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Editorial: Asserting space for women on campus

As a student minoring in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality (WGS) studies, it’s emotionally taxing to have watched this department face such uncertainty in my four years at UMaine. The WGS department deals with material that’s relevant to everyone, regardless of their education or career aspirations. Beyond our majors, we are social beings in a diverse world. WGS works to help students better understand gender and sexuality, but also “race, ethnicity, class, nationality, ability, and other sites of social inequality,” along with aspiring to “…make visible women’s contributions and struggles,” as their page states. While social issues are increasingly divisive and sparking global discourse, it’s crucial for our university to make space for women on campus.

The UMaine campus is home to thousands of women — recent demographics report that over 50 percent of students are women. Yet women on campus have faced consistent struggle since I came here — for representation, resources and safe spaces. The Women’s Resource Center (WRC) was shut down in 2015 and returned last year, after exhaustive campaigning led by students. The WRC’s revival is a symbol of change for women on campus, but we can’t let the joy of its return overshadow the implications of its previous removal.

The center was shut down in 2015 due to insufficient budgeting, but its closing highlights an area of student life that the university system may be overlooking. Much of the advocacy efforts for reinstating the WRC laid in arguing its importance to the community. There’s something in that strategy which speaks to a deep-seated problem our campus faces — that we need to convince others that women’s resources, education and safety are indeed a worthy cause — is concerning. To me, and many others on campus, this seems like common sense. If we make room for a commuter lounge and veterans association, we should make room for a women’s resource center.

Located in Room 227 in the Memorial Union, the WRC offers substantial educational resources, as well as basic contraceptives and menstrual hygiene products. To further serve the community, their volunteer staff are trained in safe zone and mandatory reporting policies. They are one safe haven in times of turmoil for students. Alongside their own in-office work, the WRC also teams up with other organizations to hold relevant programs and workshops around women’s issues. This year, Women’s History month will be celebrated through an incredible collection of events throughout March. The increased activity around Women’s History month this year further signals the desire and necessity to keep strongholds for women at UMaine.

The WRC is financially supported by donations and volunteering work done by passionate students. Its return is owed to the sacrifice and sweat of young women, for other women. It’s disheartening to see the necessity of this student-led advocacy, knowing that safety should be undisputed for all students, and that the women who devoted their time to championing the WRC’s return could have served other issues. How much impact could the university have made, if the WRC’s temporary closing had never happened? Who needed help and found closed doors? These are questions I hope we never have to ask again, if UMaine continues to fearlessly assert that women have a right to safe places and resources.

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