Jonah Lewis: To support advocacy groups, the University needs a women’s center

Everyone knows what happens when you get a group of feminists together in one room: Things get done.

At GW, this is challenging. All of our women’s advocacy groups on campus – the Feminist Student Union, the Alliance of Queer Women and Allies, Students Against Sexual Assault, the National Council of Negro Women, to name a few – are spread across the University and don’t have any one place to gather regularly.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Jay Fondin
GW doesn’t have a women’s center, so we can only imagine what one would look like if it did.

All of these organizations should come under one roof, along with sexual assault resources and mentoring programs, in the form of a women’s center.

The idea is certainly not unprecedented: Out of GW’s 14 peer schools, nine have spaces that function as women’s centers (though some also house LBGT or sexuality-related resources), including Georgetown and Boston universities.

At GW, where 55 percent of our undergraduate population is female, we only have a rundown townhouse on the edge of campus that houses the women’s studies department and a few overcrowded student office spaces in the Marvin Center. GW was the first college in the nation to establish a graduate program in women’s studies. We should be carrying on this impressive legacy by giving a University-designated home to women’s issues and those who work to improve them.

A centralized hub for women’s organizations would allow them to host more and better events. And a physical space would enable them to nurture a community through workshops, study hours, networking events and more – which they can’t accomplish working out of separate offices.

As a member of the Feminist Student Union’s executive board, I know how difficult it is for our organization, and others like us, to find space to host discussions, screen documentaries or organize panel events. Coordinating large events would be much easier if we could yell across the room or down the hall to a member of another group.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jonah Lewis

Of course, finding a spot for a women’s center would not be easy: Student space has always been an issue on this campus. Still, the idea isn’t naive. Repurposing an old building or designating a new space are both doable, though they would take time and money. If students make their needs known, the University can find a way to meet them.

The Multicultural Student Services Center – though in desperate need of renovations – serves a similar function for students of color and LGBT students. It’s time we extend this service to women at GW by giving them a female-friendly space to call their own.

And “female-friendly” is important: As a man on GW’s campus, and in the world at large, I recognize the privilege I’m afforded. I don’t need a designated male space because in general, the system already works in my favor. In class, we learn about theories by and ideas from men, about men, and often taught by male professors. Women are consistently considered second-class citizens in our society, and women-only institutions are essential for promoting women’s equality.

Beyond supporting advocacy, there’s another need a women’s center could fill: a centralized place for sexual assault resources. GW is already doing well on paper and in policy, but women should also have a place where they know they can go for answers and support. Of course, not all sexual assault survivors are women, and surely male survivors would be welcomed at a women’s center as well.

At Ohio University, for example, the women’s center houses a survivor advocacy program supported by a grant from the Justice Department, which provides 24/7 support to students navigating their legal and medical options. GW students deserve a similar service, and a women’s center would be the perfect place to hold it.

From providing the minute, like a place for film screenings, to the indispensable, such as a space to support survivors in need, a women’s center would serve as a tangible message to 55 percent of campus: Your school is here for you.

Jonah Lewis, a junior majoring in political science and sociology, is a Hatchet columnist.

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