Women’s Center reaches out

The Women’s Center used Tuesday’s open meeting in part to launch five new working groups that will focus on various projects.
The Women’s Center used Tuesday’s open meeting in part to launch five new working groups that will focus on various projects. Photo by Christopher Peak.

The Women’s Center held its first-ever open forum Tuesday night, which kicked off an initiative to find more ways to get students involved with the Center and engage a larger portion of campus on issues of gender and sexuality.

Students at the meeting, which about 50 people attended, discussed their vision for the Women’s Center and proposed projects they want the center to work on, while the Women’s Center board launched five new working groups to focus on various projects.

In the past the only way to be actively involved in the center was to be a board member or paid staffer, board members said. But the working groups will allow students to contribute to the center without making a large time commitment. There will be open forums on a fairly regular basis to make the center more accessible, board members added.

Since last year, public relations coordinator Sally Walstrom ’12 said, the Women’s Center has been collaborating with groups with which it had not historically worked.

“As we work on feminist issues, we feel our activism is more effective when it brings in the views and experiences of many women on campus,” Walstrom said. “This is the way we affect real change on campus.”

Last year, the Women’s Center held a forum at Toad’s Place on sex at Yale. And earlier this month, the Women’s Center and Pi Phi co-sponsored a dance at Toad’s to raise money for the TAKE foundation, which provides training against sexual assault. There are also plans for the center to host an event with the Yale College Democrats about women in politics; a joint discussion with Sigma Phi Epsilon about sexual violence; and a self-defense workshop with Pi Phi.

“[We] feel that by working together, we can reach a wider audience,” Sigma Phi Epsilon president Jim Berry ’12 said. “It is an issue that both organizations care about and an issue that we think the Yale community can rally around.”

The Women’s Center’s new focus on welcoming all members of the Yale community goes beyond outreach, said political action coordinator Natalia Thompson ’13. She said the fact that the Center held discussions to respond to the “pre-season scouting report” released last year, which ranked the appearances of freshman girls, rather than staging protests or threatening a lawsuit, is indicative of the change. In 2008, pledges of the Zeta Psi fraternity posed in front of the Women’s Center holding a sign that read “We Love Yale Sluts.” The Women’s Center e-mailed the student body after the photo was posted to Facebook threatening to sue for sexual harassment, but eventually decided against a lawsuit.

However, Thompson emphasized that the Center is not compromising its message or changing its strategy in order to become more popular.

She said one of the main goals for the Center this year is to make it “a Center for all women, whether or not they identify as feminists.”

Business coordinator Elizabeth Deutsch ’11, as well as other board members interviewed, said they think outreach is important because issues of sexual culture and sexual violence are relevant to the whole campus, not just those actively involved in the Women’s Center. Sexual culture, Thompson said, includes “the norms and beliefs that define sexuality and sexual interactions at Yale.”

“Women should be able to go out and have fun and not worry about getting disrespected or being in danger, and men should be able to go out and not worry about not being able to get girls without being aggressive and acting in ways they might be uncomfortable with,” Walstrom said.

This year, board members said, they have identified five areas for the Women’s Center and the working groups to focus on: New Haven outreach, freshman guidance and outreach, creating a community of women on campus, addressing issues of women’s health and working on Yale’s sexual culture.

Five students interviewed at the meeting, including Rachel Milewicz ’13, said they think increasing outreach was an important goal for the Center.

“I think the Women’s Center needs expansion, it needs to be easier for students to be involved,” she said, adding that the Center is “taking steps in the right direction.”

Rick Herron ’13 said he had never been inside the Women’s Center until the event Tuesday. He said that while he initially felt a little uneasy coming in, he thought he had a lot to contribute and was impressed by the wide array of work the Center does, which he thinks is relevant to both men and women.

The Women’s Center also has affiliated “residence groups,” student organizations independent from the center, that work on issues related to gender and sexuality, which will to help address the issues the Women’s Center is working on this year.

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