What used to be a dusty, cramped room for storage will now be filled with hope, healing, and laughter. Marygrove’s Women’s Center, now established in room 030 of the Liberal Arts Building, offers a sanctuary of resources, from assault crisis hotlines and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning (LGBTQ) support networks to information on academic curriculum and programming in women’s studies. Where stacked chairs once collected dust, now sit several shelves of books available for check-out, from history to self-help. Two cozy couches and lounge chairs have replaced the area once reserved for cluttered desks and printers. The once barren walls now wear the proud artwork of female artists, including a cycling display of canvas paintings.
“We envision that the Women's Center might come to be known among students as a kind of oasis where they can stop by to browse and stay to study regardless of their majors, in a safe, rigorous, and supportive environment,” said Darcy Brandel, assistant professor of English.
The Center is open to men and women from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Work-study students, like Veronica Johnson will greet you with a big, warm smile, offering aid and resources. Johnson, a social work major, has a drive to help those who need it most.
"I was picked [to work here] because I’m compassionate. As a social work student, I learned how to help people going through crisis,” she said.
As part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s urban leadership grant, Marygrove is under review to receive funding for programs that bolster positive community change. The Women’s Center has developed to meet these expectations by its very mission: ‘to provide services and information about women’s issues; encourage the ongoing development of women’s studies curricula, events and programs; and promote the present and future success of women as urban leaders.’
Prior to its establishment in Marygrove’s Liberal Arts Building, the developing Women’s Center was a network of resources and referrals amongst Marygrove’s faculty and staff.
“In the early stages of the Women’s Center’s development, many students knew of us functioning more informally, through word-of-mouth recommendations to support them,” said Brandel.
She saw the need for a centralized location, however, when many of her students submitted writing assignments detailing their own incidents of rape or assault. After a faculty development seminar on global women’s movements at New York University in the summer of 2007, Brandel returned to the college inspired to take action with her eager constituents, forming a committee of students, staff, and faculty to begin work on the Women’s Center.
“Women’s centers across the country consistently report that their offices are the only sites on campus where students receive support for issues surrounding sexual abuse and assault, as well as other gender-specific issues. These same types of critical services were among the most frequently requested by Marygrove students in the surveys administered,” she said.
According to the Women’s Center committee’s research, Marygrove, historically an all women’s school, had a natural focus on women’s needs. Upon its transition to a coed institution in 1971 however, some of this exclusive focus on women was lost. Benefits such as personalized student-nurse interaction ended to allow a neutral gender focus. Still, Marygrove has remained true to its principles of social justice and urban leadership, making improvements and offering support where it has been needed.
The Women’s Leadership Institute filled that need even before the Center was established. The program, developed in 2001, was the brainchild of Glenda Price, former President of Marygrove. Carolyn Roberts, Marygrove’s Director of Student Counseling and Enrichment, was asked to develop a program to endow Marygrove’s women with leadership skills. The program would train up to 15 faculty and staff-selected students, and began that winter semester.
Ten years later, the Institute still creates student leaders who are motivated to participate out of their own interest. Students attend biweekly workshops and discussion groups that study the essence and skills of leadership, with an emphasis on 21st Century leadership. 21st Century leadership focuses inwardly to then affect outwardly—that is, a good leader of today must first change themselves before they can change others. Women come away with friendships, leadership skills, and a refreshing perspective on the world.
“I think going out into the job market, based on their experience in the workshop, they’re able to see something others aren’t aware of,” said Roberts. “They learn how to become effective leaders in their professional and personal lives. They don't just look to one leader. They realize ‘I have a part to play as well,’” she said.
One of the goals of the Women’s Center is to develop the Leadership Institute and the preexisting Women’s Studies certificate program into an academic minor in women’s studies, offering students more material, accreditation, and opportunity.
“We’re waiting to see the possibilities from the Kellogg Grant and develop it further,” explained Roberts.The hindrance is a shortage of money, not information, as she’s always adding content to the leadership program.
“There’s some really exciting information waiting to come forward for the development of women and men on campus,” she said.The women’s studies certificate program consists of courses offered in the social sciences, English, and the humanities, allowing the minor to develop from a multi-disciplinary curriculum. This curricular development, paired with the Women’s Center’s co-curricular programs, will create ample learning opportunities and events. Women’s Studies students will have a stomping ground to put their learning into action, working at the Center’s activities and events.
Future development holds sway to numerous events and engagements. Already, Women’s Center sponsored events, such as Take Back the Night (TBTN) have had great success. TBTN, an evening committed to standing for and in remembrance of assault victims, was headed by Kalimah Johnson, assistant professor of Social Work at Marygrove. The events, happening in both Detroit, and Marygrove, drew over 300 participants.
Additional programs are expected to develop from student surveys, allowing Marygrove to produce relevant materials and appropriate subject matter for the student body.
The Center will also serve as a transforming force for the community. The Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness (SASHA), an organization headed by Johnson, will run an eight-week support group with the help and space of the Women’s Center. Additional events will also keep the community’s interests in mind through surveys.
Although newly established, the Women’s Center operates through a wise and compassionate group of individuals. It still requires both a professional director to oversee its critical components and an operational budget. Yet, as of now, the Center’s potential to positively impact the community is reassuring for students and community members alike.