Why have we gone nearly a year without an active Women’s Centre?
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
“We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.” – Rosemary Brown
You may not have noticed the Douglas College Women’s Centres have been in bad shape over the past year. Actually, you may not have noticed our Women’s Centres at all.
Although the Women’s Centres are considered part of student services, little promotion goes into raising awareness of the resources the Women’s Centres offer. The role of the Women’s Centre is to offer a safe space for women on campus. Whether you’re curious about female post-secondary opportunities, require hygiene products, or are in need of counselling services, it is the Women’s Centre’s duty to provide the appropriate resources and information.
The 2013/14 school year in particular has seen the Women’s Centres’ presence plummet due to 10 straight months without student staff. Now into the 2014/15 school year, the Women’s Centres remain unstaffed and barely utilized by students. Of the thousands of students who attend Douglas yearly, just over 100 different names have signed into the New West Women’s Centre since last October.
Usually one-to-two student assistants are hired each fall and winter semesters to run the Women’s Centre, under the administration of the operations supervisor for Student Services. Barb Thompson, operations supervisor at the time, elaborated on the situation:
“I did hire two individuals through the [2013/14] time period, but once they were hired and went through the orientation, events happened in their [lives, and] they couldn’t continue with the positions. By that point [it was] far into the semester, so they didn’t get another individual by the end of fall, and likewise midway through winter. I didn’t bring on another individual when it was only going to be a one-month position.”
So what happens when there’s no student staff to maintain the Women’s Centres?
A pile of garbage bags sits in the New West centre. Rotten food and dirty dishes occupy the fridge and tables at the David Lam centre. Sign-in sheets from both campuses, meant to be dropped off at the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU) pile high. The “safe space” label also falters without some sort of staff or authoritative figure: people frequently barge in to use the microwave, phone, or computer at both centres. What ultimately damages the Women’s Centres though is that none of their resources or information are available to people in need of them—there isn’t anyone to contact in-person or online, and hasn’t been for almost a year now.
Women’s liaison for the DSU Anni Thiele has been volunteering to help the centre in her free time. “When I started my term in May, it was one of my priorities to get the Women’s Centre going. I spent about two days in there looking through all the resources, throwing about more than half of it away because it was just so outdated or unnecessary. … stuff from like 1990, ’93.”
Even if student staff were employed, Thiele’s discovery of outdated resources doesn’t help the current struggling image of the centres.
A brief history and hazy future
The original Women’s Centre was founded in 1981 by Marian Exmann, who retired from Douglas College in 2011. The centre at the time was partially funded by the BC Ministry of Education, under the now defunct “Women’s Access Program.” Currently, post-secondary services and funding offered by the Ministry of Education focus on areas such as international students, aboriginal students, and adult students with disabilities. Meanwhile, attention to women-specific services has disappeared over the past 20 years.
As outside funding has diminished over time, the Women’s Centres have faced increasing cuts. The New West centre specifically is a fraction of its original size, now sharing part of its initial space with the Co-operative Education Office.
“There [were] two smaller offices that the student assistant had access to for storage, and access for a computer, phone, and contact list,” said Thompson. Thompson added that the wall now dividing the Women’s Centre was set up, “about a year ago.”
“It’s being whittled down,” said Tim Rattel, executive director for the DSU. “Last year the college asked us to take over [the Women’s Centre], to have us host the space in our building. We pushed back on that only because we feel like the college needs to take responsibility for some things and can’t offload those. But the funding isn’t there, or at least the staffing isn’t there, so we’ll see how it continues.”
On the David Lam centre, Thiele added, “There’s no DSU building here, so once this office shuts down here, that’ll be it for Women’s Centre at the David Lam campus.”
However, Thompson stressed that because David Lam is not “experiencing the same space pressures” as the New Westminster campus, the Women’s Centre in Coquitlam would stay put.
The college currently recognizes the Women’s Centres as an essential student service, not unlike the Aboriginal Student Services or the Centre for Students with Disabilities. Financial aid, academic advising, and counselling are all additional examples of student services. So if those and other recognized student services are available as part of the college, why should the Women’s Centre be carted off to the DSU?
