“I will be very proud to be (a graduate) of the University of Illinois, but I will also be proud to be (a graduate) of the FYCARE family. It is embedded in who I am, and the spark it lit in me to change the world burns brighter each and every day.” – 2019 Student Leader
“Not only did I gain some friends that made the whole experience a good time, I think I gained the professional experience that I needed to bridge the gap between college life and my future career.” – 2019 Spring Intern
“The WRC is an environment that is consistently provoking me to think and I feel like this is an environment where I can bring my full self” – 2019 Spring Intern
The Women’s Resource Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is celebrating their ten year anniversary. I spoke with director Sarah Colomé about the events happening at the center this week and all the hard work put in by campus and community partners, students, and countless others who helped get the center to where it is now.
Smile Politely: Can you start off by telling me a little bit more about the Women’s Resource Center and how it was founded?
Sarah Colomé: The Women’s Resource Center became a center in 2009 as a result of student protest. That protest was built in collaboration with existing faculty and staff on campus, with the students recognizing that a space was really needed to have conversations not just about gender, but about intersectionality and how people experience a multitude of different oppressions and have these different identities that all intersect.
And so, a space was needed to have some really critical conversations for that, building on the success of the cultural centers on campus. They were doing incredible work, and so this was an opportunity to add to that. After a number of different actions ranging from petitions to underground research to conversations with this administration, to even sit-ins, the center was finally established in 2009. The center was originally located on Wright Street, and around the summer of 2017 it relocated to where it is now, which is on Green Street.
SP: How has the center expanded and what purpose has it served through the decade?
Colomé: The Women’s Resource Center is a place to build community; have necessary conversations; support student growth and learning and student advocacy. And that looks very different depending on the day. We do anything from a career development series, we have Women’s Career Institute that is held annually, we have programming on Women in the Arts and Women and STEM. In addition to all of our gender equity work, we do all the in-person sexual misconduct prevention trainings and we provide the campus’s only confidential advisor.
The only thing I would add to that is when I say gender equity and when I say the Women’s Center…gender non-conforming and non-binary and trans-folks are absolutely a part of that work. When we are working towards gender equity, we’re doing that with them in mind.
SP: Can you give a little more information on the events for the 10 Years Rising celebration? Who can participate in these events, is it open to the public?
Colomé: The theme 10 Years Rising is meant to signify that we have been growing for the past ten years, and we need to continue to grow. It is dual purpose; we want to recognize and celebrate the incredible things that have been done and the things that have been achieved, and also be sure to hold ourselves accountable to know that there is still a lot that needs to be done. We want to have the opportunity to come together as a community, celebrate our histories and honestly talk about what should be done to continue this work in a way that centers all women for collective liberation.
The first event (The State of Womxn) is going to be the evening of Thursday, November 14th from 6 to 8 p.m. in Lincoln Hall theater. The event is free and open to the public. Reflecting on what has happened over the past ten years, we are going to be highlighting things on and off campus and in the community that have been done. We are going to have artistic performances from both on and off campus students and we have a fantastic panel with nationally renowned folks who are coming together to talk about what gender equity work looked like for the past ten years or so; what we want to take away and what we might want to rethink and reconsider to make sure that we are truly working towards the liberation of all women, including our gender nonconforming, non-binary, and trans folks, for the next ten years. We want to know how we can build and get even better.
Friday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. at the center we are going to have our ten year anniversary party and we are going to invite students, faculty, staff, community partners, or alums who live in the area to please come and join us. We are going to be celebrating community, and it can be an easy entry point for folks who maybe haven’t been to the center since it relocated to come in and see what the center is about and to start to make memories in the new space and meet the new staff.
And then the last event that we are doing is on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon. We are going to be hosting an event called Radical Roots, focusing on hearing our histories from the history makers. We have the founding director, Pat Morey, and Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier, who was the president of Allied Students for a Women’s Center. She really helped lead that charge for the protests and the ground research and everything else that was needed to happen. Someone who used to be staff at the WRC, Ross Wantland, will be on the panel as well as Sesali Bowen, who is also speaking on Thursday night. That conversation is going to be facilitated by Kasey Umland, who is currently at the YMCA and also an alum of the University. She does a lot of work with student advocates and activists who are working to make social change within our community. She is going to be having more of a conversation rather than a formal panel with them reflecting on what (the WRC) was like at the time, what brought on the need for this, what they remember from that time, and if they think those strategies would work today.
SP: How can students, faculty, and staff at Illinois become more involved the Women’s Resource Center going forward?
Colomé: Outside of the ten year anniversary, what I hope students take away is that the Women’s Resource Center can serve a multitude of needs. We are a crisis line and we absolutely provide those services for people who have been harmed by sexual violence. We are also just for communication. We have couches, we have coffee and tea, people come and study, people come and take naps or come and play games; it is a space that you can also make your own, especially when you’re on the outside of the Quad, to feel comfortable coming in and not feel the need to justify why you are there.
We also have a lot of other ways to get plugged in. We have opportunities to be facilitators for our programs, students that are involved in registered student organizations can also become affiliated with the center — those are folks that we often invite to partner with us when we are thinking of a new program or even planning existing programs. We really want to make sure our events and programs are student centered and that what we are doing is based off of what students have said they needed, so we invite students to sit on those planning committees because if we are not serving our students, what are we here for? We want to be able to support students, regardless of their gender identity, to achieve the things that they are passionate about while being healthy and whole people.
Those interested in supporting the Women’s Resource Center can make a donation to their 10 for 10 birthday campaign. Find out more here.
Photo provided by the Women’s Resource Center