Three weeks ago, I penned a column for the Gauntlet suggesting feminists need to stop pursuing petty projects here in Canada and export feminism to the rest of the world, where it is desperately needed. The part of the article that caught the attention of a lot of readers was the opinion that a women's centre at the University of Calgary was one of these superfluous projects. The present article is meant to clarify and extend my view of the women's centre and why it is unnecessary.
Before continuing, it is important to point out that being against a women's centre is not taking a position against women in general nor is it a position against feminists as a group. Furthermore, it is not misogynistic. Misogyny is hate, dislike or prejudice against women. Taking a position against a centre does not indicate any one of these characteristics. I've talked to numerous young women on campus and they agree with my position. Are they, then, all self-loathing?
Some of the responses to the article indicated I was ignorant and the piece was not well researched. So, in an effort to educate myself, I spoke with Fiona Nelson, Director of Women's Studies at the University of Calgary.
She told me about the centre, what services it would provide and was kind enough to give me a discussion paper authored by her and other proponents of the centre. What I found was that the services to be provided are either already provided or could be best provided by a club.
One aspect of the proposal I found interesting was the need for a safe place for women. Apparently, there are women on campus who feel scared while walking the grounds in the evening and while studying in the library. I cannot imagine this state of existence as I am 6ïž´5ï›¸ and 225 lbs, however I find this to be completely unacceptable.
Administration must be vigilant in assuring the safety of students, especially women, on campus. We must discover why women feel unsafe and take practical steps to alleviate these concerns. In the meantime, I remind those women who feel unsafe that the Safewalk program (MSC 260) still exists, call 220-5333 for information.
As far as a space for the open exchange of ideas about women's issues, a club space would be ideal for such dialogue.
I believe we should make the whole campus a safe place for women, anything less would be intolerable. However, it is neither the responsibility of a club or of the women on campus to ensure this happens. Rather it is the responsibility of the whole campus community, faculty, students, staff and ultimately administration.
A club could provide a lot of the services enumerated in the document, such as peer counseling, a resource library, discussion groups, networking with off-campus organizations, guest lectures, and cultural events. The Feminist Initiative Recognizing Equality is the campus feminist club, and is currently without a space. However, that should change reasonably soon as renovations progress on the clubs area in the MacEwan Student Centre.
The proposed centre seems to be focused on several services including job searches, legal referrals, pregnancy and birth control information and referrals, sexual assault and violence advice, support and referrals, and self-defense and body image seminars. Services currently provided on campus are more than capable of handling each of these issues, albeit not in one location.
When it comes to job searches, Career Services (MSC 188) can be of great assistance. Student Legal Assistance (MFH 3310) should be able to help with any legal referrals or problems. Pregnancy and birth control information and referrals, as well as any other related concerns, can be dealt with by the University Health Clinic (MSC 370).
For sexual assault and violence advice, support, and referrals, there are many places to go on campus, including Campus Security (MSC 260), Counseling and Student Development (MSC 375) and the Sexual Harassment Office (MSC 375). Finally, Campus Security runs a program called Safe and Sound, a self-defense class, while Counseling and Student Development is currently running a workshop entitled Pathways to Self-Esteem: A Mini-Series for Women.
Not only are these services already provided, but they are undoubtedly better off being provided by groups specializing in each domain rather than by a consolidated entity like a women's centre. In each of these institutions there are professionals employed to take care of you while a women's centre would primarily be a volunteer organization.
As you can see, the services the women's centre would be offering are either on their way in the form of a club space or are integrated into the services already offered by the university.
In both my conversation with Nelson and in the discussion paper funding was raised as a serious concern. Most external agencies providing funds were severely cut in the 1990s. The funding options currently being considered are fundraising, membership and user fees, student levies and funding from housing institutions (i.e. the University of Calgary). When Desiree Kopp, spokesperson for the centre, says funding will be external, I believe she means outside of the Students' Union, not outside the university. Either way, students will likely play a role in funding the establishment of a women's centre in one way or another.
Let us all think about the women's centre critically and consider whether it is really needed on campus. Do not to be intimidated by false charges, however take the time to seriously consider these issues. I have, and I maintain my belief that a women's centre is not necessary at the University of Calgary.