On Sunday, Feb. 10, Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution supporting the establishment of a larger, more centralized Campus Life Women’s Center. The resolution maintains that the new center must meet the “needs and functions of an empowering and supportive place for students, faculty and staff around issues of gender.”
The resolution was presented by VP for Operations Deb Steinberg ’14 and Sitara Mahtani ’14, members on a subcommittee of the Student Advisory Board to the Women’s Center dedicated to proposing a better space. “Expanding the Women’s Center’s space is a central goal of the Women’s Center staff and the Women’s Center Student Advisory Board,” wrote Assistant Director of Campus Life/LGBTQ and Gender Resources Judy Jarvis ’07 in an emailed statement. According to its official description, the Women’s Center Advisory Board acts as a “think tank and advisor to the Women’s Center staff, with the goals of expanding the Center’s capacity, increasing its visibility and furthering its mission.” The group is composed of four Women’s Center interns, female-identified student leaders, Jarvis, and Assistant Professor of English Molly McGlennen.
The physical space of the current Women’s Center is a major reason for this proposal. “The current space is grossly ineffective for fulfilling the Women’s Center mission,” wrote Mahtani in an emailed statement. “For instance, the space is not large enough for student interns to hold their office hours; also, Strong is not accessible and we want to be open to people of all abilities.”
The resolution states plainly that compared to the sizes of the LGBTQ Center, the ALANA Center, and the Bayit, the Women’s Center is small. The former three spaces measure 542 square feet, 3,110 square feet, and 3,666 square feet respectively. “In its current form–measuring just 125 feet, which fits four people comfortably–the Women’s Center is not able to provide the functions that students need,” wrote Jarvis in an emailed statement. “The Women’s Center was established in 1978 by students who felt the need for a space that explicitly empowers women, that they could use as a lounge, meeting space and event space. Thirty-five years later, students have voiced to me that they still need a space like this, for many of the same reasons.”
During the presentation on Sunday, Steinberg noted that the women centers at peer institutions, such as Bowdoin College, Brown University, Haverford College, Middlebury College and Swarthmore College, were substantially larger than the Women’s Center at Vassar. “We had them there [on the resolution] partially for size comparisons,” she explained. “Some of them have their own house kind of like we have the Bayit… Just the fact that they have that much space is something we like, and we want to be able to have that much space as well.”
During the meeting, Lathrop House President Sophia Wallach ’15 asked about the proposed physical locations for a new Women’s Center. Steinberg mentioned repurposing conference rooms in Main Building.
“We use conference rooms for different meetings,” said Steinberg. “A lot of them are used by organizations, and female-identified individuals and organizations are also looking for meeting spaces. That could be one of the uses of the Women’s Center… Ideally, it wouldn’t be taking away a function that it already has…it would just be more deliberately for female-identified organizations.”
However, she cautions that this idea is simply being discussed and may not amount to anything. “We don’t have a concrete proposal, because we don’t know what spaces are available to us,” said Steinberg. “We haven’t met with administration yet, other than [Jarvis], so we don’t have any concrete plans yet. We’re meeting in the next couple of weeks with [Dean of the College Christopher Roellke] and other administrators, so hopefully, we can come up with a more concrete plan.”
The adoption of this resolution gives the members of the Women’s Center Student Advisory Board hope that a better space will found soon. “I’m very excited about the unanimous passing of this resolution, because it demonstrates that our elected VSA representatives sincerely care about improving awareness of gender issues on campus,” wrote Mahtani in an emailed statement. “Our next step will be to meet with the administration sometime in the next few weeks to discuss existing spaces that might be appropriate.”
Jarvis echoed Mahtani’s sentiments and the need for further discussion with other College administrators. “Dean Roellke and [Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity] Pittman have been supportive of the effort to move the Women’s Center to a larger and more centralized space, and the next step is to partner with them both to see what creative solutions we can come up with.”
The subcommittee hopes to have a proposal ready to present at the next Board of Trustees meeting in March.