Seeking change

348

Junior J.C. Pankratz began going to Knit Knite and Bible Study at the Women's Center her freshmen year, and hasn't stopped going back since.

Though her work for the center began as a work-study position, her dedication to and passion for the center has grown. Next year, Pankratz will work as an intern for the center.

"With the programs and resources the center facilitates, I thought it was a job where I would be uniquely challenged and really be able to serve a useful purpose," Pankratz said in an email.

Since 2004, the Women's Center has provided a safe place for women to gather, whether to seek help or discuss women's issues.

The current director, Jeannette Johnson-Licon, has been associated with the center since it first opened, becoming director in 2008. Although the center is only seven years old, Johnson-Licon sees it as a representation of past students' hard work.

Johnson-Licon also noted that the center is relatively new compared to others, as many university women's centers opened in the 1970s and 80s.

The center offers programming, meetings, classes and resources for women, while also welcoming men to its activities. The programs often bring together different campus groups, while being available to all members of the DePauw community.

"In terms of programs, we collaborate and co-sponsor many events with student groups, faculty and staff — films, speakers, workshops, social events," Johnson-Licon said in an email.

Besides more regular programming such as Knit Knite, the center's main events occur once a semester. In addition, Johnson-Lincoln said the center sponsors Women's Week in the fall and Women's History Month in the spring.

She also said that while events such as women's week are successful on campus, programming can be difficult. She said flexibility has been imperative in her position.

"Women's week and our collaborations with academic departments have garnered the greatest success on campus," Johnson-Licon said. "Smaller scale programs, even those that start out strong, like Knit Knite, sometimes lose momentum. That's pretty normal with programming. As Heidi Klum says, ‘One minute you're in and the next, you're out.'"

The center's programming may soon be changing. Starting July 1, Sarah Ryan, the current director of Civic Opportunities, will become the new director of the Women's Center. Ryan has many hopes for the center — hopes that define the valuable resource she wants it to become. Like Pankratz, she envisions the center as a safe and welcoming retreat for students.

"I think there's so much great potential for what the Women's Center can be in terms of the space and really being a home base for students," Ryan said. "A place where they feel comfortable and at home where they can just come in and be — not necessarily to attend a program or to be in conversation but just to be."

Ryan attributes her passion for women's issues to her upbringing, education, civic engagement and work involvement. Growing up, both of Ryan's parents worked full-time outside of the home, and she assumed she would structure her life the same way. 

Ryan has worked with the Bonner Scholar program since her arrival at DePauw eight years ago, and feels that work has prepared her for her role as director at the Women's Center. Additionally, Ryan has worked in the Hartman House and with the Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate Program.

"I really enjoy working directly with students, particularly students from marginalized or underrepresented groups," Ryan said. " And I see a great connection between the work that I'm doing now and the work of the Women's Center in terms of working with female students." 

Ryan's 3-year-old daughter Catherine has also served as a source of inspiration as Ryan looks towards her role as director of the center.

"Thinking about the world that she's going to grow up in, the opportunities that she'll have, and thinking about what it means to raise a daughter as a feminist is an interesting thing to think about," Ryan said.

While her daughter still has a long time until Ryan can address more serious situations, Ryan believes there are broader lessons on safety and equality that apply to any type of unjust or abusive situation.

"There's a perpetrator and then there's a victim or a survivor, but there are a whole lot of bystanders," Ryan said. "And that's a really powerful role to think about what bystanders can do to intervene and make a change in something that's happening."

Ryan hopes the Women's Center will be seen as a safe space and resource for students — a space where students can come in and talk about their own issues as well as a friend's issues. She noted that in terms of the issues of sexual assault and rape, a "culture of silence" exists on campus, which she hopes the Women's Center can change.

Similarly, Ryan hopes to bring men into conversations about the Women's Center, as she senses men often feel uncomfortable entering the center and the discussions that take place.

"I think there's a huge role that men can play on this campus when it comes to rape and sexual assault," Ryan said. "Not only being aware of what those terms mean and what it means to be in a healthy, consensual relationship, but also to hold their friends accountable and address issues where they see them too." 

Ryan plans to structure her time so she is available every weekday afternoon for students seeking staff at the Women's Center. 

"I can envision being in my office and having students around utilizing the space and the resources of the Women's Center and being kind of a go-to place for students for information and for collaboration," Ryan said. "I just can't stop thinking about it." 

Ryan is eager to collaborate with different student groups and departments, such as working with the Women's Studies and other academic programs and departments to combine theory and practice.

"There are so many great ideas and great minds around these issues and so much work that we can accomplish," she said. "While I might be the Women's Center director, I really see myself in a community of people who are going to be working on these issues."