Women's Resource Center celebrates 10 years of community

Initially only a shared vision of a place where women at Tech would be able to have resources and a sense of community on campus, the Women's Resource Center (WRC) celebrates its 10th anniversary in October.

The idea began as the Women's Student Union, proposed by two students. With the support of the then-recently named Associate Dean of Students Stephanie Ray, the WRC opened, operating under the auspices of that office, just prior to the end of spring quarter 1998.

For the first two years, a graduate student oversaw WRC's operations. In January 2000, Assistant Dean of Students Yvette Upton was hired as the center's first full-time staff member. She was named director of the center in 2002.

"When I first came to campus, I was told by some students that they were uncomfortable having programs to help them-they didn't want to be perceived as being different," Upton said. "After 2000, the Institute climate changed a lot." As evidenced by the 1,800 people subscribing to the WRC weekly e-mail, Upton says that women on campus are more open to having a place and support opportunities. "I see women being involved and having support groups as a Tech student."

WRC programs offer support for both the academic performance and the personal development of women at the Institute, as well as promote understanding and dialogue among Tech's diverse community. "We work with all kinds of issues that might keep these students from academic success-family issues, relationship issues," Upton said. We want to be sure that women who want to be at Tech have the resources they need to succeed."
Examples of the programs sponsored by the WRC include:

Women's Awareness Month-During March, the WRC presents events and programming to help raise awareness of women's issues and create a community for women at Tech. Started as a week, the event expanded to a month in 2002. During last year's Take Back the Night, an annual event to bring awareness to and end sexual violence, turnout was rather large. "This year, we estimate we'll have nearly 800 people," Upton said. "We hold it more as an educational event. We still have survivor's stories, but we also focus on the concepts of sexual violence and consent." Women's Awareness Month is organized by a student committee advised by the WRC, Upton said.

Women's Leadership Conference-This annual two-day conference, chaired by a 15-member student organizing committee, develops leadership skills of current students and alumnae.

Women in the Wilderness-A partnership with Outdoor Recreation at Georgia Tech (ORGT), women learn empowerment in a non-competitive, supportive outdoor environment, such as camping and rafting.

The WRC also serves as a link for students and Institute academic programs, such as the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE, the Society of Women Engineers, Women at the College of Computing, Women in Engineering, Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Women, Science and Technology. A number of programs at the WRC are targeted toward graduate students, Upton said, helping give advice and tips on moving into an academic career.

While the WRC concentrates on the Institute as a whole, Upton says the center is also looking into programs offered on the departmental level. "We work to raise awareness for women based on what their needs may be," Upton said.

During its first year, the WRC occupied a small physical space, holding its programs in different areas of campus. In 2004, the Women's Resource Center moved into a permanent suite of offices in the Student Services building, which Upton says offers the best of both worlds: accessibility and privacy. "We're in a central part of campus, but we're not in a high-traffic area." Offices are located at the end of a hallway filled with photos and images of women's experiences at Tech in the 2003 exhibit "50 Years of Women at Georgia Tech."

"Students helped paint the space themselves," she said, explaining the varied colors and d'cor throughout the WRC that differs from most other Institute administrative offices. "Graduate students in the math program, for their first women's group outing, came and helped us paint."

According to Upton, women comprise roughly 27 percent of the student population. "For the last two years the freshman classes have trended 30 percent women," she said. "It's not necessarily a 50-50 goal. We just need to create an environment where women who can be successful at Tech choose to come here and stay."

And something that may be surprising to an observer-but not to Upton-is that on several occasions members of Tech's male student population have gotten involved with the WRC. "We focus on women, but we work with all students," she said. "I think it's important for a women's organization on campus to include men in the discussion."

"We worked a lot with men on the campus to help understand what it means to have consent," Upton said.

"To make changes, you really have to involve everyone."

For example, the WRC has worked with the Department of Health Promotion since 2002 to implement VOICE, a campus-wide initiative to end sexual violence on campus. Goals included developing a men's program and continuing training for peers to help fellow students who have experienced violence.

WRC Program Coordinator Colleen Riggle was hired in June 2006 to focus on these efforts. She works one-on-one with victims and conducts Ally, Safe Sisters and Advocate trainings on campus. The Safe Sisters program trains sorority members to help sorority sisters who are victims of assault.

"More than 1,600 students, faculty and staff have been through our various training sessions," Riggle said. "Sexual violence advocacy and education is such an important issue on any college campus. We will continue to work on these initiatives until sexual violence is eradicated on campus. We are grateful for the many men and women who have been allies to our office and supportive of this work." Riggle also advises the Women's Awareness Month committee.

"When you're doing this kind of work-significant societal change-it's difficult," Upton said. "You want to see immediate results, but it just doesn't work that way. We've had students who have experienced something so negative that they chose to leave. Those are really bad situations. But, when you look back over the last 10 or 15 years, you see there has been change."

And she has seen that change first-hand. "I consistently have students come back after or as they are graduating, and they tell me they stayed at Tech because of something we did to support them," Upton said. "It makes it much easier to do this job."

"I think all of us on campus are making an impact, but few of us get confirmation," she said.

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