The Center for Gender Equity is one of the offices underneath the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, which was created in February 2017. The Center for Gender Equity provides a dynamic space for meetings, project planning and conversations among the Lehigh community. (Olivia Howell/B&W Staff)

The Center for Gender Equity advocates for marginalized communities

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The Center for Gender Equity provides resources to the campus community through programming, events and advocacy, with the help of other offices.

The Center for Gender Equity is one of the offices underneath the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, which was created in February 2017. The office is committed to working toward a diverse and inclusive campus. 

The Center for Gender Equity has undergone structural and project-based changes over the last decade.

Center for Gender Equity director Dr. Rita Jones said one of the biggest changes was the renaming of the center from the Women’s Center to the Center for Gender Equity. She said the new name more accurately reflects the work that’s been done over the last few years, which focuses on multiple genders, rather than just two genders.

The center has also put more focus into gender-based violence education and support, and it has moved from Student Affairs to the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. Jones said the move enabled the center to do more gender equity work across campus with undergraduates, staff, faculty and graduate students.

Jones said she’s noticed significant growth in both the number of students who are interested in joining the staff and the diverse topics discussed among the staff.

“I think that there’s been a positive increase in the kinds of topics that our student staff wants to engage in across campus, and those would include pay equity and the wage gap, as well as doing more work around masculinity and non-binary identities,” Jones said.

“Be Your Own,” a concept that combines art and activism, is one of the biggest student initiatives that allows the campus community to imagine what it’s capable of becoming, Jones said.

The center also has long-term collaboration with the Panhellenic community.

“That is a collaboration and some work that doesn’t happen nationally at other women and gender centers,” Jones said. “I think that Lehigh is far and beyond above what happens elsewhere on campuses, and I found that to be very positive.”

Based on feedback from consulting workshops and conversations at weekly council meetings, Jones said she believes many Panhellenic chapters find the collaboration helpful.

Jones heads a working group focused on developing Lehigh as a lactation-friendly campus. She is helping to document the locations of lactation rooms on campus, educate people on how to access the resource and advertise so everyone can easily find the resources they need.

The Center for Gender Equity also consistently works with the Pride Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“We try to find ways to intentionally connect our student staff together, so that they are coming up with projects and ideas that engage one or both of the other centers,” Jones said. “I don’t think that inclusion can happen without multiple perspectives. Someone may come up with a really good idea, but if they only workshop that with people who are in their functional area or go-to group, they’re of course going to miss something.”

Clara Buie, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said the Center for Gender Equity, Pride Center, and Office of Multicultural Affairs work together to provide intentional and meaningful programming and resources. 

“When we talk about advocacy and support, we have to think about the folks in our community that are coming from marginalized or underrepresented communities, that really need to have a space that can help elevate their voices and help provide support and resources,” Buie said. “As individuals, we carry so many identities, and we can work collaboratively together to bring programs to campus that are intentional and intersectional.”

Dana Teach, ‘20, a student staff member for the Center for Gender Equity, urges people to explore different aspects of this campus to create a more supportive community.

 Whether it be a Center for Gender Equity event or another campus event, Teach believes attending them is the best way to create a more supportive and inclusive community. 

“Challenge yourself to go to one event per month that is outside anything that you are already involved in,” Teach said. “That is a way to help yourself explore different aspects of what our campus offers. But, that is also a new face at an event that the people running it don’t usually see. It is really reassuring for the people putting on the event to see that people on campus care.”

Teach said the Center for Gender Equity has been a consistent and supportive community during her four years at Lehigh. 

“We have grown a lot,” Teach said. “We are more cohesive as staff, and our name is getting out there more. We are looking towards the future. We are going to hire a new associate director soon, and I am just excited to see what this center can do in the future.”

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2 Comments

  1. My big fear with the formation of these organizations, whether on campus or off, is that the more diverse we become as a society, the more it feeds identity politics and polarization. College campuses are hotbeds of intolerance today where free speech is often under attack.

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