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March 4, 2002

Wanted: Home for Women's Center

Stacey Jones is associate director of University Publications and former managing editor of Emory Report.


In my prior life writing for these pages, I once attended a meeting of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, where pioneering women told of their struggle to get Emory administrators to recognize the need for an on-site child care center. I remember one woman telling the assembled group that by the time Clifton Childcare Center opened, her son (an infant when their crusade began) was already an Emory undergraduate. Well, that’s one type of child care, I suppose.

I think of this story often, especially now, as the Emory Women’s Center, a pioneering entity in its own right, seeks to find a permanent—and more appropriate—home here on campus. As my fellow board members and other friends of the Women’s Center look for what we all know is a scarce commodity here at Emory, I hope it doesn’t take 18 years for this new home to become a reality.

It’s already been almost 10 years since the Women’s Center was founded—“two women in a trailer” as Director Ali Crown has jokingly referred to their humble beginnings. Well, there are still two women, and they are still in the trailer these many years later, having braved fallen trees and an overall scarcity of space as the center’s voluminous programming quickly outstripped its double-wide dwelling.

I sometimes think the problem is that the Women’s Center staff, like many women, makes do with what’s there, however meager. Not only do they make do, but they do it well, thereby becoming a casualty of their own success. But of the approximately 40–50 events the Women’s Center hosts annually, few can be held in the trailer. Without new space, the Women’s Center is in danger of becoming a virtual entity, a shadow tenant to spaces such as the Miller-Ward Alumni House, Woodruff Library’s Jones Room and the Winship Ballroom, with no recognizable home of its own.

Still, there are many opportunities for those of us on campus to visit the Women’s Center in its present home. In this tiny space near the DUC loading dock and behind the campus computer store, there is a well-used library with a stunning array of materials and books—nearly 2,500 volumes—devoted to gender. There are so many books that Facilities Management has warned no more can be shelved there—the trailer won’t bear the weight.

There is also the Nursing Nest, precious space that the Women’s Center dedicates to student mothers and working mothers who breastfeed their babies. This particularly touches my heart. I remember well my frustrating—and one time comical—turn trying to breastfeed as I worked full time.

After I returned to work following my oldest son’s birth, I didn’t have an office and my plans to breastfeed him were sadly cut short. I was determined to breastfeed my second baby for at least a year. By then I had an office and a door, which I closed twice a day for pumping. Our office doors had no locks, but my colleagues knew that when my door was closed it was pumping time.

Unfortunately, I forgot to inform my new boss. One day she knocked and evidently didn’t hear my startled “Wait, wait!” The next thing I knew, she had opened the door. The good news is that I was wearing a blouse that day and not facing the door. The bad news is that my blouse was open, and I was sure she could see the two opaque funnels that alternately squeezed and released my breasts and the milk-filled tubing attached to the bottles sitting on my desk. As I tried to focus on her questions, and answer them, I held the funnels stiffly to my chest, deafened by the rhythmic background “thwack” of the breast pump and by the roar of blood rushing to my face. She stood for what seemed an interminable time at that door, then, thankfully, closed it upon leaving.

As soon as I finished,I knocked on her (open) office door to apologize for my state of “indelicacy.” She hadn’t noticed, she said. How could she not?

I laughed then, and I laugh now at my predicament, but isn’t it reassuring that, thanks to the Women’s Center, mothers at Emory have a place to go and pump their breasts or nurse their babies in private, without anxiety.

Former Chancellor Billy Frye wrote in Choices & Responsibilities, “The purpose that binds us together as a community is the pursuit of knowledge. To a far greater extent than most of us realize, faculty, staff and students alike yearn for a community that is less impersonal, kinder, more responsive and affirming, not just for what we do but for who we are as individuals.”

It seems to me that the Women’s Center, with its academically rich programming and events that serve to establish traditions and build community here on campus, perfectly embodies Frye’s vision. It’s only fitting that this vital member of the Emory community be given soon a permanent home that speaks to its importance to all of us.