U of C women’s centre, finally

By Chris Beauchamp

Thanks to a private donation, the University of Calgary may have a long-awaited women’s centre by the end of the year.

The announcement was made informally this week, after the faculty of social science announced plans to hold a social action day for a visible women’s centre.

“We are one of the only large universities in Canada that doesn’t have one,” said special advisor to the president on student life Sheila O’Brien. “We are in the process of finalizing negotiations with a donor from the community. We’ve been talking about it for five months and we’re about 80 per cent towards the finish line.”

O’Brien said the centre would ideally be located in MacEwan Student Centre, and stressed that once negotiations with the donor are complete there will be consultations with faculty, staff and students in a town-hall forum.

The push for a centre has been an ongoing issue since the closing of the last U of C women’s centre in the 1970s. The issue last came up publicly in 2003, as it was debated in the Students’ Union Students’ Legislative Council, and eventually space was denied in MacEwan Student Centre.

SU president Bryan West said debate in the past has focused on whether the SU could pay for the centre and provide space.

“Now that we have an external donor and the university saying this is something they want to see, that’s a whole different story,” he said, noting the SU may have empty space in the hallway near NUTV and the old Chaplain’s Centre space on third-floor of MSC. West said the space has been shown to administration, but has to be approved by the donor.

“There’s not a lot of good empty space sitting around Mac Hall,” noted West. “Space will have to be approved by SLC.”

As part of their fourth annual Social Action Day, the U of C faculty of social work will be holding a number of events Fri., Feb. 17 to advocate a visible women’s centre.

“Our focal point on this is that we need a visible women’s centre in Mac Hall,” said Social Action Day committee co-chair Brenda Ingham. “If people don’t have access to something or they just can’t find it, it’s not going to grow.”

The day will include a number of events in MSC, including a drumming circle, musical performances from groups like the radical cheerleaders and raging grannies, a guerilla theatre scene, an agency employment fair and a symbolic take-over of a small space in MSC to represent a women’s centre.

“It’s all students,” said Ingham. “We usually end with a celebration. Anyone on campus is welcome to join us.”

Ingham stressed the day is not meant to be confrontational, but to raise awareness of the need for a visible centre.

“The message is a positive one,” she said. “This is not a them versus us situation.”

Ingham said a successful women’s centre should include a library, peer counseling, and access to planned parenthood help. Having a safe place is especially important for international students who come from male-dominated cultures, she said.

O’Brien explained the centre’s programming is still in the preliminary planning stages, but would be modeled after successful women’s centres on other campuses, and take campus input into account.