Personal Reflections on Building a Women's Center in a Women's College, 1975, page 5

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          dan described the pain of being black at Barnard in the late
fifties. Helen Rodriguez-Trias publicly defined. for the first
time. the issue of sterilization abuse as it limits the lives of
poor women. Rhonda Copelon and Nancy Stearns of the
Center for Constitutional Rights described the historical role
they played in the Supreme Court decision legalizing abor-
tion. All of the Reid Lecturers added to our understanding
of the commonalities and differences in women's lives.

My definition of feminism also insisted on linking feminism
to social change and this. too. was reflected in Scholar and
Feminist conferences. the Reid Lectureships. and a broad
range of seminars. workshops. films. and lectures. Whenever
possible. we looked at issues as they connected feminism
with changing the larger society. whether in a talk by a Sal-
vadorean woman on the situation of women in her tortured
country. oppressed both by the Junta and by the macho
men with whom they lived: a discussion of feminism. poli-
tics. and nuclear disarmament in Britain by a young Labor
Party candidate. or an analysis by Barbara Ehrenreich of the
ways in which multinational companies exploit women in
third-world countries.

Still. we always threaded our way through the area of ac-
tivism with care. mindful that the Center was also an ad-
ministrative office of Barnard College. The Center as such
did not take public activist positions: We did not picket. dem-
onstrate. lobby. or take a public stand on an issue affecting
women although. as individuals. we have always felt free to
do what we felt was necessary. There was one notable ex-
ception. made with the full approval of President Jacquelyn
Mattfeld: The Center chartered a bus and participated in the
large ERA march in Washington in the summer of 1978.

But by no stretch of the imagination could the Women‘s
Center be called neutral. or even representative of all
women. We were. from the start. a strong advocate of
women‘s rights. as borne out by our programs and by the
advocacy role we took within the College. And although the
Barnard administration was admittedly nervous about certain
Women‘s Center programs. it was inconceivable that the
College should attempt to regulate Center programs. as an-
other prestigious. ivy-league college recently did. (When a
pro-life group from within that college asked their women”s
center to sponsor a program. and was refused. the college
administration took the position that. since the funding for
the women's center came from the student support services
budget. the women's center was obliged to present all points
of view on all issues.)

A program on “Women and the Arms Race.“ which the
Women's Center recently sponsored in cooperation with the
Catholic women’s group on campus. is an example of main-
taining a consistent feminist position while working with di-
verse groups. In the planning meetings. we learned that the
Catholic women intended to include a session on “personal
violence." meaning abortion. After serious consideration. we
decided that it would be inappropriate for the Women's Cen-
ter to invite discussion of an issue that was a basic tenet of
the women’s movement at a conference on women and the
arms race. We explained our position and suggested that
there was sufficient interest in women and the arms race on
the Barnard/Columbia campus to have two separate pro-
grams successfully. lnterestingly enough. the group decided
to forgo the issue of “personal violence." and we did the pro-
gram together as originally planned.

The Women's Center must work within the constraints of
the academy. but much of its vitality comes from a commit-
ment to activism and to taking advocacy positions on inter-
nal issues of importance to women at Barnard In addition
to giving support to such student groups as Lesbian Activists
at Barnard and the Barnard Abortion and Reproductive
Rights Network. the Center works with activist groups. both
on campus and in the community. providing background in-
formation, finding speakers. and planning programs. When
students came to us needing money for abortions. we set up
a Women's Center Emergency Loan Fund. Acting on com-

plaints from students of incidents of sexual harassment and.

from faculty. of difficulties surrounding child—care leave. the
Women's Center organized and worked on committees to
develop guidelines and recommendations for College policy
on these issues.

lt has always been difficult to assess the impact of the
Women's Center on Barnard students; it may be true that.
except for the small number of committed feminists. the Cen-
ter does not immediately touch most students‘ lives. Students
serve on Women's Center committees. participate in and at-
tend Center programs. and use the resource collection in in-
creasing numbers each year. Still. the majority of young
women who come to a college like Barnard are intent on
preparing for a demanding professional career; and they take
their cues from their teachers and advisors. some of whom
are hostile to or fearful of the women's movement. In addi-
tion. they are grappling with what they perceive to be more
immediate concerns: being away from home and family for
the first time; acknowledging and exploring their sexuality;
and learning how to set priorities at a college with high aca-
demic standards. Their awareness of feminism often comes


For this reason. we have always known that the most im-
portant component in raising feminist consciousness at Bar-
nard must be a women's studies program. Although Barnard
had taken the lead in offering women's studies courses-
and each year several were scattered in different
departments—gaining acceptance of a program with a full-
fledged major proved to be incredibly difficult. It took years
of hard work. determination. and perseverance on the part
of a few dedicated faculty and students to gain College ap-
proval for a carefully thought—out. interdisciplinary program
which would meet Barnard's standards of excellence.
Women's Studies became an official program in 1978 and
added a tenured chair (Nancy K. Miller) in 1980.

The achievement of the Women's Studies Program. now
five years old and with a tenured chair. represents an impor-
tant acknowledgment of the validity of feminism and the new
scholarship on women. and has resulted in a greater aware-
ness among students and faculty of feminist academic issues.
An important byproduct has been the growing number of ar-
ticulate undergraduate feminists who have begun to exert sig-
nificant leadership at the College. The Women's Center and
the Women's Studies Program cooperate on many levels and
each is stronger for the existence of the other.

From the start. our strongest College support has come
from alumnae, not just recent alumnae who have been
touched by the second wave of feminism. but alumnae of all
ages. from all parts of the country. The College regularly

Womens Studies Quarterly Xll:1 (Spring 1984)