Women’s Center opens ballot for name change

Note: This piece was originally published in The Mast, Pacific Lutheran University’s student newspaper

A ballot to change the name of the Women’s Center will go live on their website from Feb. 22 until March 4.

“We’ve been thinking about it for several years,” said Jen Smith, the current director of the Women’s Center. “We just felt like it was a time to think about how we can revise our name so that it more accurately encapsulates the work that we do.”

The ballot will include a few names the Women’s Center has come up with, including “The Gender Equity Center,” “The Gender Justice Center,” “The Center for Women and Gender Equity” and “The Center for Gender, Sexuality and Justice.” Voters will also have the option to write in any suggestions, an option that Smith said could reveal interesting options to consider.

“We wanted to move away from something that was strictly identity-based, to something that was more mission-focused and concept-focused, so that people could find themselves in the work that we do,” Smith said.

The Women’s Center’s mission is to “empower women and their allies to become advocates for gender equity and social justice.” Even though their mission statement has the word “women” in it, the Women’s Center wants the name change to more clearly communicate the gender equity and social justice part.

“We have found (and this isn’t unique to [PLU’s] Women’s center) that if people don’t automatically resonate with the category of ‘woman,’ then they don’t see themselves here,” Smith said. “While we would love for people to see themselves in gender equity work even if we’re named the Women’s Center, we wanted something that more people could see themselves being involved in immediately.”

“Unfortunately, it creates a hurdle for some people to be involved in the work,” she said. “We want to be in a position that we can more readily engage them.”

Smith hopes that the name change will draw more people to engage with the Women’s Center in the events and programs it runs, like “The Monologues,” an annual reimagining of Eve Enslers’ “The Vagina Monologues.”

Smith hopes the Women’s Center can take more of a leadership role on issues of intersectionality at PLU.

“I think for us, [intersectionality] is looking at gender through the matrix of other identities, thinking about how race impacts gender, or class, or sexuality, or ability, or nationality […] we look at all of these things with gender as an anchor,” Smith said.

Currently, the Women’s Center engages mostly with students who strongly identify as feminist. The hope is, though, that with the name change comes a new wave of students are interested in feminism not as a “women’s rights” issue and as an issue of human rights and social justice.

“We’re hoping to bring more people into the conversation that have social justice as a foundational frame and not solely feminism,” Smith said.

The voting will be live on the Women’s Center website from Feb. 22 through Mar. 4. The new name will be announced on March 17, at the Annual Celebration for Inspirational Women.