Women’s Center celebrates 25th anniversary

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The Roemmele Global Commons in Williams Hall was filled with laughter as the Women’s Center celebrated its 25th birthday March 29. Students, professors and faculty enjoyed chicken fingers and cupcakes as speakers highlighted history and notable contributions by the Women’s Center and the individuals involved with it.

The event kicked off with a video made by students who work in the Women’s Center. They spoke about why they decided to join and what the center provides for the Lehigh community.

John Smeaton, vice provost of Student Affairs, gave a brief history of the center. He recounted when it moved under Student Affairs, stating that it would be in a visible space inside of the University Center with a full-time director and a safe environment.

Smeaton didn’t want the Women’s Center to be a space for victimization, but rather for safety and advancement.

Makima Wilkinson, ’16; Katie MacLachlan, ’16; and Tanairy Ortiz, ’19, all discussed how the Women’s Center has had an impact on their personal growth and their formation of worthwhile friendships.

“Having the safe space simply to speak about important issues with everyone is one of the most important aspects of the Women’s Center,” MacLachlan said.

Having the space without the pressure to have to accomplish something is an aspect that MacLachlan appreciates about the center. She has been president of the Feminist Alliance, which runs out of the Women’s Center, for the past two years.

President John Simon closed the ceremony with five quotes from students to signal the impact of the Women’s Center to the Lehigh’s community. They all showed how the engaging programming, the welcoming space and a committed staff create a caring environment for all students.

“It’s a place to feel at home,” Simon said, quoting students when he closed the ceremony.

The Women’s Center was created in 1991 when President Peter Likins determined the need based on study done on women and minority groups at Lehigh. The center was placed in Johnson Hall and also acted as a child care center where many volunteered their time to assist in its success.

Twenty-five years later, under the guidance of director Rita Jones, the Women’s Center has flourished, offering numerous programs such as Gender in a Global Context and Feminist Fridays. Collaborative events with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program and the Office of Multicultural Affairs have brought Loretta Ross and “Of Mothers and Men” to campus.

“Encouraging and creating the visibility of the Women’s Center was where it was when I first got here,” Jones said. They are still solidifying the program and finding collaborators and connections.

Today, issues such as eating disorders and women in politics can be talked about more in-depth through programming.

Jones hopes that more men become more involved with the Women’s Center, as she is looking for ways for them to feel more comfortable entering it.

MacLachlan hopes that more work on body positivity, sex positivity and how to respond to discriminatory actions will take place in the future. She would also like more students and organizations to get involved in further expanding the dialogue across campus.

“We have a good community feel,” Jones said. “We offer a space for people who are still looking for their place, especially with working with so many offices.”

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