Support Your Local Women's Resource Center
Women’s Resource Centers (WRCs) have been an important piece of feminist history in the U.S. since the first ones opened on college campuses in the 1970's as a part of the wider movement for women’s access to education. WRCs provide gender-conscious support to women and other gender minorities. They serve as hubs of feminist activism particularly in the fight against sexual violence, a pervasive problem at universities. The idea behind a resource center is simple: that marginalized people should have designated “safer spaces” tailored to their needs. WRCs can have any number of purposes but there are usually three main components: 1) The space itself, 2) Physical and emotional resources such as pregnancy tests and mental health counseling, and 3) Educational or social events for the community. For the last 50 years, these centers have done invaluable work helping women succeed in their education and careers. But now they are suffering.
WRCs and their staff have always struggled to prove the importance of their work. Today, these spaces are frequently devalued by university administrations, which results in defunding and budget cuts. According to the National Association of Women’s Centers, there were 2,500 WRCs operating in 1987, but today there are roughly 400.
In 2015, the summer after my first year of college, my university quietly defunded our WRC without even informing the student employees who worked there. When the student workers returned for work in the fall, the space had been repurposed into a technology center, and all the furniture and files had been relocated to an offsite storage facility. I first learned of the defunding at the weekly club meeting for my school’s feminist organization. The WRC had been closed without warning or replacement. It was devastating and confusing. Students needed a supportive, nonjudgmental place that could be a refuge against sexual assault and gender-based discrimination.
With a few peers, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this happened, and then when we realized that there was no real reason other than the school didn’t think the WRC was important enough, I helped launch a campaign to reinstate the WRC on our campus. This took almost two years, which involved a petition, numerous meetings with administrators, social media campaigns, and a lot of late nights researching and coming up with budget proposals. Finally, after we had applied enough pressure, they gave us a small office space where we could open up a WRC, but no funding for actual resources or programming, let alone professional staff. We were set up to fail, but were determined not to.
We raised a small amount of money through an online crowdfunding campaign and used it to buy emergency contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and menstrual hygiene products which we distributed to students for free. We got donations and hand-me-downs to furnish our snug office space, and the school agreed to buy us two new couches. In the fall of 2017, two years after the WRC had been defunded, we opened our doors to the campus community.
I worked everyday for a year as co-director of the WRC, organizing volunteers, coordinating events, and making sure the doors stayed open. When the other director and I graduated, two other students took over and currently run the center.
In my time leading up to the re-opening of the WRC, I learned many invaluable lessons about the tireless hard work of resisting a powerful institution and how to transform student power into an actual, functioning feminist space that helps the community. But I didn’t do it alone and could not have done it without everyone who gave money, time, and support to our cause. Because of them, countless students had access to life-changing resources.
There is likely a WRC or similar space near you in need of support. The needs of every WRC will be different depending on how much support they have from their school and their community, so, if you’re interested in helping, you should reach out to your local WRC and ask what they need. Here are some different ways you might be able to help:
Money, time, books, menstrual hygiene products, or whatever else your local WRC is accepting. Again, reach out and ask them how you can help!
Attend an event
Many WRCs have educational or social events and rely on new people showing up to build community and prove to the people that fund the center that the WRC is succeeding in engaging the community. This is also a good way to meet some of the people who are involved in the center. They may also have activist events or a protest of some kind that will need numbers.
Does your local university not have a WRC or similar space? Here are some things you might be able to do:
Join your campus feminist club
Get involved in the activism happening at a local level. Whether or not students are campaigning for resources, they are likely tackling many important efforts focused on the needs of women and other minorities in your community.
Write to the school administration
Write to your university’s President, Provost, and/or Dean and let them know about the importance a WRC could have on your campus and what kind of resources you may feel are lacking for students. Note: Even if there is a WRC on your campus, you could still pen a letter of support affirming how glad you are such services are valued at your school.
Sam Saucier is a gender studies grad student at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK and is originally from Portland, Maine. You can follow her on Twitter at @samkcs17. She is the co-founder and former co-director of the University of Maine Women's Resource Center (IG: @wrc_umaine). She also has a feminist comedy podcast about the Twilight Saga (IG: @genderforking).
All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.