Personal Reflections on Building a Women's Center in a Women's College, 1975, page 4

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          spite of the tremendous legal push in this period, the gap be-
tween the median earnings of men and of women continued
to widen.

This national picture was brought home to me in 1970,
when l made a survey of the Class of 1965 to learn what was
happening to Barnard women five years after graduation. Of
the sixty-eight percent who answered a one-time mailed
questionnaire, many were working and/or going to gradu-
ate or professional school. Their answers indicated a radical
change in thinking from that of undergraduates: Many had
experienced discrimination. Gone, for the most part, were
the feelings of ambivalence about working, about entering
traditionally male fields. Instead, I found bitterness over the
difficulties encountered; determination to succeed and to
work for whatever changes were necessary to secure equal-
ity; and, sometimes, anger that college had not prepared
them better for these realities.

l began to chafe at the limitations of my role as a career
counselor. lf women were to make appropriate career
choices, they must free themselves from their internal
limits-from the myths and stereotypes they had been
saddled with all their lives—and understand and be prepared
for the external barriers they would confront in the world of
work. l could see that isolated advances were token and that
real. lasting change had to take place across a very broad
front. l came to understand the need for a strong and diverse
women’s movement, a movement that would address all
aspects of the socialization of women and their responses to
the tradition of patriarchy. To accomplish this was far beyond
the capabilities of a career services office. We could do cer-
tain specific things there to help women raise their aspira-
tions. gain knowledge and some work experience, and. on
occasion. even get good jobs; but raising their general con-
sciousness had to come from other sources.

As l came to understand the breadth and scope of the
women's movement, l found myself questioning the empha-
sis of my own efforts. Although l believed deeply that
women should have equality in choices and access to all
jobs. simply ensuring that women would be equally
represented in top levels of management and the professions
would not change things for all women. l began to see that
true equality required much more than getting women into
good “male" jobs; and l realized that l did not want to spend
the rest of my professional life helping women become bank
presidents and corporate officers.

&

ln the fall of 1970. l welcomed the opportunity to meet
with others at Barnard who believed. as 1 did, that colleges
should acknowledge the major social revolution for women
that was taking place outside the classroom. We were a
mixed group——administrators. faculty. students. and alum-
nae—with different backgrounds and commitments. but with
a shared conviction that Barnard should do more than it had
always done. A “superior education" for women should of-
fer more than admission to a still discriminatory, white-male
tradition. We became an official task force, charged with con-
sidering an appropriate plan of action. We met with mount-
ing excitement throughout the academic year under the
charismatic leadership of Catharine Stimpson, then an assis-
tant professor of English at Barnard. After months of discus-
sion, we produced a report which became the basis for the
establishment of the Barnard College Women’s Center. For-

 

tuitously, two of the Task Force members were alumnae
trustees. With their influence, the income from a bequest left
to the College by Helen Rogers Reid. Class of 1903. became
seed money to start the Women's Center.

The Center opened in the fall of 1971. lt was housed in
a tiny room with a crumbling ceiling in the main old build-
ing behind the campus gates and. that first year. Catharine
Stimpson, with one-third released time and the help of an
administrative assistant. served as director. We were still a
dream: underfinanced. understaffed, and with inadequate
space and no clear focus. The high point of that year was
a spirited panel discussion entitled “ls There Male Chau-
vinism at Columbia?" lt turned out to be an evening of high
comedy: A packed audience listened to such reputable
Columbia figures as George Frankel. Eli Ginzberg. Seymour
Melman, and President William McGill, as they pontificated
on an issue that they were obviously thinking about for the
first time in their lives and. for the most part, without much
understanding or conviction.

Within a few years, we enlarged our quarters. increased
our staff to three full-time persons. and went from a budget
of $16,000 to $125,000 in 1983. From 1975 on, about one-
third of our budget came from outside gifts and grants. giv-
ing us an important degree of independence.

The first few years were critical ones: We were determined
to build a structure which would be a permanent part of the
College and which would also assure us a fair degree of au-
tonomy. We had no models. Much time and energy were
spent conceptualizing, defining, and, most important for our
long-term survival and real strength. building bridges to other
segments of the College. l became the director in 1972.
Simultaneously, a small committee (composed primarily of
members of the original Task Force) was appointed to de-
velop a charter for the Center.

The charter took one year and nine drafts to complete and
to receive College approval: Again. the time and patience—
and mix of institutional realism with conviction—did pay off.
hard though they were to sustain. lt proved to be a flexible
document. providing the underpinnings and general guide-
lines for operation and. at the same time, rooting the Cen-
ter firmly within the context of the College. (The Center was
defined as an administrative office with a director who reports
to the President of the College.) “The Center's underlying
aim." as stated in the charter, is to insure “that women can
live and work in dignity, autonomy and equality." The char-
ter acknowledged that the Women's Center would be ex-
pected to address the broad needs and aspirations of women
and to serve as a physical and psychological meeting ground
for women within and outside the academy. lt encouraged
the sharing of knowledge and experience and the develop-
ment of ties among diverse groups of women. ln addition.
it encouraged the development of both academic and
nonacademic programs and projects “which complement or
coincide with Barnard’s distinctive academic strengths in
women’s studies"—at a time when we had no women's
studies program and but a handful of course offerings?

The Charter Committee struggled with the problem of how
to give all constituencies a voice in setting policy. in the end.
the Executive Committee was limited to members of the Bar-
nard community: equal representation of students. faculty.
administrators, and alumnae. lnitially, there was no mention
of men in the charter; but the one man serving on the Char-

Women's Studies Quarterly Xll.1 (Spring 1984)