By Elizabeth Lehman
When feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke at Youngstown State University this past March, her visit inspired some action on campus.
A women and gender resource center is currently in the works at YSU, and Steinem’s promise during a question-and-answer session was the impetus for this effort.
Michael Jerryson, associate professor of religious studies at YSU, said out of the 14 public universities in the state of Ohio, only two do not have such a center on campus, and YSU is one of these schools.
Jerryson said he asked Steinem if she thought it was a problem that the university does not have a women’s center on campus. Steinem said it was and she is willing to give money to make one possible.
“This seemed to stir into action President Tressel, Provost Martin Abraham. Diana Palardy began to get people involved and I reached out to Gloria Steinem’s office to verify if they were willing to do this, and they said yes,” Jerryson said.
Palardy is an associate professor in foreign languages and literatures. She said so far funds have been raised by discussing the center with the provost and the office of student services.
“We have had conversations with the YSU Foundation and have been in contact with the office of Gloria Steinem, but we wanted to have some kind of center, even if it’s just a part-time interim director, before engaging in extensive fundraising,” Palardy said. “People are likely more inclined toward financially supporting something if at least the basic structure is in place.”
Brian Wolf, development officer with the YSU Foundation, said the foundation is currently waiting to hear back from Steinem’s office about contributing to the project.
As of Sept. 1, Megan List, assistant professor of teacher education, was hired as interim director for the center, which List said, at this stage of development, is officially called the Women and Gender Resource Initiative.
Although a physical location for the initiative does not yet exist, List said the plan is to start doing the work of a women’s center prior to an actual location on campus, using buildings that exist on campus already.
List said the first action the initiative is taking on campus is putting out a suicide prevention poster. She said in the age demographic between 12 and 22, one in six individuals attempts or commits suicide.
Besides working with the YSU Foundation and Gloria Steinem’s office, List said a fundraiser dinner is planned for spring. All these efforts would go toward the work of the women’s center.
“That’s going to be hiring staff, making sure the counselors are available, making sure that the needs are identified,” List said.
This is not the first time the university has tried to bring a women’s center to campus.
Linda Tessier, extended teaching service faculty in philosophy and religious studies, said there have been three women’s resource centers on campus in past years, and each was closed by administrative decision.
Tessier previously served as director of women’s studies. She said after she accepted the position, she learned she would have additional duties.
“After I agreed, I was told that there was no budget to hire a women’s center director, so I would have to fill both roles,” Tessier said.
She said she did the best she could despite a tiny budget and only receiving half-time release with no extra pay for her role. After a couple years, the center was closed during the summer semester.
Martin Abraham, provost and vice-president for academic affairs, said he has had several conversations about funding for the center with Jerryson and Palardy.
“They wanted much greater resources on startup because of the concern regarding prior underfunding,” Abraham said. “I understand their concern.”
Abraham said he has chosen to start slowly with funding for the center, saying he would like to see a few early successes first to justify expanding funding and build from there.
“We build on each of those achievements to accomplish a little more and add to the investment,” Abraham said. “This becomes a virtuous cycle in which we continue to invest and continue to grow. New achievements justify greater investment, which allows us to do even more.”