Women’s center celebrates 40th anniversary at U

by Dawn Throener

While planning a celebration of the nation’s first women’s center, University students searching for information about its opening found scant media coverage.
Now the Minnesota Women’s Center celebrates its 40th anniversary while searching for a new home.
Although women’s center officials are not sure where they will be located during spring semester, they know they will not be in Nicholson Hall, said Jessica Morgan, coordinator of the Minnesota Women’s Center.
The architecture department will be moving into Nicholson while its own space is renovated, Morgan said.
Relocating the women’s center to a large, central space would be ideal, Morgan said. But what the women’s center wants and what the women’s center gets could be different.
“With the University, you never know which it’s going to be,” Morgan said.
Celebrating a voice
But on Nov. 2, the center will commemorate its inception and celebrate women’s experiences on campus through a program which includes a play and an informal dance.
The event, titled “Blast into the Past”, will be a collaborative effort between women’s center researchers and student performers.
Using short scenes and music to depict University life, Production Manager Jennifer Fiala will use actors of various experience levels to exhibit the history of women at the University.
Fiala said a current student will read a poem written by a former student “back in the day” while at the University.
“Today’s students (will be) interpreting things about times of other students,” Morgan said.
“This is a 100 percent student-created production,” Fiala said.
Bringing the audience back through four decades, performers will show what it was like for women on campus, said Project Coordinator Jennifer Aulwes.
Not wanting the celebration to end abruptly, Morgan said a dance is scheduled to follow.
Morgan said the Nov. 2 anniversary date holds no historical significance and that the center actually opened in either 1959 or 1960, depending on the source. “We think of it as conception time,” she said.

Campus history
The Minnesota Women’s Center started after World War II when more women began going to college, Morgan said.
“It is unfortunate that when it was started that it wasn’t recognized as such. It went unrecognized for a period of time,” Aulwes said. “During that time there was not a whole lot of focus not only on women students but on activities that were centered around women’s lives.”
The center’s two main functions were to provide curriculum and counseling to these women.
Later, the curriculum portion broke off into what eventually became the University College.
The counseling function then became the core of the women’s center, and the center itself became a part of University Counseling and Consulting Services.
Then, in 1991, the Minnesota Women’s Center closed.
In 1993, the center was reopened in its current reincarnation in Nicholson Hall.
“It was no longer a part of University Counseling,” Morgan said. “It was its own unit in what was then Student Affairs.”
Now, the Minnesota Women’s Center maintains its own identity under the Office for University Women. Both operate under the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs.

Empowering women into the millennium
Today, the women’s center has broader goals. The center provides many employment and volunteer opportunities for students.
“When I say employment opportunities, I mean the students run the place,” Morgan said. “Anything you see that is done by the women’s center, don’t look to me because I didn’t do it.”
The center also develops and implements programs and projects, such as Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Employees’ interests determine the types of programs offered.
Morgan said that last year, a student who wanted to go to graduate school put together a program for others with similar interests. She provided information on the LSAT and GRE as well as had others speak about their graduate student experiences.
“It was a good program because the staff member was highly motivated,” Morgan said.
Another aspect of the center is to provide leadership, scholarship and internship opportunities for students. Each year, the center sends students to the National Conference of Women Student Leaders in Washington, D.C.
The center also collaborates with other student organizations.
To help female students complete college, the center maintains a comprehensive resource room providing information about financial aid, campus organizations and women’s studies.
It’s a place where students can come, no matter what their problem is and won’t be pushed aside, Morgan said.
“Saying we don’t know just isn’t an option,” Morgan said.
Women’s center employees will try to help students until the issues are resolved, Morgan said. If they send students to other sources, they encourage them to come back if it doesn’t work out.
“We want it to work no matter how long it takes or what it takes,” Morgan said.
Leaving Nicholson Hall might mean leaving behind the necessary space for the resource center.
“We’re finding that a lot of people at the University don’t know what we do,” said Amy Amundson, a graphic designer for the women’s center. “We’re very much a resource center for students. So to put us in an office would be like cutting off a service we try to focus on.”