EAU CLAIRE — Inclusion, community and empowerment.
These are the core tenants of what will be UW-Eau Claire’s inaugural Intersectional Women’s Center, a space designed in keeping with the university’s goals of “creating an inclusive campus community that challenges students to develop their intellectual, personal, cultural and social competencies.”
The IWC, sponsored by student organization Women Uniting and Fighting: Coalition Against Sexism and Misogyny at UWEC and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program (soon to be known as Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies), will launch with an opening celebration at 12 p.m. on Sept. 23.
The creation of the center has been in the works since 2020, said UW-Eau Claire WGSS Department Chair Rose-Marie Avin. It all began with fewer than 10 original WUF students who saw a need on campus that hadn’t yet been filled.
“They felt that people who identify as women need to have a space to discuss issues that are of concern to them and to change the culture at the university,” Avin explained. She noted UW-Eau Claire had previously been one of the few remaining UW System schools without a women’s center.
After a year of weekly planning sessions, meetings with university administrators and appeals to Student Senate, a space for the IWC was finally allocated in fall of 2021.
Once open on Friday, the IWC will offer students educational gender guidance that is attuned to the intersections of sexism and misogyny with racism and other systems of oppression; programming that will relate the concepts and case studies of this educational content to the intersections affecting women of color at the university; a space for students to explore their racial, ethnic and cultural identities alongside gender-based issues through readings and conversations; a space for students to share their lived experiences at a predominantly white campus; and a space for organizing for a transformative campus experience.
“They need to have a space where people can get together and create community,” Avin said. “Providing programming will really help transform the culture at the university. That’s the ultimate goal, really.”
She noted there has always been a visible culture of misogyny and sexism on campus, but there hasn’t always been a space for talking about it. Avin pointed to past incidents of racism and sexism on campus where little was done to mend the underlying issues. She said the IWC can serve as a resource for those who need it, while also teaching students to advocate for themselves.
Sarita Mizin, interim faculty director of the IWC, said the events and programming offered by the new women’s center will go beyond benefiting only students. BIPOC and female-identifying staff and faculty often need that same access to community and fellowship.
“Generational support is so important,” Mizin told the Leader-Telegram.
Friday’s opening events will feature keynote speaker Sandibel Borges, a former UW-Eau Claire assistant professor in the WGSS program currently teaching women’s and gender studies at Loyola Marymount University.
In her presentation, “Refusing Isolation and Exclusion: The Need for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Women and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) Spaces,” Borges will discuss the importance of the aforementioned groups maintaining spaces of their own in the face of exclusion, marginalization and oppression within so-called progressive spaces.
The space, located in Hibbard Hall, will also feature a mural designed by fine arts students, Mayly Vang of Eau Claire and Megan Miller of Bloomington, Minn. The piece depicts 10 BIPOC feminists selected by members of Women Uniting and Fighting.
In addition to Borges’ keynote address, Vang and Miller will participate in a discussion about the mural from 9 to 10 a.m. as part of the IWC’s grand opening festivities.
“It’s a very different atmosphere than a classroom dynamic,” IWC Student Intern Sophie Mancino said of the space, which features a cubicle for studying, meeting room and commons area. She explained how one of her classes is currently already utilizing the space one day a week for lessons.
“It’s much more open,” Mancino added. “People are more open and able to discuss. We had a full discussion last week about how everyone feels about how they are treated on campus. I feel like if we had been in a classroom setting, people wouldn’t have been as open as they were.”
Avin says she believes the new center will be a “gamechanger” at the university.
“It’s going to create community and it is going to increase awareness among students,” Avin said. “They will demand changes. We want students to demand changes at the university. I think this place will give them the support, the information, the knowledge they need to create changes at the university.”