Women Rock! (Men Can Too)
Women’s Resource Center fundraiser tonight: all welcome
In the video above, watch Allison Francis perform Neutral Milk Hotel’s "Two-Headed Boy." Watch more here. Video by Alan Wong. Photo by Rachel Richmond
Last week’s election for an art gallery coordinator drew a crowd at the Women’s Resource Center. Two candidates shared a loveseat in the packed room, while a third sat on the coffee table—her face and voice projected on a laptop via Skype.
Virtual candidate Rachel Peery Sloan (CFA’12) is completing a study abroad program in Venice, but that didn’t stop her from going for a spot on the 15-member board. And it didn’t stop her from winning.
Watching the scene, it’s hard to believe that University women once struggled to persuade administrators of the center’s worth. The comfortable and quirky space on the lower level of the George Sherman Union is a hub of activity, a place for students to find resources on things ranging from contraception to sexual assault, to visit crisis counselors, catch a lively debate, or just hang out in its overstuffed chairs and enjoy free bagel Fridays.
The center celebrates women—through words, actions, and art. But it’s more than a safe space for them; it’s a spot open to all students regardless of gender, creed, or color.
“Being a feminist to me means being pro-person, antiracist, antioppression, anticapitalist,” says WRC codirector Ariana Katz (CGS’10, CAS’12). “Being feminist means I recognize gender in all the ways it is presented, and respect all sexual orientations.”
These women (and some men) are eager to be seen and heard. They attended a Boston City Council hearing last week about sexual assault on college campuses and supported one of their members who testified. They were vocal participants at last Saturday’s Take Back the Night rally, which advocates against sexual assault and violence. And at 5:30p.m. today, the center will host its annual fundraiser—Women Rock!—with featured artist Jenny Owen Youngs. Proceeds will help rebuild Haitian schools for girls through the nonprofit Concern Worldwide.
“We run more programs than any student organization on campus,” says Sarah Merriman (CAS’12), the center’s student health liaison. Those include art gallery openings, film screenings, and conversations on such topics as male feminism and body image, bullying and birthing.
The rest of the University has taken notice. The WRC recently swept the Student Activities Office’s Excellence in Student Activities, taking the prize for Student Group of the Year, among other honors.
Not bad for a group with a nonexistent budget. Books are donated to the center’s library. Chairs, tables, and bookcases are also hand-me-downs.
“That’s how we roll,” Katz says with a quick quip. “Cheap and free is feminist.”
The center is completely volunteer-run, with a rotating crew of about 25 students staffing the center weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each undergoes first responder training from the Boston Area Rape CrisisCenter (BARCC) and can direct students to sexual assault resources.
“I don’t know any other Women’s Centers that are completely run by undergraduate volunteers,” says Meghan Shalvoy, a national campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation. Typically, such centers are staffed by full- or part-time employees or paid student workers.
BU’s first center dates back to 1972, when it was a tiny corner room in the GSU basement with “a small library of hard-to-find and out-of-print books by and about women,” according to former member Mackie Welch (CAS’09), who researched its history.
Tinker Ready, a College of Communication adjunct professor in the writing program, was an early center member as an undergraduate, from 1976 to 1978. She says it was “unfashionable to be a feminist” in those pre-Reagan years, and the University administration was less than welcoming. For Ready and other women, the center was a refuge.
“You needed a place to go where you could bitch about a professor staring at your boobs,” Ready says. “In a lot of ways, it was just a place to hang out, a place where these issues were relevant. You could get energized to go back out into the world.”
Ready says the center fought with the University over funding projects like the Yellow Pages, a women’s resource book she helped produce that was censored by the administration. Activism in general, she says, was not held in high regard.
Deborah Swedberg (CAS’79), a lecturer in the College of Arts & Sciences Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, remembers what the center’s presence meant to women who were sexually assaulted on campus. “That little room was a safe space where they could go and feel that they could talk about anything,” she says.
The center remained active throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but membership took a dip shortly after the turn of the century. Welch thinks younger women entering BU didn’t want to label themselves as feminists, as if it were the new “F” word.
After Welch arrived in 2005, she and other students in VOX, or Voicesfor Choice, pushed for a revitalized Women’s Resource Center and lobbied for a larger, permanent home. Their work finally paid off two years ago.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was that the Women’s Resource Center started up again,” Ready says. “You still need that, you still need that support in the world.”
And today’s women would argue that “you” applies to everyone—men and women, straight and homosexual.
“Everyone needs to be here,” Merriman says.
Katz agrees: “All the time.”
Women Rock! the Women’s Resource Center annual fundraiser, will takeplace tonight at 5:30 p.m. at BU Central, in the George Sherman Union,775 Commonwealth Ave. A $7 donation is suggested. All proceeds will goto Concern Worldwide, a nonprofit that rebuilds schools for girls inHaiti.