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WIU Women's Center Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Rich Egger
WIU Women's Center Director Janine Cavicchia

Since its establishment in 1986, the Western Illinois University Women's Center has been a vital resource for people of all genders on campus and in the community.

The Women's Center opened in Sallee Hall on a trial basis as a result of a proposal written by members of the Western Organization for Women. The staff included part-time director Maurine Magliocco, a part-time secretary, and several practicum assistants. An advisory board also was formed.

Several graduate students in the College Student Personnel Program, including some of my cohort members, were practicum students in the Women's Center that first year. My assistantship was in housing, and I was doing a 12-hour-a-week internship in Student Personnel Services (now the Student Development Office), so I missed out on the opportunity to be involved in starting the Women’s Center!

With an annual Women’s Leadership Conference, Women’s History Month activities, women’s art exhibit, and presentations on such topics as negotiation skills for women, and women in business and politics, Maurine and her staff succeeded in demonstrating the need for and benefits of a Women’s Center and ensured the center’s permanent status in 1989.

Between 1990 and 1994 while Linnea High directed the Center, a National Science Foundation grant to increase opportunities and support for girls and women in STEM fields was added to its achievements.

In 1994-1995 Martha Klems served as a half-time interim director and organized a Women’s Advance (as opposed to a Retreat) to examine and redefine the purpose of the Women’s Center and Women’s Studies. During that year, the center moved to Memorial Hall, and the Feminists and Friends student organization (soon renamed Feminist Action Alliance) was founded.

When Loretta Kensinger became director in 1995, she established four goals: to advocate for women at all levels on campus and in the community; to demonstrate a commitment to cultural diversity; to enhance the educational, cultural and social mission of the university beyond the classroom; and to recognize the center’s role in campus, local, regional and national movements.

In July 1998, the Women’s Center moved from Academic Affairs to Student Services, and I was appointed acting director. That year, our staff and advisory board conducted a strategic planning process and created a mission statement “to promote gender equity through education, support and advocacy and to respond to issues affecting the status of female students, faculty and staff on campus, as well as women in the community and in society.”

In 1999, the center moved to Seal Hall, and I became the permanent director. The staff eventually expanded to include a full-time secretary, two graduate assistants and 10-18 work-study students. We’ve had many practicum students, interns, and other volunteers, including Women’s Studies students doing feminist action projects; Social Work volunteers; and Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration students gaining event planning experience.

The Women's Center moved in 2009 to a more centralized, visible and accessible location near the University Union in the newly constructed Multicultural Center, which also houses the Casa Latina and Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Centers.

In October 2010, we procured a three-year $300,000 U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women Grant to Reduce Interpersonal Violence on Campus, for which I served as Project Director, and an Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator position was established and housed in the Women’s Center.

This year, our 30th anniversary year, we’re “Honoring our Past; Shaping our Future” by initiating new programs while continuing many of our established programs. They include:

• a new children's book club to provide girls and boys with opportunities to read books with positive messages about girls and their diverse capabilities;

• sponsorship of a McDonough County Girls Softball League team for the third year;

• the 26th Annual Take Back the Night march and rally;

• our annual Jane Addams Day essay contest for Macomb Jr. High students;

• the annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day Celebration with female student-athletes, intramural and club sport participants, Kinesiology students, and Campus Girl Scouts providing activities for girls in 4th-8th grades;

• the annual Go Red for Women’s Heart Health Luncheon;

· our 14th annual V-Day Campaign, including our second annual production of Eve Ensler's “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer” to raise awareness of and funds for gender-based violence prevention efforts and survivor support services;

• numerous Women’s History Month events, including our annual women’s art exhibit; our  "Women and Environmental Sustainability Around the World" booth at the International Bazaar; and our annual International Women's Day Luncheon;

· bringing back several alumni to speak--including as part of our REAL Women: Women as Researchers, Educators, Activists, and Leaders presentation series—and hosting a 30th Anniversary Celebration weekend. Our Open House on Friday, April 15 will provide an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to learn about the center's history and plans for the future.  On April 16, current and former members of the Women's Center staff, affiliated student organizations, advisory board, and other volunteers and supporters will gather for a dinner and program to reminisce and share fond memories;

· hosting the National Women's Studies Association Midwest Regional Women's Centers Meeting in April.

I’ll be retiring June 1, after 29 years of service. I’m grateful to have been able to do the work that’s in my heart—for 13 years in Residence Life, and 18 years in the Women’s Center--and privileged to have worked with wonderful students and colleagues in both areas, as well as across campus and around the country.

I hope you’ll join us on April 15th from 3-5 p.m. in the Multicultural Center to see our history displays (including three new quilts made of our t-shirts from the past 20+ years) and iMovie presentation; visit with current and former Women's Center staff, volunteers, student leaders, campus and community partners, and other supporters; and help us kick off our next 30 years!

Janine Cavicchia is Director of the Women’s Center at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.