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Women's Centers: Who needs them?
Peg Lonnquist, left, and Anitra Cottledge
The Women's Center at the University of Minnesota was founded in 1960 as the first campus-based Women's Center in the country.

by Peg Lonnquist and Anitra Cottledge

The story of Women's Centers on university and college campuses encompasses thousands of women over the years who received support, wisdom and wake-up calls to help them follow their calling and press toward a just world. Students told us they came to the University of Minnesota's Women's Center because ...

Women are amazing and worthy but are too often discouraged from pursuing their dreams, developing their talents or offering their viewpoints because of gender stereotypes. Women's Centers impact people like Natasha who gained skills and experience to speak up and offer her perspective during meetings with experts in her field.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work but women still make 78 cents to the dollar overall, with women of color and women with disabilities earning even less. Women's Centers offer workshops on salary negotiation and advocacy toward equitable pay for individuals like Lisa, who was encouraged to ask for a raise based on gender inequity - and got it!

We need allies to stop violence on women. One in four women is raped in her lifetime in this country. Many Women's Centers offer that critical immediate support for survivors of rape, sexual assault and stalking.

It's time to expand the Man Box. Men often have few resources to help them expand the narrow roles given men or to help them do their part to stop the rape culture. Women's Centers coordinate speakers and discussions for men interested in changing the world.

Women leaders make a difference. When women make up the majority of a board, companies usually perform better. Only 24.2 percent of U.S. legislators and only 26 percent of college presidents are women. Women's Centers offer leadership opportunities to help develop socially responsible leadership skills, encourage self-advocacy and persistence, and increase self-confidence.

Women in science face implicit and explicit bias. Only about 25 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree holders are women. Mai and Brianna, graduate students in science, didn't realize the slights they were experiencing from professors was inequity and didn't know what steps to take - until they connected with their Women's Center.

The transformation of a large institution takes time. The U of M seeks to become free from sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism and all forms of discrimination and to be a national equity leader. The Women's Center collaborates across the university to help rethink structures.

Women of color face double or triple challenges. Women's Centers offer scholarships with special consideration for returning, first-generation and new immigrant women. Maria, a scholarship recipient on the verge of graduation, said that her scholarship helped her financially, but that she was even more grateful because it boosted her confidence knowing that someone believed in her as a scholar.

We need you to dare to be powerful ... to tell others that women still face discrimination and, more importantly, to take action to live your life to the fullest and to make a difference for others. When we improve rights for women, we improve the world for everyone.

Peg Lonnquist, Ph.D., and Anitra Cottledge, M.A., are director and assistant director, respectively, of the U of M's Women's Center.

TCPride.KathyGriffin.InContentTile 5-2016

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