FUNDING FOR WOMEN’S CENTRE

A year ago I wrote the following piece for a Quebec newspaper. It’s about how a local university needed an adequately funded women’s center.

I know, I know I shouldn’t be recycling material, but here’s the beauty of it: a year later and nothing’s changed, Bishop’s University still has a women’s center run by student volunteers.

Besides, no one read the article anyway.

So here we go again…

Bishop’s needs Women’s Centre

Sherbrooke Record

February 2003

Last fall I was contacted by a

Bishop’s University student to assist in writing a story for the Campus newspaper about the death of my sister, Theresa Allore. The student had read about my sister – who had died while a student at Champlain College over twenty-four years ago – and she felt there were a lot of parallels between Theresa’s story and activities on the campus today. Specifically in the areas of sexual assaults and date rapes; she suggested the schools still weren’t doing enough to protect women. I wrote my story and that was the last I heard from the student. Until last week. She contacted me once more, and again asked for my assistance. This time it was personal. Recently, she herself had been date raped on campus. Could I help? I am only too happy to oblige.

This year is Bishop’s 150th anniversary. Happy Birthday. In lieu of gifts, allow me to send a recommendation. As it is budget season again, I respectfully request that the school get with the times and pay for the funding of an adequately staffed Women’s Centre. Campus women need a “safe house”; somewhere they can convene to deal with such problems as date rape, date rape drugs, sexual assault, or even just a relaxing place to grab a cup of coffee. Such a Centre should not be run by student volunteers; it must be operated with a paid staff who are trained professionally to handle these complex issues.

Currently there is no central location on campus where women can go to get assistance with sexual assault issues, and those services that are offered are inadequate. A nurse – more accustomed to dealing with sports injuries than rape – and the arcane tradition of providing a priest for consultation is not cutting it. School officials will counter that Bishop’s has a Women’s Centre funded by the Student Representative Council. This is not a women’s Centre. It is a closet in the back of a building that received total funding of $405 from the SRC last year. I am told that a recent production of The Vagina Monologues was a successful fundraiser for the Centre. Oh great, and maybe if students hold a bake sale they can finally afford to buy themselves some pencils.

Do not ask your students to do the work of paid professionals. A women’s Centre cannot operate on a student volunteer basis. In this area, Bishop’s is hopelessly out of step with the rest of North America. The University of Chapel Hill where I live pays for two positions at their Centre. The University of Manitoba – pioneers in the field – also has paid staff. The University of Toronto practically has a Taj Mahal dedicated to the subject.

I ask Bishop’s administration not to go-cheap on this issue. This is not just a “women’s problem” it is an issue of safety, and the College must take ownership. Your young women students need to feel that the College administration supports them, that you take their concerns seriously. At its core a women’s Centre needs a professional staff. Students can assist on a volunteer basis, but there must be some continuity from year to year. At least two positions are necessary; a health professional and an assistant. The health care professional would provide expertise in rape crisis response, date rape drugs – which are becoming alarmingly sophisticated – and other professional concerns. An administrative assistant could run the office, answer phones, provide weekend service (which currently is not available), and keep adequate records and documentation. If the expense is too much, get Champlain College to pony-up; they don’t have a women’s Centre either.

Violence against women is everybody’s problem. Bishop’s mandate is not solely education. You have a responsibility to the welfare of your membership. I urge the College to provide the funding that this project so desperately needs.

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