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Programs, services focus on women

By Netta S. Eisler

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 11 - November 3, 1994

A new Women's Center, established on campus this fall, rounds out the many Virginia Tech services and programs that focus on women's issues.

"Because Virginia Tech has a strong male tradition, we have to work extra hard to make it a welcoming place for women," says Carol Burger, director of the Women's Research Institute and a key player in the establishment of the Women's Center. "The Women's Center sends a message that Virginia Tech welcomes and values women."

Women's Center director Penny Burge says the center should "enhance the recruitment and retention of female students, staff and faculty members, and administrators."

According to Burge, the center "can play an important role in improving the climate and culture at Virginia Tech for women. The main components will be advocacy, support and referral, and educational programming."

The Women's Center has assisted women with problems ranging from locating safe apartments in well-lit areas to arranging for immediate and appropriate counseling for sexual-assault victims. Burge says the center already has assisted many more women than she had expected in the short time it has been operating.

Another important role for the center is enhancing the link between the university and the community, Burge says. She arranged for Sue Rosser of the University of South Carolina, a leading woman scientist who was on campus to conduct a conference, to speak to Blacksburg Middle School girls about the importance of math and science. "That's the kind of thing I'm excited about being able to do," she says. "I see us as fulfilling the mission that many other groups believed in but didn't have the resources to accomplish."

Other programs and services for or about women at Virginia Tech range from Women's Week and a Women's Network to the Women's Research Institute and the Women's Studies Program.

"I can't say exactly where our women's programs are going, because we see them as evolving over time," Burger says. "That should not be seen as a lack of focus, but as a response to needs as we identify them."

A new brochure, "Women at Virginia Tech," provides detailed information about these services and programs. To receive copies of the brochure, call the Women's Programs Office at 1-7615.

Below are brief descriptions of services and programs for or about women, with phone numbers for more information.

The Women's Center was designed to create a more diverse, inclusive, and open higher-education environment with emphasis on equity for women.

The center is the result of almost four years of work by women on campus, including graduate student Susan Shome, who gathered initial data in support of the center. "We started out without institutional support, but once the institution saw our dedication to the project and what was going on at peer institutions, the university was very supportive," says Burger.

"Now that we have the Women's Center, the Women's Studies Program can concentrate more on academics and the Women's Research Institute can concentrate on things like our new journal for women and minorities in science and engineering, which we first published in June," says Burger.

Burger is often invited to speak with classes about careers for women in science.

In making plans for the Women's Center, the organizers visited or talked by phone with directors of more than 20 such centers around the country. They also held focus groups with students, faculty and staff members, and community groups, to determine if there was support for the center and, if established, what its role should be.

Goals focus on institutional change and assistance to individuals and to groups. Students often come in to talk with center personnel about problems they are having. Services include information and referral, support services and advising, educational programming for women and men, and advocacy for women and women's issues. The center specifically addresses issues of recruitment, retention, and sexual assault and harassment education.

The center is the administrative home for Women's Week. The phone number is 1-7806.

The Coordinating Council for Women's Concerns, formed in 1989, identifies problems and opportunities for women on campus, then proposes solutions and advocates policies on behalf of women. It also coordinates activities and disseminates information among the organizations represented on the council.

Recently, members of the council were involved in a revision of the sexual-harassment policy. "This is a policy that helps all of us," Burger says. "Sexual harassment is a power issue."

The council is composed of representatives from groups and programs designed for women, including the Women's Center, Women's Research Institute, Organization of Women Faculty, Women's Studies Program, and other such organizations and programs. It also includes representatives from campus administrative and governing groups such as the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office, graduate and undergraduate student government, Dean of Students Office, and the Provost's Office.

This year's council president is Penny Burge, 1-7806.

The Women's Research Institute fosters research for, by, and about women and disseminates the results to the widest possible audience. Its primary goal is to improve the status of women in science and engineering. It strives to accomplish this goal through development and presentation of workshops and encouraging interdisciplinary research in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The institute recently began publication of The Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. The institute can be reached through the Women's Program Office at 1-7615.

The Women's Artists and Scholars Lecture Series, inaugurated in 1986 and funded by the Provost's Office, supports the visits of distinguished women to campus. Past guests from diverse academic and artistic fields include scientist Evelyn Fox Keller, novelists Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, and pediatrician and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott. The Coordinating Council for Women's Concerns provides matching funds to help departments proposing the visits defray expenses. For more information, call the Women's Program Office at 1-7615.

The Women's Studies Program provides a comprehensive and coherent program of study that enables students to achieve a more complete understanding of the history, position, and achievements of women in Western society and around the world. Students and their faculty advisors plan an 18-hour sequence of courses tailored to the students' interests and needs. The program has recently expanded its interdisciplinary course offerings.

To find out more about the program, call the Women's Program Office at 1-7615.

Woman's History Month and Women's Week are annual events at Virginia Tech designed to recognize, discover, affirm, and showcase the achievements, concerns, and diversity of women. Virginia Tech first observed Women's Week in 1982. Programs are designed, among other things, to educate people about the diversity of feminist philosophies, offer opportunities for women to gain tools they need, and to present a forum for and about women's culture, nationally and internationally.

The phone number for more information, to join the planning committee, or to suggest a program, is 1-7806.

The Program on Women in International Development, housed in the Office of International Research and Development, is committed to integrating women as architects, agents, and beneficiaries of international development assistance programs and projects. The program is involved in many on- and off-campus activities, including the development of projects, training programs, internships, and scholarly exchanges in the world's developing regions; training programs for women from developing regions; gender-planning training for U.S. personnel working overseas; and collaboration with faculty and staff members to enhance interest in international development.

The phone number is 1-6338.

The Sexual Assault Victim Education and Support (SAVES) program was started by the Dean of Students Office in response to the problems of sexual assault and harassment. The group, housed in the Women's Center, is responsible for educating the student body, faculty, and staff about these issues. Peer educators facilitate workshops and help student find support and counseling.

For more information, call the Women's Center at 1-7806.

The Women's Network was established in 1978 as an independent advocacy organization for women on campus, in the community, and in association with Virginia Tech across the state. The network is a volunteer member organization, self funded and self governed. Network goals include serving as an advocate for concerns of women faculty and staff members, and graduate students; supporting the advancement of women in their careers; facilitating women's participation in university affairs and decision making; and encouraging linkages among women's groups.

This year's president is Susan Anderson, 1-8041.

The Organization of Women Faculty was founded in 1992 to foster the professional development of women faculty. It works for recruitment, retention, and promotion of all women faculty. The group sponsors workshops and discussion groups and a Friday Morning Coffee hour.