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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Protest Alleged Closing of Women’s Center

Even+after+the+decision+to+fund+the+position%2C+tensions+remain+between+students+and+staff+over+the+treatment+of+the+Women%26%238217%3Bs+Center.+Students+involved+in+the+petition+still+express+frustration+with+the+staff+in+private%2C+Shelby+Harris%2C+the+director+of+Student+Activities+and+Leadership%2C+would+not+comment+on+Day%26%238217%3Bs+actions%2C+and+Day+himself+did+not+respond+to+requests+for+a+statement.%0A

Even after the decision to fund the position, tensions remain between students and staff over the treatment of the Women’s Center. Students involved in the petition still express frustration with the staff in private, Shelby Harris, the director of Student Activities and Leadership, would not comment on Day’s actions, and Day himself did not respond to requests for a statement.

 

 

 

A week before the Spring 2013 semester began, UMass Boston Student Trustee Alexis Marvel heard that the Women’s Center had no coordinator and would soon be closed down. Immediately, she began to brainstorm ways to keep the center’s resources available to students, even if the center itself didn’t technically exist.

“I moved my office up there so that I could maintain it as a Women’s Center space even though they were closing,” she said. “I put a sign in my office to let people know that I wasn’t okay with it.” Marvel maintained the Women’s Center library and did not touch any of the decorations. A banner which reads “Women’s Center” is still up on her wall.

While Marvel worked to create an informal, unofficial gathering place for women, other students began to lobby the university to reactivate the center. An online petition demanding that Chancellor J. Keith Motley re-open the center gained over 800 signatures.

The anonymously-authored petition began with an announcement: “The Women’s Center is under attack!” It alleges that multiple students tried to apply for the coordinator position in Fall 2012 and were “given the run-around.”

On Valentine’s Day, Marvel posted a message to her Facebook profile telling students that Patrick Day, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, had “expressed his commitment to fund the position of Women’s Center coordinator himself.”

Marvel also stressed that the re-opening of the center was not a reason to stop calling attention to the original decision to close it. “We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she wrote.

Even after the decision to fund the position, tensions remain between students and staff over the treatment of the Women’s Center. Students involved in the petition still express frustration.

Shelby Harris, the director of Student Activities and Leadership, would not comment on Day’s actions, and Day himself did not respond to requests for a statement.

Harris insists that “the center was never closed.” In an email to the Mass Media, she informed reporters that she, assistant director Bob Cole, and the Student Events and Organizations Committee (SEOC) decided not to hire anybody new in December, when the last Women’s Center coordinator graduated, because “it is challenging to hire mid-year and expect folks to come up to speed.” She also told reporters that she and her staff had always intended for the center to remain open regardless of whether there was any paid leadership position. “90 other clubs function without paid coordinators, and they are extremely successful,” she wrote.

Harris does not know who asked to coordinate the center this semester or why anybody thought the job was available. “I did not hear from anyone stating they wanted to apply,” she wrote. “SEOC did not convene the hiring board, nor did they put out the call to formally hire.”

Harris also had complaints about the way the center has been run in the past. In her email, she claimed that both she and her staff have seen “’touchy-feely’ behavior, which is not consistent with what a center is supposed to be.” She also had concerns about excessive noise in the center last semester.

Finally, Harris and her staff do not believe that the center has really generated enough in the way of activities, events, and programming for women on campus. “With the demand high for space,” she wrote, “it would be difficult to keep spaces such as the Women’s Center solely as lounge space.”

An interview with one of the students involved in writing the petition, who preferred to remain anonymous, revealed even more disagreement regarding the basic facts surrounding the alleged deactivation of the center.

The student was unaware that the university had never planned to hire a new coordinator. “When people were interested in the job [staff members] would say, ‘We have to advertise it for two weeks, and then we’ll get back to you.’ They never did,” she said. According to this student, nobody who tried to apply was told that the position wasn’t open.

She also rejected all of Harris’s criticisms of the center. Rather than “lounge space,” she called the center “a space to be able to express yourself, get together, and collaborate with one another.”

“It’s very important to the school because we’re a commuter school. A lot of people leave, and there’s no sense of community. Here, there is a sense of community, which I think is very vital,” she said.

The student had heard about other students being overly affectionate in the center, but she was quick to say she’d never seen it personally. Instead, she argued, “It’s a he-said she-said situation. Unless they have proof, like a picture of two people getting it on on the sofa, they have nothing.”

She didn’t think the Women’s Center was especially noisy either. “One of the staff’s offices was inconveniently placed right next to the Women’s Center…Maybe the centers were being noisier than they should be, but it wouldn’t have been a problem if there wasn’t a staff member placed there,” she said.

Cole is the official staff advisor for the Women’s Center. His office is also located on the third floor of the Campus Center, near the student centers. The student would not tell The Mass Media whether or not she thought Cole had complained about the noise. Harris also assured reporters that no matter how he felt about the Women’s Center members as neighbors, “Bob could not unilaterally have closed the center.”

There is still no Women’s Center coordinator, but Marvel has finished collecting applications and handed them off to Day. He is currently scheduling interviews with potential hires.