The Women’s Center at 25: Stories of Inspiration and Impact

Posted by: Date: March 5, 2015 In: , , , , , ,
People gather at the Women's Center for a retreat. (PLU file photo)

People gather at the Women's Center for a retreat. (PLU file photo)

By Sandy Deneau Dunham
PLU Marketing & Communications

TACOMA, Wash. (March 4, 2015)—Since its founding in 1990, Pacific Lutheran University’s Women’s Center has empowered women and their allies to become advocates for gender equity and social justice. Along the way, through education, counseling, mentoring and even celebration, its staff, volunteers and community have changed perceptions—and lives—and people have a way of remembering that.

To commemorate its 25th anniversary, the Women’s Center asked the PLU community to share experiences and memories of this safe place and its inspiring people. Individually, the stories submitted by current students, alumni, faculty and supporters are moving and inspirational. Together, they start to form powerful themes: Connection. Challenge. Acceptance. Engagement.

And, maybe most of all, an impact that will last well beyond 25 years.

Here are the stories:

Amy Swanson

“The Women’s Center has made me a leader of my own life! It also has given me the courage to create my dreams and live them. It’s given me a voice and the passion to speak for those who cannot. It made me see the world differently, always asking myself, ‘How can I do more? How can I inspire more change?’ It’s made me that woman I am today … a business owner, empowering women to take ownership and control of their lives by making themselves healthy and well! I can never fully verbalize the strength and meaning that came from my time at the PLU Women’s Center. It found me my closest friends and developed the courage to always stand up for what’s right … even if you’re the only one. My heart is filled with joy for what the WC continues to offer and provide the PLU community at large. To this day, when I am asked what job shaped me the most, my answer is easy. I consider it my second home and a safe haven for individuality and acceptance. I was able to grow from past pain and experiences into a strong and capable woman!”
Amy Swanson ’07

SAPET Coordinator 2004-06 and volunteer until 2007

“I have used the Women’s Center as a resource, a safe haven and a place to begin working on my passions. They have helped me advocate for myself as a victim of sexual assault even when the scenario of my assault was ‘against the norm,’ aka woman-on-woman. They gave me a place to figure out how I could become the strong woman I am, even though events in my life had made me upset and in pain. They gave me the opportunity to create a club and fill a silent need I saw so many individuals dealing with: eating disorders, body image and body love. They have helped me continue to be the strong woman I am and have given me the chances I needed to recover from moments of havoc in my life. I owe them so much for my recovery and igniting my passions.”
Alliy Green

Current student

“Before I began spending time at the Women’s Center, I had very few connections to the PLU community. After becoming a part of the WMGS program and attending the reception at the Women’s Center this year, I finally feel like a real member of the PLU community, and have made great connections to the staff and other students through the various programs put on by the center. I have never felt so welcome and accepted at any space at PLU as I have at the Women’s Center.”
Chynna Boonlom ’17

Current volunteer, member of SAPET and co-leader of the Feminist Student Union

Mycal Ford
“The Women’s Center encouraged me to come into my identity as a feminist and taught me the importance of challenging sexist ideas that perpetuate a system of gender-based violence and hierarchy in our society.”
Mycal Ford ’12
Former Women’s Center intern

“The Women’s Center was truly my entrance into active student engagement, and what a way to enter! Through the Women’s Center I found a remarkable community of support, the courage to express my opinions, a safe space to ask questions and Nova Schausspose concerns and a real sense of identity. I like to think that the Women’s Center was where I came into my own and began the process of defining my purpose in society. In addition to being an incredible catalyst for social change, it was also a second home—an environment that was deeply inviting and familiar. In hindsight, the Women’s Center shaped the bulk of my college experience, and continues to inform the way in which I live my daily life. Wow, 25 years! May the next 25 years continue to produce moments of amazement, wonder, care and empowerment for generations to come!”
Nova Schauss ’04

“I was never able to take an official Women’s Studies class because of my class schedules. Through the Women’s Center, I connected with other students and staff who were interested in making life better for women and men. I always think of my time at the Women’s Center as the place where I earned my extracurricular minor in Women’s Studies by osmosis. I met so many great people while hanging out in the cozy little house, and especially learned a lot from Bobbi Hughes. My time at PLU and at the Women’s Center helped shape my career choices to where I am now working with survivors of domestic violence.”

