Although America is a very different place for women today than it was a generation ago, there still is much work to do to break the glass ceiling.
The Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) at The University of Iowa has been trying to help people crack it for 37 years. Through a variety of programming and services, the center aims to foster women’s individual empowerment as well as tackle all forms of oppression.
In fact, says WRAC director Monique DiCarlo, university-based centers like WRAC are in a unique position to take the latest research discoveries and scholarship and put them into action.
“Our work sometimes makes people uncomfortable, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it presents an opportunity for a significant discussion—about inequality, power and privilege, classism, heterosexism, racism,” DiCarlo says. “For undergraduates especially, a campus women’s center is a place where what they’re learning in class—whether it’s political science or sociology or psychology or public relations—comes alive. They get to practice what they’re learning, try on a career option or two. They get to question what they’re being taught and what they believe—in a safe, yet challenging, environment.”
With more than 50 volunteers and interns and a permanent staff of four, WRAC is one of the largest women’s centers in the Midwest. Each fall the center hosts an open house, inviting new students to learn more about its wide-ranging offerings—from the annual Iowa Women’s Music Festival and conferences on race, privilege, and cultural competency to smaller, more intimate discussions, thought-provoking lectures, and skill-building workshops. Topics have included career development, goal setting, creative writing, privacy and credit, and health and body image.
Students can complete volunteer training and serve as leaders of diversity dialogue circles, facilitate support groups, work on community social change strategies, or join the Men’s Anti-Violence Council. The center’s Sojourner Truth Library features materials on women’s health and finances, gender studies, motherhood, and self-image.
In addition to administering several scholarships for UI students and a computer-loan program for UI student parents, the center offers individual counseling services by trained interns.
Miranda Welch, a junior from Stratford, Iowa, signed up for volunteer training her first year on campus. Now the English and women’s studies major, who also is earning a certificate in sexuality studies, actively participates in the WRAC-sponsored group Iowa Women Initiating Social Change. The group organizes Iowa City’s annual Take Back the Night Rally and hosts open-discussion workshops. She also has worked on several projects, including a book drive to promote literacy among women in state correctional facilities.
Welch was one of 30 women from Iowa colleges and universities who participated in June in a new WRAC program called Iowa N.E.W. Leadership. The intensive, five-day residential institute is designed to help undergraduate women develop public leadership skills, learn about civic involvement, and network with women in public leadership roles to help encourage women to run for office.
Welch encourages all students—whether they are women striving to make a place for themselves or the supportive male allies in their lives—to check out what WRAC has to offer and get involved.
“Without our women’s center, there might not be advocacy programs for victims of domestic violence or rape, there might not be a women’s clinic, there might not be effective ways to report sexual assaults and harassment,” Welch says. “The center offers so much for so many people; it’s an integral part of our campus.”
Welch thinks of WRAC staff and volunteers as a “supportive, empowering family” and says the experience has been “life changing.”
“For any woman going into college, whether you’re into social justice causes and advocacy or whether you just want to find ways to succeed in the world, WRAC can be a great home.”
by Amy Schoon