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Women's Center Celebrates 10 Years

By Ioana Patringenaru | May 15, 2006

Women's Center Celebrates 10 Years
Women at UCSD make up:
67 percent of professional and support staff
52 percent of undergraduate students
47 percent of management and senior professional staff
41 percent of graduate students
31 percent of academic staff
22 percent of senior management staff
Sources: Women’s Center and UCSD Student and Research Information

There were poetry readings, commemorative wine glasses, speeches and desserts. Some talked about past struggles and demonstrations. Others talked about the future. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox talked about being a young female chemist seeking employment.

About 100 students, alumni, employees and administrators celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Women’s Center Thursday. The crowd included women of all ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations, some men, children and a 10-week old baby.

“This is a true celebration, not only for the opening of the Women’s Center, but because it’s the 10-year anniversary of the center,” Chancellor Fox said.

Then she turned the clock back to the early 1970s and talked about interviewing for a position at the University of Texas. She was hired, but the vote wasn’t unanimous, she told the audience. A male professor said he wouldn’t hire a woman for the department “over his dead body,” she recalled. Two weeks later, he had a fatal heart attack and Fox got his lab.

Chancellor Fox spoke in front of the Women’s Center brand-new 6,300-square-foot building in the heart of campus, near Mandeville Center. It includes a library with about 3,000 titles, offices, a kitchen, a shower, a special room for nursing moms and several informal meeting spaces. In one corner, 10-year-old couches from the original Women’s Center provide a cozy conversation corner. 

The center will become a model for other universities and will continue working hand in hand with the other community centers on campus, said Women’s Center Director Emelyn dela Pena, who wore a bright red dress and a flower lei.

"The struggle to end racial oppression is feminism," she said.  "The fight against homophobia is feminism.  The search for economic justice is feminism."

The Women’s Center offers a broad range of services, she said in an earlier interview. The library is a really big draw, especially for graduate students, she added. It includes some volumes that can’t be found at the Geisel Library. In addition, the center maintains a database of on-campus and off-campus resources. Topics covered include family law, child care and men’s issues. The center offers a weekly forum about gender issues dubbed “gender buffet.” It also hosts a monthly group for knitting enthusiasts. The center coordinates UCSD’s annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

Dela Pena said she hopes to expand the center’s services in the future. It would be great to keep it open on the weekend and in the evening to attract the community that surrounds the campus, she said. The center also hopes to attract more staff members, said Jessica Chapin-Geipel, special projects coordinator.

“We’re trying to let people know that this isn’t just a place for students,” she said. “It’s a tremendous resource for everyone.”

Men also need to know they’re welcome at the center, Chapin-Geipel said.

“We need allies and you don’t get allies by closing men out,” she said.

Asked about the center’s achievements, Chapin-Geipel and dela Pena said they’re particularly proud of their internship program for students. The interns have tasks to complete. But the center also created a curriculum for them, where they learn about feminism and activism. Eight students took part this year and 10 are set to take part next year. The hope is that students will get more involved in running the center, dela Pena said.

“This has been a huge change and one we’re very excited about,” Chapin-Geipel said.

She has been working at the center for five years. But she also was a regular at the Women’s Center when she was a student a decade ago. Chapin-Geipel was then juggling her roles as the mother of a six-year-old and as a student completing a degree in literature and gender studies. She sometimes took her daughter to campus and stumbled upon the center by accident.  She said she was delighted to find a place on campus that was child-friendly. Staff members would bring juice for her daughter and help her settle in at a kid’s table while Chapin-Geipel studied.

“It made me feel welcomed,” Chapin-Geipel said. “It made me feel like there’s a place for me here.”

It also helped her finish her degree, she said. A year after graduation, she was looking for work when a position opened up at the Women’s Center. “I just couldn’t stay away,” Chapin-Geipel said.

During Thursday’s event, two alumni talked about the fight to get the center opened and serve students like Chapin-Geipel. It included building an invisible Women’s Center made of Plexiglas and PVC pipes on the Sun God Lawn, said Alison De Lucca, who graduated in 1994.

“This work was not easy,” added Leng Caloh, who also graduated in 1994.

It took six years for the Women’s Center to become a reality, after groups on campus pushed for its creation. In 1990, the Women’s Resource Center and the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women both advocated for the creation of a center that would represent the interest of female students, staff and faculty. The university created a Women’s Center planning committee in 1995, after it decided to open the Cross-Cultural Center. Nancy Loevinger became the center’s first director in 1996. The center opened in a bungalow in the University Center area. After that building was torn down, the center moved for about a year to a temporary location near the Gilman parking structure. This spring, it moved again, this time to its new permanent digs.

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