A little more than a year ago, the University of Illinois counted itself as one of the few National Universities without a women’s center. Now, after establishing itself at the behest of fervent student demand, UIUC’s Women’s Resource Center has has become a transcendent hub for socially relevant discussion and engaging public events — which was frankly to be expected. But last week when I came across their events calendar for the end of this month and the beginning of next, I was taken aback by the ambitious agenda they had put together, so I decided to email WRC Program Coordinator Rachel Storm to see what all the hubbub was about.
Smile Politely: So Rachel, you’re the Program Coordinator for the WRC. What exactly does that mean?
Rachel Storm: As the program coordinator of the Women’s Resources Center, I coordinate all of our events, workshops, and presentations that we host at the center itself and also those activities that the WRC hosts in outside locations, whether in different spaces or, for example, as part of programming in residence halls. In addition to programming, I —along with a grad assistant— coordinate all of our volunteers and interns. The Women’s Resources Center has close to 40 volunteers and 4 interns. Additionally, we have four Counseling Center Paraprofessionals (CCPs) that assist in programming, our FYCARE program, or coordinating events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in April. The Women’s Resources Center has 4 full-time employees: our secretary, Joan Wingo, our coordinator of sexual assault education, Jennifer Scott, myself and our director, Patricia Morey.
A view from inside the WRC
Smile Politely: It seems like you’ve got a lot going on towards the end of this month through April — concerts, presentations, poetry slams, the list goes on. What’s up with that?
Rachel Storm: March is Women’s History Month and follows the Women’s Resources Center’s 1st anniversary, which means we have a lot of intentional programming highlighting our center and women’s issues over the years. In the past month, we co-sponsored a film showing of the movie Precious (and Push author Sapphire’s visit to campus), March Illinites (in honor of women’s history— where we featured women’s history trivia) and we’re rounding out this month with our first annual Five Minute Feminist Film Festival scheduled for March 31st at the ARC (Multipurpose room #6) at 7pm. This event, like most all of our programs, is free and open to the public.
April stands out as a month where we have a particularly vast amount of programming going on. The intention behind programming for this month in particular is our dedication to preserving April as national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Our coordinator of sexual assault education, Jennifer Scott, has been the core organizer of many of the programs taking place in April, which include Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (where at 5pm Friday, April 9th on the Quad, fraternity men will be wearing walking around the quad in stilettos and speaking out against sexual assault) followed by a screening of Beyond Beats and Rhymes (also on April 9th). We’re also featuring a talk with Jacqueline Friedman and Jessica Valenti, authors of Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World Without Rape on April 21st, 7pm in the ARC (Multipurpose room #6), which we hope will spark conversation around female sexuality and building a community free of assault.
We are also hosting our annual Take Back the Night Rally on April 22nd, at 5:30pm (march gathering begins outside of Lincoln Square Mall), a brunch on Mom’s Day, a DIY Sex Toy Workshop and Anonymous Sex Q & A (featuring Smile Politely sex columnist Emma Reaux!), and our Healing Works collective art exhibition (which we are currently accepting submissions for!), among other things. For a fully listing, we encourage the C-U community to visit our diversity calendar or the Women’s Resources Center Facebook fanpage!
Smile Politely: So, do you usually have this much going on in a given month?
Rachel Storm: Whew! The short answer is no. We have a particularly large amount of programming in place for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but normally, we spend much of our time (outside of bringing in speakers or performers) hosting programs that repeat throughout the semester, such as our Writ n’ Rhymed Poetry Open Mic Nights, “Women in the Director’s Chair” documentary film series (which happens once a month), Knit Happens (a knitting circle we host with the folks from C-U Stitch n’ Bitch) and house concerts!
We are always working to increase awareness around creating a safe campus for women through our C.A.R.E. (Campus Acquaintance Rape Education) Program, which is mandatory for all freshmen to attend, and by hosting programs that are educational in nature about women’s issues both campus-specific and transnationally. We co-sponsor and co-host programs with RSOs, community groups, and our own fellow OIIR (Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations) units, the other cultural centers on campus!
Smile Politely: How do these events fit in with your overall mission?
Rachel Storm: The Women’s Resources Center’s mission is to improve the campus climate for women through developing and implementing programs that address women’s issues and gender-related concerns. These extend from the social to the educational. During Sexual Assault Awareness month, our mission focuses on providing programs that give voice to women students concerning their safety on campus. Many of our ongoing programs at the WRC, such as our Dish It Up Lunch Series or Writ n’ Rhymed are social programs that are made educational around women’s issues. Our lunches are opportunities for speakers to engage students in thinking about issues related to women (this semester’s line-up includes: Muslim women and hijab, fat phobia and body image, and women in hip-hop, for example) and Writ n’ Rhymed takes on a different theme (body image, black women poets, social justice etc.).
Smile Politely: Do mostly women attend?
Rachel Storm: It generally depends on the program, but we have a significant amount of men and trans students using our WRC and attending programs as well — and we like it that way! There are wonderful men allies who are highly involved at the Women’s Resources Center, especially those affiliated with FPREP (Fraternity Peer Rape Education Program, which Jennifer Scott organizes), MASV (Men Against Sexual Violence), and our volunteer program! We also see the importance of thinking about gender and a fluid identity and working to ensure people of all genders feel safe and welcomed to our space.
Smile Politely: Can you talk a bit about how your poetry slam’s came about?
Rachel Storm: That’s a pretty interesting story. When I was hired on as the WRC’s new (and first) program coordinator back in July, I was really interested in bringing poetry into the space. Other cultural centers (just as La Casa Cultural Latina’s Blue Room) have had poetry open mics and I view poetry as having a particular uniting force in any community. I’ve used it to bring people together in other capacities and it has always worked marvelously. When I was on the hunt for some interested students, I called around to our fellow cultural centers and was given a few names. Those students pointed me in the direction of others until I came to a student named Jeremiah Childers, who has been our wonderful host of Writ n’ Rhymed ever since. His enthusiasm and love for all things poetic have really driven the quality of the student’s work and motivated them to get up and share their work. We have a pretty tight community now and we’re always trying to reach out to others. Writ n’ Rhymed meets on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of every month from 6–8:30pm at the Women’s Resources Center–unless otherwise indicated!
Smile Politely: Other than poetry slams, symposiums and the like, what other sorts of services do you provide?
Rachel Storm: Part of our mission is doing outreach to the campus community. We love being given the opportunity to assist in programming outside of our WRC. An example of this is working with resident advisors on campus to host programs or workshops in their halls. We’re also continuing a variety of small research projects with our staff to continuously improve our resources for mothers on campus, women veterans, and other identity groups. Are goals are to be able to offer a large amount of information regarding community resources offered by our center and elsewhere in the community through our webpage.
The Women’s Resources Center also offers scholarships, hosts the C.A.R.E. program for incoming freshmen, and provides individual support and advocacy services for students by appointment and referral. Issues addressed include dating abuse, sexual assault, women returning to college, body image, harassment, campus safety and other related issues.