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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Women’s Center moving forward with petition

    Several pages featuring more than 2,000 signatures make up the Women Resource Centers petition for increased funding.
    Several pages featuring more than 2,000 signatures make up the Women Resource Center’s petition for increased funding.

    There’s a petition circulating around the UA.

    It’s shown up in some general education classes. It’s gone through the halls of Greek houses. It passed through hands in political science classes. And at a Women’s Resource Center event, the petition laid on a table, with a couple of blank spaces at the bottom for potential signatures.

    Above those blank lines on the petition and on numerous pages tucked away in an office, the WRC collected more than 2,000 signatures in a grassroots effort to make the center, which is currently run by students, into a professional organization.

    The center’s goal is to collect 5,000 signatures and present the petition to the Student Services Fee Board in February as evidence that the UA desires a more expansive WRC.

    Volunteers at the center hope that receiving the title of a professional organization – which means having a full-time, paid director – would allow them to provide more self-defense programs, expand the SafeWalk program, offer more sex education and testing events and allow for consistent leadership.

    “”The ramifications of not having a professionalized Women’s Resource Center for this campus are that we’re going to go back to where we were at two years ago where no one’s heard of the Women’s Resource Center, where the Women’s Resource Center doesn’t do any programming – and that’s just the ebb and flow of student organizing,”” said Carly Thomsen, adviser and mentor for the WRC.

    Two years ago, Thomsen arrived on campus seeking a master’s degree after finishing her undergraduate degrees in rhetorical and applied writing and women’s studies at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn., and spending a brief time working for a nonprofit organization.

    On her first day in Tucson, she looked for the WRC. She couldn’t find any information, so she asked another student in the department of women’s studies.

    “”What women’s center?”” the student responded.

    “”I was appalled,”” Thomsen said. “”I really couldn’t believe that … a school as well known and prestigious as the U of A didn’t have what I thought every school had.””

    It turns out there was a WRC on campus, but it wasn’t functioning, Thomsen said. The center’s last event was a bikini contest a year earlier, she said.

    Thomsen and another graduate student, Sarah Demers, began rebuilding the center.

    The two women turned to the Associated Students of the University of Arizona for more funding, and Thomsen wrote grants to outside organizations for additional money.

    Now, the WRC operates on a $7,000 budget from ASUA and used $60,000 of grant money over the last two years to fund specific projects and events, but the grants do not enter the center’s general budget. Only relying on the ASUA financing leaves gaping holes in the WRC, said Thomsen, who graduated with a master’s degree in women’s studies in August.

    Thomsen compiled a report in the fall of 2007 that showed that only two schools in the Pacific 10 Conference don’t have a professional WRC – the UA is one and Arizona State University is the other. Thomsen also said the average budget for these centers is about $215,000, and a paid director typically makes $75,000.

    The WRC at the UA, instead, takes interns who volunteer their time to the organization. This year, they have more than 25 interns. WRC volunteers are also relegated to a 200 square-foot cubicle in the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership. There isn’t a door, just an open space for those who come and go through the WRC office.

    The average size of a WRC building in the Pac-10, excluding ASU and the UA, is around 1,400 square feet.

    “”We’re really behind in terms of space, budget – everything,”” said Malia Uhatafe, the co-director of the WRC.

    Thomsen and others want to have the UA directly fund the center in order to catch up, but the chances of that happening during the budget shortfall are slim.

    “”It’s probably a really difficult time to try to find new, additional resources to expand or enhance a program or a service,”” Dean of Students Carol Thompson said. “”That doesn’t mean it can’t happen; I just know it’s going to be challenging, because of the nation’s economy, the state’s economy and, of course, how that impacts the U of A.””

    The impact of the poor economy led to a hiring freeze on Oct. 10, which ends any chance at hiring a paid director for the center until the freeze is lifted. The LGTBQ Affairs is still relying on Keith Humphrey, the associate dean of students, to act as the group’s interim director.

    A February meeting with President Robert Shelton to expand the WRC went well, said Thomsen, but then came the economic downturn. This semester, the WRC began the petition and turned to student funding for a temporary fix.

    Thomsen hopes that with the 5,000 signatures in hand, the WRC will have a case to make to the Student Services Fee board in four months, when the board hears proposals for student affairs fee allocations.

    The WRC will likely ask for a $127,000 budget from the board, Thomsen said. That amount would account for about 7 percent of the money the board can distribute.

    “”If they reach their goal of 5,000 student signatures, it will definitely show a strong student voice,”” said ASUA President Tommy Bruce.

    But the signatures and the fact that Bruce thinks the WRC has “”multiplied exponentially compared to what it was previously”” won’t guarantee the WRC a bigger budget. Bruce said all proposals will be heard, and the number of proposals that he’ll have to listen to is one he can’t begin to predict.

    Thomsen and company will keep presenting to classes and canvassing on the UA Mall for signatures, a task that has come relatively easily with the large numbers of participation in WRC-sponsored events, Thomsen said.

    The volunteers want to continue many of the events that have become prevalent in the last two years – SafeWalk and free self-defense lessons – and to continue the new women’s film series at Gallagher Theater.

    “”If we don’t get a professionalized director,”” Thomsen said, “”who knows how long it’ll be until we don’t have those services anymore.””

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