Last Wednesday, I moved back into school early to begin training for my new job, as Diversity Peer Educator at my college’s women's center. I remember how thrilled I was when I was offered the job at the end of last semester, because, from the start of my freshman year, the women’s center was my safe haven. There, I knew that I had people who would listen to me when I was having a rough day. It was a space where I could be my authentic self, where no one would make fun of my hair or my clothes. In a world where it feels like people are constantly trying to make me conform to their standards, this was really important to me. I found a home there because of the like-minded individuals whose struggles, as well as goals, were similar to mine. I cannot picture my campus without this space.
Apparently, however, there are people on my campus who do not see the center in the same way I do. During training, I heard various people pose the question of whether or not we still need a women's center. Unfortunately, this was not the first time I heard this question asked. Any staff member there, or student who goes there regularly, can tell you at least one story where someone said that the women's center is not necessary in this day of age. However, the women's center at Ramapo College is incredibly vital to the lives of the students on our campus, especially in the current political climate.
The women’s center does not just advocate and provide a safe space for women, but also for all other marginalized and disadvantaged groups: students from minority backgrounds, students with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, survivors of sexual or dating violence, etc. We provide these individuals with a space free of judgement, where they can express themselves in whatever way makes them feel most comfortable. We have important resources for people with these identities, such as queer sex ed, support groups for LGBTQ+ individuals and POC, educational programming that sheds light on sexual assault, as well as other educational programming that validates the various identities students claim, to name a few.
We also help bring awareness to the issues that plague men. We have an amazing Men’s Outreach Coordinator who runs support groups for men who are apart of the LGBTQ+ community and a discussion group that promotes healthy masculinity. The center addresses toxic masculinity, health issues that affect men and stereotypes they deal with on a daily basis. In addition, the center makes a point to address the sexual and dating violence men can face.
Most importantly, though, the women’s center empowers students to become activists, by fighting for the rights of the oppressed and disadvantaged on our campus. We make the voices of the feminist movement heard on campus by bringing awareness to sexual and dating violence; by hosting healthy love parties, which are safer sex workshops that support the participants self-healing; by shedding light on the inequity between the incomes of men and women and by educating about healthy body images for women. Last year, staff at the center advocated for our campus to become a sanctuary campus, despite the many voices that spoke out against them. The women's center staff is the first to advocate for LGBTQ+ students by continuing to make sure their concerns are regularly addressed, as well as validated. They inspired me to be a stronger activist on my campus, and I know they have done the same for others.
So, to the people who STILL ask if we need a women's center here at Ramapo College, yes, we absolutely do. We need it because racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and other forms of oppression and discrimination still plague this society. We need it because 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder in their life time and because there are still nearly 20 million cases of STDs every year, despite how easy it is to prevent them. We need it because 1 in 12 transgender women and 1 in 8 transgender women of color have a chance of being murdered. And we need it because over 99% of women in America say that they have been a victim of street harassment. The fact that the women's center exists is a form of resistance to all of that evil. Until those facts are no longer accurate, the women's center will continue to be necessary here at Ramapo College. So instead of debating whether or not we deserve a space on this campus, how about you volunteer at the center and see for yourself why we need to be here: Our work saves lives.
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