For many years the University has had a Women’s Resource Center (WRC) —according to their website page, the WRC is “a place of advocacy, support and safety for all members of the University community” that “seek[s] to foster a campus community in which women and men live and work in a climate of mutual respect, understanding and equality.” Despite their relevant role and meaningful goals, which are important to the experiences of all students, lots of students are unaware of such a resource ever existing on campus.
Last year, Kelsey Hicks-Bunn vacated the position of Director of the Women’s Resource Center. Since her leave, the position has remained unfulfilled, with no visible and resolute actions being taken to fill it. Consequently, the WRC has ceased to function, with no events or programs being hosted and a growing absence at other community events.
When the Women’s Resource Center was at its peak, there was a small community of students and faculty who valued its initiatives and the space it provided.
Assistant Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies, Erica Delsandro, who originally brought this issue to light, shares how “historically, WRCs provided a resource for women on campus when there was little institutional recognition of women’s differential experience in higher education.”
Over the last decade or so, the WRC at the University led several initiatives–including the Clothesline Project, Take Back the Night, and International Women’s Day–and sponsored speakers and workshops as well as reading groups. “In recent years, under Kelsey Hicks, the WRC emphasized an intersectional approach to supporting women–cisgender and trans, women of all races and ethnicities, queer and straight women–and expanded the programming to include Women of Color Wednesdays and workshops oriented by self-care practices, to name a few newer additions. Kelsey also had a podcast called What She Said. The WRC was an integral part of student life, and most recently, an important resource for students of color,” Delsandro said.
Bill Flack, Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department, added that these programs “promoted understanding of intersectional feminism and support for women’s experience.”
One student who worked with the Women’s Resource Center is Akil Atkins ’22. The center “fulfilled a lot of roles on the campus, the most primary one being a dedicated space to provide support for women across campus. The WRC provided a space for women to gather and discuss their experiences on campus, but also provided resources to deal with things such as sexual assault without being mandated reporters if those talking about the issues did not wish. Without the WRC there is a lack of support for the specific issues that women face on campus, and there will continue to be a deficit until the position is filled,” Atkins said.
Paris Grigsby ’22 is another student who was involved with the Women’s Resource Center. Grigsby shared that she would often attend Women of Color Wednesday and spend time doing work or chatting in the WRC room. In my experience, this is typically a space that students of color frequent to get work done and bond with one another. Women of Color Wednesdays were typically hosted in this space, and because it’s tucked near the MSS offices, it makes for a private, intimate, and welcoming atmosphere,” Grigsby said.
Given the significant role that the Women’s Resource Center evidently played on campus for many of these students and faculty, as well as the vast majority of students who have not yet had the opportunity to get to know the WRC, some are questioning why the vacancy of the director position and suspended status of the center are not being addressed with more urgency.
On Tuesday, Sept. 14, President Bravman addressed Bill Flack’s question about the status of the Women’s Resource Center, as well as the Sexual Assault Survivors Advocates, in a private email to faculty. Bravman pointed towards the realignment of sexual misconduct resources as the main resolution to the issue at hand for the current time being, and concluded by saying that “the Women’s Resource Center position has not been abandoned, but it remains vacant as we continue to consider the proper organizational structures to align with legal requirements, and also consider the best structure to support our DEI initiatives.” Throughout his response, he referred to the email Dean Amy Badal sent to students that provides a full overview of sexual misconduct information and resources.
This email from Dean Badal was received by the entire student body on Friday, Sept. 10. It outlined the University resources to report sexual misconduct and receive confidential support, introduced Samantha Hart as the new director of institutional equity and Title IX coordinator, and introduced Lindsey Higgins as the new Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Advocacy Coordinator; the email also listed other related resources such as the Counseling & Student Development Center, Bucknell Student Health, Public Safety, and SpeakUp as the only “education and outreach” resources.
When asked about her thoughts on the matter, Dean Badal echoed President Bravman in saying that “the Women’s Resource Center Coordinator position is currently vacant as we consider the proper organizational structures and the best structure to support our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.” Furthermore, she commented that the positions of the newly hired Hart and Higgins were put in place “to meet the needs of our students.”
However, many are wondering if these resources — which are all solely focused on sexual misconduct and positioned more towards responsive and remedial support rather than preemptive and ongoing support, education, and community building — are enough to fulfill the role that the Women’s Resource Center left behind.
Students and faculty provide their perspective and insight on the current state of support for women (and all other members) of the University community and how prioritizing the renewal of the WRC might be a beneficial decision for the entire campus community.
Grigsby begins by acknowledging the difficulty of this issue. “Support for women on campus right now is low, especially for women of color. Without the fulfillment of the WRC leadership role and with a campus that’s often hostile and isolating for women of color, it’s important to have a support system — rather more of a need,” Grigsby said. It would be advantageous for the University to communicate with and listen to the needs of the student body — particularly the female student body–in order to determine what sort of support systems and resources are the best to maintain and promote.
Furthermore, it seems necessary for each resource to focus on its own primary goals. “While I do think the Diversity & Inclusion Offices have attempted to stand in for [the WRC], I believe there still needs to be a dedicated office and director to satisfy the needs of the Bucknell community,” Atkins said.
“It would be useful for women on campus to have a place that prioritizes women and their empowerment in general, not only around issues of sexual assault. Reproductive rights, voting rights, violence against women and other minorities people — these are the sorts of topics that the WRC would engage with,” Professor Flack said.
Professor Delsandro furthers these sentiments through her perspective as a Women’s & Gender Studies scholar and thinker. “I think there are offices and positions that, through their mission, support women institutionally, such as Title IX and the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator. However, to know if women feel supported on campus, it is best to ask the women on campus. And not just those in the majority—white, cisgender, straight women. Do trans women feel recognized let alone supported? Do queer women feel supported outside of [LGBT Awareness Director] Bill McCoy’s office and [Gender & Sexuality Alliance]? Do women of color feel supported outside of [the Black Student Union], for example? To support women across and through difference, there needs to be a culture of support on campus–an intersectional feminist ethic–that is signaled by institutional offices but also reaches beyond them,” Professor Delsandro said.
Overall, those who were aware of the Women’s Resource Center and are conscientious of the issues it tackled are not fully satisfied with the current state of support and resources for women on campus.
“I want there to be more opportunities for women to be vulnerable with each other and be able to celebrate and care for one another in a more intimate and private environment,” Grigsby said.
“I think it is tremendously important for Bucknell to have a Women’s Resource Center, particularly one that prioritizes inclusion and intersectionality in its programming, planning, and outreach. WRCs should be both a resource as well as a model of inclusive feminist ethics for all individuals of all gender identities and expressions. We could turn the question around: what would it mean for Bucknell to no longer have a WRC?” Delsandro said.