Jessica Pacula, the acting director of the Shawnee State University Women’s Center, was invited by the Portsmouth branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to give a presentation on April 21 detailing the importance and the work of the Women’s Center at SSU.
The branch recently received the Philanthropy Award from the Ohio AAUW at a recent statewide convention attended by president Donna Wolery and Sandra Reiser. The award recognized the philanthropic efforts of the local branch for the current fiscal year.
“Each month we have a guest speaker, and we try to cover a variety of topics to educate and inform our members. It gives us a well-rounded scope of our community and the global community,” said vice-president of the Portsmouth branch AAUW, Wanda Dengel.
Pacula’s presentation explained the mission of the Shawnee State Women’s Center and the importance it plays in the campus community.
The Women’s Center was originally founded under the umbrella of the English department.
The English department provided opportunities for students to minor in women’s studies. Later on, it was found that the Women’s Center falls under the jurisdiction of student affairs and to this day, continues to carry out the vision of the founding organizers.
It began with a women’s forum, established in 2000. Five years later, the Women’s Center was created.
The center has had clothing and supply drives to support women in domestic violence shelters. They have had discussions on gender pay gaps and forums on other issues affecting women. They’ve had poets, authors, activists, and journalists present at the Leslie Williams Symposium at SSU to advance the well-being of their female students.
The Women’s Center disbanded for a brief period of time before re-opening this past January.
“When the Women’s Center closed, we weren’t able to meet the demands of the student body like the Women’s Center could,” Samatha Budd, president of the Women’s Initiative for Strength and Excellence (WISE) club, said. “We’re only provided $150 a year from the university and the rest comes from fundraising. We are just a student group. I am so happy that it’s reopened. Its presence is definitely needed.”
Since Pacula’s appointment as acting director of the SSU Women’s Center in January of this year, the center has hosted a National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which included a film on self-image and identity issues.
In addition to these events, the center also held a conference where TED Talks speaker, blogger, author and “change the world, not your body” advocate, Jes Baker spoke at the Leslie Williams Symposium. The symposium, named to memorialize a former SSU faculty member and founding member of the Women’s Center, is an annual event at Shawnee State University.
“For me, being involved with WISE and the Women’s Center has been such an important part of my college experience. I’m a first generation student from a low-income background, which gave me a unique perspective on class privilege in our society,” said student Melissa Johns, “Being able to go to college and learning how to think critically and value my own opinions is such an important asset for surviving in Appalachia, it wasn’t enough for me to sit in a desk and learn about privilege. I felt like I had to do something about it and joining WISE and getting to work with the Women’s Center was a natural step for me.”
Pacula pointed out that the SSU Women’s Center hosts events throughout the school year. One such event is the “Take Back the Night” campaign.
The campaign is a weeklong event featuring activities to raise awareness of sexual assault and violence toward women. The center has also worked with the Red Flag group to make female students mindful of the difference between a healthy relationship and a controlling one, and what women should do to end an unhealthy relationship.
Another event sponsored by the SSU Women’s Center is the “Wrap Up” event. It has become a very successful clothing swap.
Lactation centers have been scattered throughout the campus to support mothers who want to breast-feed their infants.
The SSU Women’s Center continues to listen to its students and offers a safe, comfortable environment for them.They provide for not only the female students, but the LGBTQ students and male students as well. The Center aims to address and identify issues that effect all genders.
Future projects that the SSU Women’s Center hopes to establish are a resident Life staff for students who live on campus and courses on nutrition and exercise to promote student health. Pacula is also interested in collaborating with local schools.
“Women in Appalachia, especially women who have children and families, are often the sole person in charge of home and family duties, and are sometimes even discouraged by their families from getting a college education,” said former student and writing center advocate, Kasie Leightenheimer. “The Women’s Center recognizes that and works hard to become a system of support for all women on campus, traditional and nontraditional.”
Pacula concluded her presentation by soliciting ideas that the center could pursue to advance issues that are important to area women and positively impact the lives of women students at the local university.
For more information about the AAUW, you can visit their website www.aauw.org. If you’d like more information on the Women’s Center at Shawnee State, you can check out their Facebook page by searching “Shawnee State UniversityWomen’s Center” or by calling 740-351-3738.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-353-3101 ext 1932 or via Twitter @PDT_Ciara