Women’s center more than a safe haven; a home

Carol Morales

As an individual crosses the gate into the CSUN Women’s Resource and Research Center, a person probably could not help, but feel safe and at home.

“What we have is because someone stood up before us. What our Seventh Generation will have will be a consequence of our actions today,” read one of the various quotes accompanying the portraits of “women of hope” that adorn the walls of the Women’s Resource and Research Center, located on the corner of Plummer and Darby.

The walls are full of inspirational images. The posters let you look into the women’s eyes.

The house-like structure, the perfectly mowed green grass, the apparatus for children to play in, not only set this place apart from every other building on campus, but one probably could not find the kind of services you find here anywhere else.

Thirty-three years ago, before the women’s studies program at CSUN developed a major, women on campus were coming together to discuss feminism and issues having to deal with women.

The determination of two female students to establish a meeting place for women gave birth to the center.

In 1973, “the women decided that there needed to be a place for women to gather, to talk about issues, about feminist issues and about issues of discrimination and there was no place on campus to do that,” said Elizabeth Berry, communication studies professor. She was one of the first people to support the development of the center. During that year, a counselor lent the students her office during the summer as a temporary resource center to see what kind of response such a place would have.

The center turned out to be “a resource of information and fellowship and a way to make connections with the campus and with women,” Berry said. “It provides any number of services that students wouldn’t get otherwise.”

“In today’s society in which women are still oppressed, we need a place to go, a place to hang out where we are celebrated and it’s all about us,” said Shelby Stephan, former WRRC assistant director.

Edna Chavez, senior women’s studies and art major, is one of dozens of students who utilizes the center, agrees. She said her first visit to the center was in search of a safe place on campus, a place she has since belonged to.

“What attracted me to the center was its warmth, acceptance and anonymity,” she said Chavez. Four years ago, when an ex-boyfriend was stalking Chavez, she wandered into the center in search of that place.

“All I wanted was a place to feel secure,” she said. “And the center provided that.”

Chavez never revealed to the people heading the center the reason for her first visit. She said the day she walked in, everyone greeted her and welcomed her in a friendly manner. There was no need to tell anyone about her problems.

Chavez said everything she would ever need was available to her at the center.

“I grabbed some pamphlets on my own,” she said. “The resources were laid out there, and so I just took advantage of that.”

Like Chavez, many women go to the center to use many resources with no questions asked, said Rachel Levitt, WRRC assistant director. Today, the center serves as a sanctuary to the more than 160 people that visit throughout the month, a number that according to Levitt has doubled over the last two years.

Last semester, on three consecutive days, three women went to the center in search of comfort.

“One women was suffering from an abusive relationship, the other was being raped by her husband and the other didn’t tell us what happened but she just stayed here crying,” said Levitt, a senior communications and women studies major.

All of these women were welcomed and given referrals to places that would help with their different problems.

One of the women that wandered in did not want to talk to anyone. She just looked around, grabbed some pamphlets and stayed at the center for a couple of hours, Levitt said.

“She didn’t want to talk,” she said. “She just wanted to be left alone, so we did.”

A student, faculty or staff member does not have to be face a problem or be a woman to use the center.

With more than 300 books lining the walls of the small library, people oftentimes go to the center to do research. Between classes, an individual could find people hanging out, taking a break from stress by listening to music or taking a nap on the couches at the center.

“It’s a comfortable and relaxing place for people to hang out,” Chavez said. “It’s not all stuffy like the library where you cant even talk.”

Levitt said, however, the center is also a productive place.

In the middle months of the spring and fall semesters, the women’s center is busy putting together a series of events celebrating different successes women have accomplished. They organize rallies, bring writers and speakers, and show movies.

This year, the center’s Take Back the Night Rally, a demonstration in protest of acts of violence against women, was one of its biggest events, with more than 200 people in attendance.

Over the years, the events have successfully gathered more and more people, Levitt said.

Even though March and October are the center’s busiest months, people there invite at least one speaker and showcase one movie.

“People come and tell us who they would like to hear speak or what movie they would like to see and we try to make it happen,” Levitt said.

In the center’s colorful adjacent room, professors have an opportunity to showcase new research or work during the “brown bag lunches” held throughout the year.

The center’s kitchen allows an individual to refrigerate or microwave their lunch.

“You are welcomed to come in and do that or just hang out and study,” she said.

Although attendance at the women’s center has increased, the WRRC continues to be a real untapped resource on campus, Levitt said.

“A lot of people know about it and take advantage of it,” she said. “But there are a lot of others that don’t.”

The center exists to provide resources for anyone who needs them. It serves as a haven for those who are suffering and in need of someone to talk to, someone to listen.

“It’s a place for everybody to find a voice,” Chavez said. “A place like no other on campus.”

Carol Morales can be reached at features@csun.edu.