Student-led women’s center initiative receives interest, questions about purpose

Shannon Casey and Carolina Bendaña, the two students heading a petition to create a Women’s and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) at the University of Miami, have been working hard to get as many people on their side as possible. Since they posted the petition on on Feb. 11, the two have tabled on campus, reached out to administrators and presented to the President’s Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention and Education.

The coalition is the university’s attempt to bridge the gaps between all resources related to sexual violence. It has spearheaded multiple large-scale projects and initiatives over the past few years, including starting a UM chapter of the national “It’s On Us” sexual violence education campaign.

When Casey and Bendaña presented to the coalition on Monday, their intention was to spur conversation about the WGRC initiative and highlight the role the coalition and affiliated resources would play in the center.

What they got instead was thoughtful silence and attention during the meeting and an email containing a list of 12 follow-up questions after the presentation.

“Yesterday was the LGBTQ Center, today it’s the Women’s center – what will it be tomorrow?” one part read. “What other gaps of need are you aware of? Are there other centers/services that are needed?”

“What are existing gaps and are they already being addressed in other ways besides a women’s center?” other questions read. “Does ‘women’ have to be in the title? Could we focus gender equity to express a more inclusive approach?”

Coalition co-chairs Kimberly Martin and Ashley Falcon said they couldn’t take a definite stance on the initiative because of the ambiguity surrounding what resources the center would provide, or if it would just be superfluous given preexisting services on campus.

“It would become a resource that we would promote along with others, but beyond that there’s a lot of questions about it,” Martin said. “Such as, how much of this would be geared towards survivors of sexual assault versus other things like leadership and scholarship?”

Casey and Bendaña are currently working to answer all questions about their project. They held an informational meeting – though it was open to all students, only about 10 showed up – Tuesday night in the Shalala Student Center. Anyone who is interested in taking part in the initiative can reach out to the two for additional documentation and be added to a group chat for easy communication.

The discussion on Tuesday was mainly about how to get more student organizations on board and about what the team could do to continue raising awareness. One student mentioned the importance of gaining the support of Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely and Dean of Students Ricardo Hall.

As of March 8, the petition had gathered 565 signatures, but Casey said she wants to have at least 1,000 before presenting it to administration. She and her team have been tabling in the University Center breezeway for the past couple weeks to expedite the process. They have also been taking part in International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month tabling events by the Lakeside Patio.

Read more about the petition here.