Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

BC Women's Center Seeks to Empower and Inspire

Nearly every BC student knows the shortcut through O’Neill and Maloney when commuting from lower to middle campus. But what many students may not realize is that, at the end of a long hallway before the Maloney elevators, there is a place of empowerment and inspiration, a safe space for all students to utilize. This space, radiating positive energy and peace, is the BC Women’s Center. All students are welcomed in by student staff members, offered tea or snacks, and invited to relax on the sofa, eat their lunch, or talk with any of the peer counselors. The welcoming atmosphere of the Women’s Center is just one aspect of the many ways they support and empower BC students, a goal they have been striving toward since the center’s formation in 1973.

As Djanan Kernizan, MCAS ‘19, explains, “BC used to be an all boys school. It was a college for men. After they started integrating women into the school, they thought you could just put a couple women’s signs on the bathrooms and everything would change. But, obviously we know that it is a systemic change that is needed when you put women into that situation. You have to not only actively change the way people think but have resources for women.”

A group of women recognized the need for a center and created the Boston College Women’s Resource Center. “It started in the bathroom near Eagles. They took over that bathroom and handed out flyers and resources. They had an open house and sent out an invitation to the university’s president at the time and he went. He recognized they were serious and needed an actual center. So the Women’s Center was created through that. It was called the Women’s Resource Center up until a few years ago and we changed the name because we became a part of the Department of Student Affairs, which is great because now we get different funding and resources that students need,” said Kernizan.

The Women’s Center has both daily services as well as annual programs hosted throughout the year. Bystander Education is the center’s sexual assault prevention program for first year students, focusing on the importance of being active bystanders in the BC community. Every first year student is required to participate in this program and, at this point in the program’s life, every student at BC has gone through Bystander Education. Thrive and Rise are two other programs offered by the Women’s Center. Thrive is a peer mentoring program, connecting sophomore and senior women, while Rise is a group mentoring program that connects senior women with BC faculty. The center also offers a program called Dish, an open monthly dinner and discussion meetup where current events, gender issues, and campus life, among other topics, are discussed. This kind of discussion and mentorship can also be found at the annual Women’s Summit, held in partnership with the Office for Student Involvement. The Summit is designed to bring students together to build relationships, discover passions, and connect with inspirational leaders.

Throughout the year, the Women’s Center also holds two campus-wide programs. In the fall semester, during November, the center organizes Love Your Body Week. It is a week long program dedicated to body positivity and empowerment on campus. There are several speakers and events that take place during this week. This year there will be a performance of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf, a theater piece consisting of a series of poetic monologues accompanied with dance and music.

In the spring semester, the center also organizes Care Week, another week long program that focuses on raising awareness for sexual assault and intimate partner violence. The events of Care Week highlight important intersections between identity and experiences of sexual assault. Take Back the Night is an example of one Care Week event where survivors of sexual assault share their stories.

These programs serve to inform, empower, and inspire BC students in meaningful and engaging ways. While many students may know the Women’s Center for their campus-wide programs, the center offers daily services on a more individual level as well. SANet, which stands for Sexual Assault Network Hotline, is a confidential hotline for any student impacted by sexual misconduct to seek support and resources. Students who want to speak to someone in person can talk to a staff member at the Women’s Center. However, undergraduate staff members are only private and not confidential, meaning they are required to inform their supervisor if there is a disclosure, although the student’s name will be kept confidential. Students can “choose to utilize the Care Team, and Care hours are between 3 and 4 p.m. everyday. They are completely confidential. So they will meet with you and it is more of a confidential situation if you're looking for that,” described Kernizan. The space is truly a space for students, a point that is emphasized by the center, “So a student will come in to have lunch, do homework or anything like that and when they come in I offer them tea or snacks. But students also come in if they want to talk to a peer counselor whether it is roommate issues or sexual assault or anything like that.”

One of the greatest misconceptions about the Women’s Center is that its space and services are only for women. The center is for all students at all times. All genders are welcome. “It is hilarious when male identifying students come to the Women’s Center because they always ask, ‘Am I the first guy here?!’ No, I see them all the time,” said Kernizan. Many male identifying students will go to the center to get involved in Bystander Education training or to join the monthly discussions with Dish. The importance of male identifying students being involved and supporting the programs of the Women’s Center is not overlooked. “Masculinity directly affects women and the oppression that we face. We are not just empowering women. Men, especially white, cisgender, heterosexual men, have a lot of power in society and if they are not willing to listen to these conversations or learn from them then it’s hard to uplift everyone,” said Kernizan, “It's not that we want men to overpower the space which they won't, it's more like we want them to have the space to listen and learn more.”

The space and resources of the Women’s Center are for all BC students and, in that spirit, the center responds to the wants and needs of students. New initiatives are often born from student requests or recommendations. The staff of the center consists of 10 undergraduate students, 3 graduate assistants, and the director, Katie Dalton. “Katie and the graduate assistants support us so much. They empower us to feel like we are the ones that go to school here and we are the ones that run the programs, so all the events that we have we are the first points and second points,” said Kernizan, describing how much autonomy they have as students.

The center does have its challenges, especially when navigating the Student Affairs umbrella, but they prioritize making the space a safe place for all identities where everyone is cared for and respected. The environment of the Women’s Center is one of its most striking characteristics. The positivity and welcoming energy stems from how connected of a community the staff of the Women’s Center is. All members remain checked in with each other and are connected through their desire to be a resource for others.

“To be able to have those energies as a staff is really important to our relationships and being supported by our bosses and people that we look up to. I admire Katie, the director, so much. She empowers us so much and not just the people that work here but women in general. We always joke ‘oh I want to be Katie Dalton,’” said Kernizan emotionally, “Sometimes I felt that at BC there aren't spaces for me, especially as a black woman navigating those spaces at BC. I've been very grateful that I have been a part of communities like F.I.S.T.S. and those things are my life, but at the end of the day I always come back to the Women's Center.”

It is safe to say that the Women’s Center is truly a space for everyone. It is a place to eat your lunch, take a quick nap, talk through some problems with a peer counselor, grab a cookie on Cookie Mondays, or get involved with one of their many impactful programs. Students can use the space and make it their own. As Kernizan said, “We really want students to come in and tell us what they want to see and what the community needs because we will deliver.”

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