There is also concern that were the DSU to take over the Women’s Centre, further funding would also fall onto the DSU.
Thompson stated that, “Even with the possibility of a location within the [Students’] Union office, we would still be hiring the student assistants and providing the support.”
Much of the DSU’s funding goes towards providing rooms for student-organized clubs and collectives, not student services. Student services are largely provided and funded by the college itself or through generous donations. For example, Westminster Savings Credit Union has funded the David Lam Women’s Centre.
For the time being, the Women’s Centres still hold their respective rooms: 2850 at the New West campus and A1301 at the David Lam campus.
“Do we need a Women’s Centre?”
One could argue that recognition of the necessity for Women’s Centres has increased since last year. The issues plaguing both Douglas Women’s Centres in that time coincided with the UBC rape chants revealed last September. In addition, the rampant sexual assaults that took place on UBC throughout 2013 were what inspired the return of Douglas’ Safer Walk program.
“The incidents out at UBC [were] definitely a triggering point to say, ‘You know what? The time is now, let’s do it, let’s make it happen,’” said Nancy Constable, director of safety, security, and risk management at Douglas. “I elected to go with utilizing a member of our security team for consistency purposes … and it’s working well. I definitely want students to be aware of [Safer Walk]; I want to hear their feedback too.”
Constable revealed that in her three and 1/2 years as director, there have been some allegations of sexual assault and harassment regarding Douglas students.
“One incident was reported to the college, but it did not occur at the college. My role in that was to facilitate contact with the police, and obviously to make sure that we were providing counselling services to the victim in that situation.” Constable added there have been two separate allegations of sexual harassment, one on campus and one off.
So why need a Women’s Centre when we have security and counselling services?
“In one of those scenarios … the student had gone to the Women’s Centre, and the person from the Women’s Centre notified counselling and notified me,” said Constable. “Definitely in those situations that’s a great response because we want to make sure that there’s follow up and we want to make sure that there’s care for the person.”
“There are sometimes incidents happening on campus,” said Thiele. “You don’t [always] feel secure talking to security or the college itself ‘cause you don’t know how they’ll react. Having a Women’s Centre with, even just a volunteer, somebody who’s there to listen to you … if we don’t have that and we don’t promote it, women don’t know.”
If you need to get in contact with the Women’s Centre on either campus, you currently can’t. As of a July 28 job posting, Douglas has been looking for a student assistant to work both Women’s Centres for the fall semester. Now nearing the end of September, having spent the first month of the new school year without a functioning Women’s Centre, keep in mind that October is Canada’s Women’s History Month. Let’s work together to make sure our lack of a respectable Women’s Centre doesn’t stay a part of that history.
Women’s Centre Locations and Contact
New West Women’s Centre
Room 2850, second floor
David Lam Women’s Centre
Room A1301, A/B Building main floor
Remember, both Women’s Centres are not currently functioning, and therefor cannot offer support. If you’re in need of campus assistance, contact your respective personal counselling or security offices.
Apply for Women’s Centre Student Assistant
The job posting number is 00758 can be found online with additional details at douglascollegecareers.ca.
The student assistant’s responsibility is to aid female students with resources ranging from counselling services to daycare. They must spend 20 hours per week between both campuses, for $10.66 per hour. Apply now; there is no set deadline, but the role must be filled before the end of the semester.
Safer Walk program
Monday to Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at the New Westminster campus. Meet in the Concourse on the second floor. Security-escorted student walks depart every half hour for the New Westminster SkyTrain. The David Lam campus doesn’t currently offer the Safer Walk program, but students are encouraged to request security-escorted walks if there are safety concerns.
Sisters in Spirit 2014
October 1 in the Aboriginal Gathering Place at the New Westminster campus. For more information, check out the article on the event in this issue’s News section.
No Means No campaign
Douglas College is a participating member of the No Means No campaign. The Canadian Federation of Students has been running the No Means No campaign for almost 20 years, raising awareness and educating students throughout the country on sexual consent and sexual assault. For more information, head to cfs-fcee.ca/take-action/no-means-no