YOUNGSTOWN STATE UNIVERSITY Women's Center feels sting of budget cuts
About 56 percent of students are women, as are 31 percent of administrators.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- When doctors told Nicole Young her pregnancy was high-risk and ordered her to stay in bed, the Youngstown State University student knew where to turn.
She called YSU's Women's Center, where staff and volunteers contacted her professors, explained the situation and helped her work out a plan to keep her in school.
"Where else would you go on campus to get something like that done?" asked Young, of Girard. "There is no other place."
For Young, and other nontraditional students like her, the impending loss of the current Women's Center location means YSU will lose a critical part of student life.
"It's just a good thing," she said, "and a necessary thing."
For the past several years, the Women's Center has struggled to maintain its footing at YSU as volunteers and work study programs kept it afloat with meager assistance from the Women's Studies academic budget and its staff.
At the end of this month, the Women's Studies program is being moved out of the Women's Center -- located in YSU's Kilcawley Center, a well-traveled student hub -- to the College of Arts and Sciences in DeBartolo Hall, an academic building.
Once the academic program leaves, the center also will be pushed out of its space. Though administrators say Women's Center activities can be absorbed by the academic program, students say such a move will cement the center's demise.
Here's the situation
"These are women trying to put women's issues in the forefront and into the community," said Kathy Barreca of Girard, who is co-founder and vice president of the YSU chapter of the Student National Organization for Women.
"This place is home for the women who come in here. We love this place and we will not go down without a fight."
She said the office has constant traffic and is a haven for a core group of about 30 to 50 women.
The women say they have collected about 700 signatures on a petition calling for the retention of the center and that they also have the support of staffers at the women's centers at other area universities.
Terri O'Connor-Brown, a student service counselor, has worked in the Women's Center for about three years but said she's been told she will not work for Women's Studies when the program moves to DeBartolo Hall.
She said YSU should not be abandoning such a center but expanding it to make the university known as a place that embraces diversity of all types.
"It all comes down to priorities, and diversity is supposed to be a big priority for them [administrators]. But I think in this town and on this campus, diversity means African American. When it comes to women or lesbians or gays, they don't want to deal with them, they just want to sweep it under the rug," Brown said.
At YSU, about 56 percent of students are women, according to fall 2003 enrollment figures. Fall 2003 figures also show that about 36 percent of full-time faculty and 52 percent of part-time faculty members are women.
Of the 45 administrators listed on YSU's Web site, 14 -- about 31 percent -- are women. On the nine-member board of trustees, one representative is a woman; there is also a female student trustee.
Dr. Cynthia Anderson, YSU's vice president for student affairs, said the Women's Center student activity budget was merged with the Women's Studies academic budget two years ago. Ever since, she said, it has fallen under the auspices of academic affairs. As such, it no longer is under her administrative umbrella, she said.
But Dr. Robert Bolla, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said his responsibility is the "purely academic" component of the Women's Studies program and the Women's Center is not the responsibility of Arts and Sciences.
Bolla, as well as Dr. Tony Atwater, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said a goal is to strengthen the academic program and eventually offer a bachelor's degree in women's studies; however, both said the Women's Center is not an academic affairs issue.
YSU President David C. Sweet, when asked about the Women's Center matter, directed his staff to issue a university statement. In it, Bolla and Anderson say the Women's Center was offering many of the same services as the Women's Studies program -- such as workshops and seminars -- and the two will be combined, with all services to be provided through the academic program.
Such a plan is "absolutely not" viable, said Dr. L.J. Tessier, who recently stepped down after six years as director of Women's Studies and who ran the Women's Center for the past three years. An academic program cannot, and should not be expected to, do the work of a women's center, she said.
Women's Studies has been moved to a small office that will not accommodate its 5,000-volume library or research or reference materials and offers no space for conferencing or private advising.
Further, she added, the program has a $5,000 budget, and administrators seek to appoint a faculty member as the new director, someone who also would be responsible for teaching three courses.
"We have the poorest support of Women's Studies of any state university in Ohio that offers Women's Studies," she said. "And on top of that, it's supposed to handle the Women's Center?
"After six years of busting my butt and breaking my heart ... that means I have accomplished nothing," she added. "We're back to the same miserable position we were in six years ago with Women's Studies, and at least six years ago we had a Women's Center."
Tessier said the Women's Center served walk-in clients every day and, with the change, those in need will lose that counseling and referral help.
Though administrators have said women can visit the YSU counseling center for help, Tessier said issues of conflict of interest mean some women are turned away from the center if they are already in other therapy, including students who are rape survivors or who lived through child sexual assault.
Anderson declined to comment on what will take over the Women's Center space, but students and staff said they have heard the space will become an office for minority student services.
"Women are being poorly served at YSU," Tessier said. "I absolutely affirm that there needs to be minority student services, but instead of supporting the various diverse units on campus, they take away from one to give to another."
The students say they have not' been given any other options for a Women's Center location; however, they have been promised an office for the student NOW group. Barreca said that office is in the Kilcawley Center basement and is like "a janitor's closet without a broom."
The current Women's Center offers various services, from providing free condoms and literature about safe sex to giving referrals to women who seek counseling or domestic violence services. The center's lending library holds pamphlets, books and other items on issues that pertain to women.
The center has sponsored a brown bag lunch series with speakers on topics such as crime, massage therapy and mechanics. They've also helped host special events this school year such as a & quot;Searching for a Nonviolent Future & quot; symposium, several Women's History month events, a production of the "Vagina Monologues" play, and a "Take Back the Night" rally against domestic violence.
Tessier said many of these special programs will be lost simply because a part-time Women's Studies director will not have the resources to maintain them.