the center's willingness to take on difficult issues. And I love the optimism I see among the students, and the joy they find in working together.”
Today the Women's Center has 18 members on the student board. They help plan and execute on-campus programming centered on equality and equity, and on the issues women face on campus and in the world. This year’s discussions are focused on consent education, the #MeToo movement, and how to practice intersectional feminism.
“We are still committed to the center’s original goals: commitment to equality and equity for women on campus and in the community and a push for a future free from sexism,” Reimann said. “Additionally, today the goals of the center highlight our fierce commitment to intersectionality because we believe that all oppression is related. Today, the [center] strives for a future free from sexism, yes, but also a future free from racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism as well.”
“The students on the board work as liaisons to other clubs and groups on campus to raise awareness on these issues and enable change through direct action and community engagement,” Reimann said.
Every April, the Women's Center hosts Take Back the Night, an international march and rally that originated as a way to protest the violence women experience while walking in public at night. This year’s event will feature Chicana poet and activist Rachel McKibbens at 7 p.m., April 11, in Mayser Gymnasium. A march and speak-out will follow the performance.
For Common Hour on April 12, Women's Center-sponsored Lisa Wade will speak on “The New Culture of Sex on Campus." The event starts at 11:30 a.m. in Mayser Gymnasium.
“This is a time that we need each other more than ever before, a time for us to reach out and wrap up and bring close and to celebrate our time together every single day,” Washburn said.
Student board member Heleno said, “I hope the ADWC continues to be a space for learning and self-actualization. We are all responsible for the lived realities of those around us."