Women’s Center works to inspire, change lives
Tucked away on the first floor of the University of Idaho Memorial Gym, the Women’s Center has resources and a helping hand available to any student — regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Whitney Chapman, senior in psychology, said the Women’s Center helped her to fully reach her potential in many aspects of her life, including academics.
“The Women’s Center is directly responsible for me staying at UI and for finishing my degree,” Chapman said. “This is why the Women’s Center is so important on our campus — so students like me, proud Vandals, can find the support they need to be successful.”
Chapman will receive a Bachelor of Science degree with minors in women’s studies and American Indian studies.
Having been involved with the Feminist Lead Activist Movement to Empower, and her current involvement with UI’s Gay Straight Alliance and other student groups, Chapman said the Women’s Center has paved the way for other campus resource centers.
“In past years, the Women’s Center gave space to groups like GSA to hold meetings when no other safe space on campus existed,” Chapman said. “It is because of the Women’s Center that we have an LGBTQA Office.”
Chapman said it wasn’t long before she was learning more about feminism and became an active volunteer with the Women’s Center. Three years later, her volunteerism and dedication to the work done at the Women’s Center gave Chapman the opportunity to introduce Gloria Steinem to the podium for the Women’s Center 40th anniversary keynote speech Oct. 4.
“I came into feminism through the Women’s Center,” Chapman said. “Which is a big deal — when a person takes on the mantle of ‘feminist,’ you begin to see things and understand things differently.”
Director of the Women’s Center Heather Shea Gasser said the Women’s Center is an essential campus hub for women who may be oppressed, feel abandoned, or are simply looking to join a loving community.
“Women’s centers and feminist organizations in general bring together women who in previous parts of their lives have felt very isolated in their experiences as women,” Gasser said. “It gives them an opportunity to collaborate, share together and realize their common experience — whether (they are) positive or negative (experiences), sources of joy or sources of pain.”
Gasser said working at the Women’s Center is the perfect job because it’s the opportunity blend the personal, political and the professional.
“Feminism is a highly personal topic for me — I’ve considered myself to be a feminist for 20 or 25-plus years,” Gasser said.
She said her job with the Women’s Center has allowed and encouraged her to carry some of her personal pro-feminist beliefs into the workplace — a practice that may not be encouraged within other academic jobs, especially at a university.
“This is a place where I can work to better the lives of all students, not just women, but all students,” Gasser said. “And it’s my job to do that … I’m expected to go to meetings and speak up on behalf of women (and) the Women’s Center.”
This is Gasser’s first job at a university women’s center, she said, and she has witnessed the revolutionizing of the way many decisions are made within the office. Instead of a “hierarchical” system of giving decision-making power to an individual in charge, the Women’s Center emphasizes power to the group as a whole.
“I personally have changed my definition of leadership,” Gasser said. “One of the things in the Women’s Center we try to enact is a feminist model — it’s collective decision making, it’s shared responsibility for successes as well as failures.”
The Women’s Center has been celebrating its 40th anniversary since August, beginning with a FEMfest feminist fair on campus, bringing activist and journalist Gloria Steinem to UI and concluding with the Women’s Center Fundraising Gala Nov. 9.
Beth Ropski, editor of the Women’s Center blog, said the events have brought awareness to the center and will hopefully spark interest in others to volunteer and check out the Women’s Center.
“This fall is going to be a fantastic time for the Women’s Center and I think that everyone should get involved,” Ropski said.
As editor, Ropski is in charge of collecting material from other writers and writing pieces for the blog.
“I’d really like my staff to brainstorm and write about what they’re interested in,” Ropski said. “Hopefully we get a wide range of perspectives.”
As a senior in English with an emphasis on creative writing, Ropski said she is comfortable expressing some of the tough problems that can affect university students today, especially problems that deal with the many, and sometimes difficult, transitions students go through during their years in college.
“I enjoy writing about controversial issues and issues that I’ve personally dealt with,” Ropski said. “I feel that personal experience adds a great depth to writing of any kind.”
Just like the Women’s Center, the doors to understanding feminsm are always open, Chapman said. Utilizing the resources available in the Women’s Center can truly make a difference, whether it is personal or academic.
“The Women’s Center has allowed me the space and given me the resources and tools to explore personally what feminism means to me,” Chapman said. “(It) offers a network of mentors and support for anybody who is interested in engaging with feminism.”
Chloe Rambo can be reached at email@example.com