Spotlight on The Women’s Center

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Mia MacLean Vernic and Cristina Dezeeuw

         Vanderbilt University offers various different resources for a wide range of students—in need of some sort of assistance. Our campus provides wonderful outlets and organizations for students to seek help—especially women. The Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center in one of these, located right on campus. It supplies female students with a wealth of knowledge, a variety of programs, and many opportunities to conquer personal issues. The general goal of the Women’s Center includes serving the needs of students; in particular, college women are seeking out options to help them with their problems. Margaret Cunningham, who created many programs to serve women, first started the women’s center in the 1970s. It is open to all women around campus and invites and encourages those struggling with, just about anything, to come seek out help from the center.

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            We scheduled a time to go to the center, and interviewed Alex Hollidfild. She is the Program Coordinator and had plenty of insight for us about the Women’s Center. She explained and went into depth when telling us of all the different aspects of the center and what it has to offer. The Women’s Center’s main goal is to celebrate and empower all women. The center fosters this celebration and empowerment for women of all races, sexual identities, and religious affiliations. In current day society, it is still vitally important to reinforce female power and continue to work towards gender equality. A majority of the time, we think that women and men are treated equally, since it’s the twenty first century; however, that is not true all of the time. Women are still discriminated against, whether it is in the workplace, home environment, or they are forgotten victims of domestic abuse. The topic of gender discrimination is still very relevant today. The center reminds women to have an increased awareness of the influences gender has on our everyday lives. There are still gender stereotypes everywhere—but by living out the Women Center’s mission, we can work towards closing the gender gap. The Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center reminds us that it is still imperative that we empower women all over our campus, nation, and globe.

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          Anybody can walk into the center and receive information on anything and everything at any time. One can get resources on women’s health, sexual health, pregnancy, STI prevention, women’s leadership, students with children, eating disorders, body image issues—and much more. The center makes all of this information available to female students, who may not have any way of receiving this information otherwise. There are people in the Women’s Center who are always available to talk with and help Vanderbilt students. The center has created a comfortable environment that is welcoming to women of all identities. The center puts on programs across campus related to all of these goals. Some of the events include VandyIW, Kitchen Table Series, Vandy Sex Ed, Cunningham Lecture and so on. The many programs are alternate ways that the Women’s Center shares their mission with the university. These campus-wide programs continue to increase the availability of information and spread the Women’s Center’s message to an even broader crowd.

Alex mentioned that she has a few goals she hopes to accomplish in the coming years. She stated that sexual education, body image issues, and perfectionism are the main concepts that are affecting women the most on this campus. These are the specific topics she specializes in and believes seriously impact young women today. Being young, college women ourselves—these are definitely pertinent issues our classmates and friends are constantly dealing with. Body image issues are a reoccurring health problem that young girls struggle with everyday. The issues all stem from the unrealistic and unachievable commercial women in the media. The Women’s Center is the perfect resource for girls to go to in order to get healthy and understand their disorder. By providing safe spaces and more opportunities to learn and gain a variety of perspectives, Alex is optimistic that the Women’s Center can make a dent in the lives of women around campus. It is an incredible resource that is extremely inviting and helpful to all women. A lot of young women on campus may be unsure or uneducated on certain topics (they are personally dealing with) and the Women’s Center is able to instantly help these girls.

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            In class, we have talked a lot about norms. This includes gender norms, relationship norms, and sexual identity norms. Since our society has formed these preconceived notions (about everything) in the minds of people all over the world, young people often struggle with being different. If being different is “wrong” or “bad” then why would anybody want to be different? The stereotypical gender roles and heteronormativity in society make anything outside of those standards seem irrelevant and unacceptable. This often puts people on the outside and is the direct cause of depression, body image issues, and a sense of disconnectedness. Many young people who are struggling with sexual identities, gender confusion, and other serious problems feel secluded and distanced from society instead of welcomed and accepted.

On top of this, most views of women are socially constructed and often incorrect. For example, women as homemakers who tend to the children and house as their only job is a social construction and stereotype that unfortunately, many people still have today. The Women’s Center is trying to combat these societal assumptions. Women are usually viewed as inferior, weak, and unimportant. Because of these (incorrect) ideas of how women are—many women actually end up feeling like this. Women think that they don’t matter and that their problems don’t matter. The Women’s Center is working hard to put this to and end by providing young student with infinite resources in order to put these stereotypical myths away. The hope to reach as many women on campus and make them feel empowered. The process of educating people about women’s issues is a long one- it has been going on for decades, but it is a process that the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center has dedicated it’s mission to.

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