Women’s Centers On Our Campuses

May 20, 2005

Saint Joseph’s University


Representatives of the Greater Philadelphia Women’s Studies Consortium met to discuss the status of women’s centers on our various campuses.  Some had long histories of very successful centers, others were in operation and struggling, some have never had a women’s center on campus. 

Those in attendance included faculty, staff, and students.  We had a rich and wide-ranging discussion that we see as just the beginning of an extended and helpful conversation.

Workshop discussions were led by:
Nancy Cantalupo, former Director Georgetown University Women’s Center
Kristin Handler, Director Lehigh University Women’s Center
Robin Garrett, Director West Chester University Women’s Center
Ellie DiLapi, Director University of Pennsylvania Women’s Center

At the outset we learned that most of us are struggling with the status of the women’s centers on our campuses.  In brief, the main problems included:

Nancy Cantalupo, our first presenter, focused on developing and sustaining a center.  Among many innovative tactics she spoke about a course that encouraged narrative construction.  Narratives that clarified student concerns about lack of support for women on campus were read publicly and submitted to the Dean of Students who then advocated for budgeting.  Another course asked for narratives from resident advisors that highlighted campus issues affecting women that had received scant, if any, attention.

Nancy felt is was important to garner faculty support, particularly from tenured faculty, administrators, and students for a successful initiative to develop a center and for on-going assistance.  Directors must be firm in stating needs. Visibility is important. Tables can be set up at student orientation.  Let people know you are there and what your needs are.  A program can fail without such support.

Centers should consider housing a sexual assault counselor as a second position in the office.

Backlash can be expected from alumni.  To counter it seek support from women graduates by developing a board or steering committee.

Finally, institutionalize the center in every way possible.

When Kristen Handler first started her job at Lehigh she focused on child care and sexual assault awareness.  She feels it is essential to use focus groups and compile data to support the program and to be able to address measurable outcomes. Know the ethos of the institution and seek to transform it in ways that satisfy the university’s mission statement.  Convince the administration that the services of the center are valuable to them.  Know where to place social, structural and institutional issues.

Kristen feels strongly that Women’s Centers do not belong in counseling. It is important to disconnect women’s issues from pathology. 

Sexual assault prevention involves both men and women and campuses often see the value of the programs.

The director must have a vision.  Centers can change the climate on a campus.

Develop the space carefully.  Room is needed for private consultation as well as meeting and browsing space.

A good program is structurally strong and should not depend on particular dedicated people.  Find co-sponsors across the campus.

Robin Garrett feels that Women’s Centers must stay visible.  Make the center a place where connections are made and forged.  Know how to use your resources. Pay attention to campus events.

The location of the center in the administrative chart is important.  Who does a director answer to?  This can be tricky because a good enter is an academic place as well as a student center.  Work to position your program where your needs are best served.

Ellie DiLapi explained that Penn’s women’s center began as a rape crisis center but evolved into a place that coordinated a variety of activities.

Women’s Studies and Women’s Centers must work together.  The Women’s Advancement funding from NSF needs an academic component. 

Contact your alumnae base.  Develop a feminist alumnae network.  Use alumnae for fund raising.

When writing grants use the language of the request for funds form.