Lindsey Paxton ’07

“The Women’s Center helped me feel more comfortable in myself and my identity as a woman and a feminist. In addition, when I was going through a rough time during my freshman year, Jennifer (Warwick) helped me find resources on and off campus to keep me safe. I am so honored to have been able to be a part of and welcome others to the Women’s Center and wish I had been more involved with the Center during my years at PLU.”
Farah Schumacher ’14
Former volunteer; used the Victim’s Advocate service and participated in Empower Project Series

“In college I had a major life shift that led me to want to do violence prevention and talk about the negative impacts men experience in patriarchy. While there were zero jobs to be had, eventually I learned of one, and Bobbi Hughes and campus partners took a chance on some guy from Virginia who, along with his partner, was crazy enough to move cross-country for a part-time job. That job was a dream come true, and has been a personal and professional blessing in ways I have only begun to understand. Needless to say, the people that have made the Women’s Center my home and family away from my home have also encouraged and challenged me to learn and grow—to be a bit more free to be me—and ultimately to stretch my own wings. I will always and forever remain indebted to my colleagues and friends at the PLU Women’s Center. We made some amazing things happen—and we did them together. With love, Jonathan.”
Jonathan Grove

Former MAV & Men’s Project Coordinator, 2006-14

“It might almost be better to ask how has the Women’s Center not impacted my life? The list would certainly be much shorter that way. On a holistic level, the Women’s Center gave me a place to call home while I was at PLU. It was one of the places where I felt most connected to my peers, and where I felt most like I could make an impact. The Women’s Center helped me find my voice in ways that surprised even myself: It was the place where I could challenge myself and feel supported in the process, and the place where I felt safe to try things I never would have dared just a few short years before. Most importantly, the Women’s Center came to represent not just a physical place but also shaped, for me, a mental space that informed how I saw the world and my roll in it.  My identity today—the way I move through the world—would not be the same were it not for the Women’s Center. The way I approach challenges and triumphs has been forever molded by the family I found there.”
Sarah Curtis-Tilton ’10
Former intern and SAPET Coordinator

Claire Plourde“The Women’s Center was hugely instrumental in solidifying my passion for feminist activism and praxis. As a Women & Gender Studies major at PLU, I was very excited to be a part of the Women’s Center and help with their day-to-day activities as well as their larger events, including Love Your Body Day and Woman Up! Being a part of a supportive and activist-centered space, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career similar to Jen Smith and Jennifer Warwick. Because of their leadership and example, I am now in my second year at San Diego State University getting my master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Overall, though, the Women’s Center was a fun place to be and grow. Every day I worked, I engaged in fun and meaningful conversations with the staff as well as laughed a lot. The Women’s Center taught me that being a feminist and doing feminist-centered work can be incredibly difficult but also incredibly fun. I deeply admire Jen and Jennifer, and they both continue to be my role models today. Oh, and Lady Jane too!”
Claire Plourde ’12
Women’s Center intern during her senior year; occasional volunteer before that; worked on her senior Women’s & Gender Studies Capstone through the Women’s Center

“I put off writing this simply because when I thought about how to convey the impact of the Women’s Center in my life, I became overwhelmed. How could I put into words how deeply the Center had impacted me, both professionally and personally? Would whatever I wrote do that justice? The following is my best attempt to do so: When I arrived as a new employee on the PLU campus in the fall of 2006, I was looking for a place to connect with the larger university community. I had made several attempts to do so but to no avail. I shared that desire with a faculty member in the Sociology Department, Dan Renfrow. Dan is no longer teaching at PLU, and I am sure has no idea the chain of events he put in motion by suggesting that I contact the Women’s Center about potential volunteer opportunities. I met with the Director at that time, Bobbi Hughes, and after asking me about my experience and my interest in the Center, she shared her desire to create an advisory board and indicated that she thought I could be a valuable and contributing member. Over the next several years, I served on the advisory board, got involved in Green Dot, conducted bystander skills training for new students and other things, but these things are all just the byproduct of what the Center has done for me and the impact it has had. The Center is really about the people that are a part of it, and it is those people who made an impact. How? They SAW me when nobody else did. They HEARD me when others didn’t want to or couldn’t, and they BELIEVED in me when I expressed a desire to learn and try new things. They didn’t view me as a victim but as a woman full of promise. They recognized my gifts, talent and potential. They gave me avenues through which to utilize those things. They provided safe space for me to process when things were chaotic in my personal or professional world, and they most of all they provided hope and resources when they were needed. Here’s the thing, though: My story is my story, but it is not unique. It is the story of many other women on this campus; women like me who are professional staff and women like me who are students. The Center and the people who are its heart and soul provide these things over and over again tirelessly and selflessly. I can’t imagine my life or my work without them.”
Laree Winer
Current student, Advisory Board member, part of the bystander intervention training team, SLIF colleague that refers students for resources

