UIS Women’s Center Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Photographs courtesy of Claire Starling

The Women’s Center at UIS is celebrating 25 years of service on campus this year. The Women’s Center plays a pivotal role in the vibrancy and culture of the UIS community by providing a safe space for women to address issues of concern to them, and allow their continued education and growth as individuals. Over many years, the Women’s Center has welcomed many changes since their initial opening and has adapted to best serve the students of UIS and their overall vision for the organization. 

 The Women’s Center was launched on the Sangamon State University Campus on August 22, 1994, and hosted its first open house on September 21 of that same year. The Women’s Center began working on a variety of projects in order to raise awareness for their cause. One project was a name quilt that helped raised money and also commemorated the grand opening of the center. The names that adorn the quilt honored both significant women in the donors’ lives and significant trailblazing women from history. What is most spectacular is that the very quilt still hangs in the Women’s Center today and acts as a visualization for the growth and purpose of the center itself.  

A quilt may seem odd or insignificant to some, but it has a particularly powerful purpose. Quilting was a traditional women’s art, rich in history and storytelling. Often quilts were designed to raise money for a particular cause and the signing of names allowed for a visual commemoration of those who worked on it. The quilt hanging in the Women’s Center today began as a fundraiser in 1993 to create a safe space for women. The quilt took eight long years to create and the center became a reality through the completion of the project itself, and the history of activism displayed by the women working on it. The project was finally unveiled in the fall of 2000, and many women and members of the Springfield Senior Center contributed to its completion. The women who served on the original council for establishing the Women’s Center were: Judy Shipp, Janene Grace, Mary Ann Haxton, Dixie Vaught, Lynne Price, Christa Hockensmith, and Suzi Langellier. 

Since its initiation, the Women’s Center has continued to grow and adapt, just like the powerful women it seeks to serve. Many of the issues and projects considered in their beginning are still at the forefront of their focus, with changes occurring mostly in the way they are getting their information out to the public. The Women’s Center utilized a newsletter in their early years, but now they have opted to communicate through a variety of electronic media in email, social media, and UISConnection for a variety of information and events regarding career issues, women’s health and prevention of violence against women. The Women’s Center has also seen a recent change in terms of their program director. Lynn Otterson served as director from 1995-2017, and in October of 2018, the Women’s Center welcomed Rexann Whorton as their new director. 

Since Rexann’s time as director, the Women’s Center has placed a significant emphasis on understanding and tending to the importance of seeing their work through an intersectional lens. In their current mission, they emphasize that “overall, the approach of the UIS Women’s Center is intended to be intersectional, recognizing that not all of those who may identify as women experience life the same way.” In order to do so, the Women’s Center focuses on critically analyzing the information and workshops they provide and making sure to address inequalities that occur even within groups of women, all so everyone can access education and resources.  As part of their intersectional approach, the Women’s Center merged with the Diversity Center in early 2019 in order to facilitate collaborative programming and to reach a larger audience of students. They also work closely and do a lot of outreach with Gender & Sexuality Student Services on campus.   

Looking ahead, the Women’s Center is continually considering how best to get involved with students and their specific needs and concerns. One way it is adapting is through work to implement the Student Affairs curriculum known as StarMap in their programming, providing a forum to teach the shared values of self-awareness, connections, inclusion and leadership. The Women’s Center is also exploring ways to engage students in online formats. The Women’s Center recognizes that students spend a lot of time engaging with screens and wants to find a way to utilize online platforms to share needed information in a way that is more accessible to those who are engaged with distance learning, or who cannot attend events in person.  

The Women’s Center has had a remarkable 25 years of service and education for the students of UIS and its surrounding community. Its ability to provide educational information and events about issues such as relationship health, consent and being a good bystander is integral to student life at UIS and promotes a sense of community through partnerships with other campus organizations. Students should look forward to participating in events and activities to educate themselves and expand their own perspectives, as well as be on the lookout for what the future holds for the Women’s Center.