What is a Women's Center?/What is a Women's and Gender Center? Why does the WGC include "Gender" in the title of the center?
Women's Centers are affinity-based spaces for women and the organizational home for student-facing conversations on women, gender, and feminism. As a result of the women's liberation movement and the increased admission of women to institutions of higher education, Women's Centers began proliferating across the country in the 1960s and 1970s. Centers like ours continue to be added to colleges and universities today.
When these centers were first developed, they served as "safe spaces" for women who were a statistical minority on college campuses at that time. Women are a historically marginalized population and the need for Women's Centers continues today. Students need these spaces to explore issues related to women and gender, find support and community, and develop as leaders.
Over time, Women's Centers have diverged in how they approach their work. Some centers focus primarily on the issues of cisgender women. Centers like ours have broadened our focus to include conversations about men, masculinity, the Trans and Nonbinary community, gender, and intersectionality. These spaces still center issues salient for women, but bring a more nuanced understanding of gender and an intersectional framework. This move has led many centers to rebrand themselves as Women's and Gender Centers. This shift is paralleled in the Academe as we see Women's Studies programs move toward Women's and Gender Studies or Sexuality, Women's, and Gender Studies programs.
Who is welcome in the WCG?
In short: everyone. All students of all genders are welcome in the WGC!
The number one question we get in the WGC is: "Are men welcome?" The answer: "Yes!" We see men as important partners in our work. If you are a man and you are interested in getting involved with the WGC, we welcome you.
We ask that anyone who enters the space adhere to the policies and practices of the College and that you treat each other with dignity and respect.
Why isn't there a Men's Center on campus?
First, the Women's and Gender Center is open to people of all genders, including men. The Women's and Gender Center is a space for all Amherst College community members to explore how gender impacts our lives. The WGC fosters a critical awareness of gender and creates an intentional space, accessible across difference. We are proud to serve as a resource and forum for topics and issues related specifically to women and, more broadly, to the experience of gender. In a sense, we are a men's center, too, because we serve people of all genders.
However, men's experience of gender is very different from that of women. This is especially true for cisgender men. As a group, men have not experienced gender-based structural oppression and have not needed to fight for equal rights based on their status as men. Further, men have not been denied access to fundamental rights by virtue of their gender. This is not to say that men have not suffered under our binary gender system or that individual men have not experienced gender-related cruelty related to gender roles, misogyny, and rigid constructs of masculinity. Some men hold marginalized identities and not all men experience masculinity or male privilege in the same way. For example, men of color experience systemic oppression based on race and gay men experience systemic oppression based on sexuality, but both groups also hold male privilege. These identities intersect and compound one another.
For women, gender-based discrimination is routine, systemic, pervasive, and institutional. Sexism and misogyny are bound by culture and historically rooted. These forces are not relics of the past; they impact women today. From pay equity to street harassment to political representation to violence, gender-based discrimination shapes the way women experience the world around them in every facet of their lives. The WGC is committed to critical conversations about these topics that educate our community and empower women to lead and succeed.
Lastly, most institutions around the world have been historically centered around cisgender men and masculinity and have denied access to women altogether. Our social, political, economic, religious, and educational institutions carry this history into the present moment. Although many institutions have widened the circle of equity to include women, we still have much work to do. The Women's and Gender Center, like all affinity-based spaces, is a community that is designed to create a space for those who have been marginalized by systems of oppression. This space functions like a home away from home for many, while also serving as a place of intellectual and academic rigor, community dialogue, and discovery. As a component of the prestigious liberal arts tradition of Amherst College, we support and challenge our students, empower them to take risks and aim high, and offer guidance and a community of care.
Who can I turn to if I experience sexual misconduct?
If you experience sexual misconduct, please consider visiting the Sexual Respect and Title IX page. The information therein will help you make informed decisions about what to do next.
Please note that the Director of the Women's and Gender Center is a mandatory reporter and is not a confidential resource on concerns regarding sexual misconduct.
This FAQ section is adapted from the Tufts University FAQ website.