Cheryl Cristello“As a woman who is considered to be ‘older than dirt’ by so many, it has been such a wonderful gift and inspiration to connect with the women of PLU. I always leave with a greater sense of confidence in our youth and feeling confident that today’s youth will do much better for the world than my generation has done.”
Cheryl Cristello
Has talked with faculty and young women about what it means to be a woman, sexuality and gender

Erin McKenna 1
“When I arrived at PLU, the Women’s Center was still very new. The fact that PLU had a Women’s Center (and a Women’s Studies Program) was a very important factor in my decision to take the job here. Entering an all-male department, with some openly less than excited about my arrival, this place and the people in it made all the difference for me as I navigated those stressful pre-tenure years. The feeling of welcome and calm anytime I entered the house for a meeting or a cup of tea helped offset the stress of having to ‘prove myself’ as a teacher, scholar and colleague. It was here that I learned how to find my own voice as an academic professional; it was here I found mentors that helped me become a leader; and it was here that I could relax a little. Over the years I have also used the Center to hold Philosophy seminars. Some of my most successful and fulfilling classes were held in the Women’s Center, and I attribute much of that to the atmosphere it provides. The houses have changed over the years, but not the spirit of the place.
Erin McKenna

Faculty at PLU since 1992; former Chair of Women’s Studies

“The Women’s Center has had an unfathomable impact on my life. When I first walked into the Women’s Center, I had no idea what I was passionate about or what I wanted to do with my life or future career. Not only did my experiences working there impact my self personally, but it also helped me find my passion in violence-prevention work. The staff, center and its events impacted me by helping me turn into the woman I am today through guidance, experience and the shared passion and dedication the Center had to gender equity and violence prevention. Without the Women’s Center’s support, I would have never gotten to where I am today, in Denmark studying cultural sociology and hoping to work in violence prevention or victim advocacy. Basically, the Women’s Center’s impact on my life has led me to follow my passions and help me become the woman I am today. I hope to someday impact my community the same way the Women’s Center has for PLU and Tacoma.”
Alex Knowles ’14
Former Women’s Center volunteer; co-coordinator of SAPET her sophomore year; peer-education coordinator for her last two years of college

Leslie Ducay“As an alumna of PLU, I still consider the Women’s Center my home. I continue to receive and read the Women’s Center weekly e-mails, and find that I am always inspired by the work this Center does for students. While a student at PLU, the care I received from the Women’s Center was enriching, individualized and encouraging. The staff and student workers really are the bread and butter of this department. Here is a short list of what the Women’s Center did for me to meaningfully impact my experience as a student at PLU. However, there are many other experiences not highlighted here which I celebrate this wonderful Center for:
•    While a student at PLU, I was one of the recipients granted the Katherine Kandel and Elizabeth Oleksak Scholarship in Fall 2013. With this scholarship, I assisted Jennifer Warwick to create the Empower Project.
•    Through the Women’s Center and the American Association of University Women, I was one of the recipients of the National Conference on College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) National Scholarship and Travel Grant recipients in spring 2013. With this scholarship and grant, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend NCCWSL, where I learned to be more proactive and mindful in my diverse leadership roles.
•    After graduating from PLU in January 2014, I was given the opportunity by Jennifer Warwick to co-advise participants in the Empower Project spring series—I enjoyed every minute of it!”
Leslie C. Ducay ’14

“The Women’s Center offered me a safe place to feel supported and empowered within my community of PLU and Tacoma. By offering various trainings and opportunities, the Women’s Center has helped to shape my leadership abilities. I have only fond memories of my time spent at the Women’s Center. I only wish that every university supported a safe place that encompasses all that PLU stands for. Currently, I am working as an Advocate in Snohomish County serving victims and survivors of sexual abuse, child physical abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse. Thanks to the support of the Women’s Center while I was a student at PLU, I have the skills to provide empathetic and holistic care to my clients. The PLU Women’s Center will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for all that you do!”
Alicia Coragiulo ’11