In my prior life writing for these pages, I once attended a meeting
of the Presidents 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, thats one type of child
care, I suppose.
I think of this story often, especially now, as the Emory Womens
Center, a pioneering entity in its own right, seeks to find a permanentand
more appropriatehome here on campus. As my fellow board members
and other friends of the Womens Center look for what we all
know is a scarce commodity here at Emory, I hope it doesnt
take 18 years for this new home to become a reality.
Its already been almost 10 years since the Womens Center
was foundedtwo 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 centers voluminous programming quickly outstripped
its double-wide dwelling.
I sometimes think the problem is that the Womens Center staff,
like many women, makes do with whats 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 4050
events the Womens Center hosts annually, few can be held in
the trailer. Without new space, the Womens Center is in danger
of becoming a virtual entity, a shadow tenant to spaces such as
the Miller-Ward Alumni House, Woodruff Librarys 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 Womens 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 booksnearly 2,500 volumesdevoted to gender. There
are so many books that Facilities Management has warned no more
can be shelved therethe trailer wont bear the weight.
There is also the Nursing Nest, precious space that the Womens
Center dedicates to student mothers and working mothers who breastfeed
their babies. This particularly touches my heart. I remember well
my frustratingand one time comicalturn trying to breastfeed
as I worked full time.
After I returned to work following my oldest sons birth,
I didnt 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 didnt 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 hadnt noticed,
she said. How could she not?
I laughed then, and I laugh now at my predicament, but isnt
it reassuring that, thanks to the Womens 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 Womens Center, with its academically
rich programming and events that serve to establish traditions and
build community here on campus, perfectly embodies Fryes vision.
Its 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.