Personal Reflections on Building a Women's Center in a Women's College, 1975, page 8

Download: Transcript

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 View All

Show transcript

          “,1 _‘_.’._.M ‘

~.. .r.:.‘».....t.-.....~ . . . .... .

 ‘

ogy exploits women was given by sociologist Maria Patricia
Fernandez Kelly in an overview of post-industrial capitalism
with its runaway shops and urban enterprise zone projects.
primarily in third-world countries.

Nowhere were the tensions between feminism and the
academy more evident than in every aspect of these annual
academic conferences. In order to throw new light on the
questions women scholars were now asking. all the tradi-
tional givens in scholarship were being questioned. In addi-
tion. the combination of theoretical and activist issues in the
development of the conference themes. and the inclusion of
activist workshops to inform and reinforce the theoretical is-
sues. raised the hackles of some traditional academicians and
likewise frustrated some activists as they tried to talk in an
academic setting. Also intrinsic to the planning of the con-
ference was the underlying. non—hierarchical group-planning
process. .

As an administrative officer of the College. 1 saw my role
as that of providing leadership and of being sure that the
conferences maintained Barnard's commitment to excel-
lence. l often walked a tightrope: lf l were to have the trust
of the feminist community. which was vital to the success of
our programs, l had to make it very clear that my role was
not to control: yet the College made it equally clear. on
several occasions, that l was responsible for everything that
went on at the Women's Center. Should any conference or
program evoke criticism from any important College constit-
uency or be portrayed in the media in a way that did not
meet the approval of the College, l was to be held fully ac-
countable.

This. in effect. happened in the case of the “Diary" inci-
dent at the 1982 conference on sexuality. The planning
meetings had been so stimulating and so full of new mate-
rial and insights that members felt it was more like a study
group than a planning committee. The committee decided
to share this material with the conference participants in a
publication to be called “Diary of a Conference on Sexual-
ity." The committee decided to include background informa-
tion on the organization of the conference: excerpts from the
minutes of the planning committee meetings; a full descrip-
tion of each workshop. with suggested readings by workshop
leaders; and a bibliography of readings used by the planning
committee. The two artists on the committee assumed
responsibility for producing the Diary, which would include

; ‘ l ‘ - $

 

Participate in a Scholar and the Feminist Conference.

some art work: contemporary and historical graphic mate
rial on sexuality. The Diary was to be distributed on the day
of the conference to each conference registrant

The Barnard administration saw the publication for the first
time when it came off the press forty-eight hours before the
conference. They regarded some of the graphics as so offen-
sive and detrimental to Barnard that they removed the Di-
ary from circulation. literally pulling copies from the registra
tion packets. After negotiations. the College agreed to
underwrite its reprinting. once all references to Barnard and
to the Rubinstein Foundation (which had funded the first
nine conferences) had been deleted. The revised Diary was
mailed out to conference registrants several months after the
conference.

The Diary incident—and the fear that the Rubinstein Foun-
dation would withdraw its support (which it did). and the
threat that the conference itself might be in jeopardy-
provoked an outcry in the feminist community. ln the
months following the conference. there was an outpouring
of letters from scholars and activists who had come to one
or more of the conferences or participated as speakers. work-
shop leaders. or members of a planning committee. The let-
ters stressed the importance and uniqueness of the confer-
ences as a major arena for exchanging research and ideas.
as a place where new ideas could be aired because the con-
ferences were never fearful of controversy. lt was clear from
the outraged response from feminist scholars that these con-
ferences occupy a central place in the broader community
and. in a sense. belong to all who have shown their support

these past ten years.

ln these abbreviated observations and reflections. l have
highlighted our major achievements. While they are signifi-
cant. they nevertheless fell short of our original dream for
Barnard. We saw the Women‘s Center as an initial response
to the challenge of the women's movement. to be followed
by other necessary components (most of which still do not
exist at Barnard). We hoped to have a women‘s studies pro-
gram; a research institute. an oral history program. a
women’s library and archive: a personal. educational. and
vocational counseling center; and an adult education pro-
gram for women. We hoped Barnard could be pointed to as
a leader in the education of women. incorporating all the im-
portant issues of the women's movement and the new
scholarship on women.

We believed then. as l believe now. that the only way in
which a single-sex women's college can survive and retain
its vitality is by actively acknowledging the important femi-
nist truths that have emerged over the past twenty years. The
legacy of the struggle for women's education demands that
we keep changing. that we go beyond providing the “same"
education that we always have. The Women's Center was
and is an effort to hold the doors open for change ln a
sense. it is only a beginning.I

Jane S. Gould was a founding member 0/ the Barnard Col-
lege Women's Center and its director from 1972 to June
1983. As a member of 0 Russell Sage Foundation Task
Force for the Project on Women in Higher Education. she
is currently looking at the role of women's centers through-
out the country.

Womens Studies Quarterly Xll 1 (Spring 1984)

ll