Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Role of a Women’s and Gender Center
VHEC’s AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, which falls under Vermont Campus Compact, focuses on improving college access and success for first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in Vermont. VHEC currently has eight 2017-18 VISTA members serving in a variety of offices at six different campuses around Vermont.
Written by Maddie Braz. Maddie is a Saint Michael’s College alumna (December ‘16) serving as a VISTA at Champlain College’s Women’s and Gender Center.
As a student at Saint Michael’s College (SMC), the Center for Women and Gender served as my home away from home. There, I met friendly students, staff, and faculty, learned about feminism and sexuality, realized the importance of sexual violence prevention, and discovered my passion for gender studies. My experience at SMC served as a pivotal time in my life, spurring the career I am now pursuing. Applying for my position at Champlain College was a no-brainer; it’s the perfect fit. At Champlain, I serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Champlain College Women’s and Gender Center (WGC). At the WGC, I have been working hard to make our space not only a source of programming and support, but an agent for positive change. My hope is that the WGC will inspire students in the same way that the SMC Center for Women and Gender inspired me.
This year, Champlain College has been working tirelessly to promote and implement diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that support the success and fulfillment of our community. The WGC plays an important role in this project as a center for student support and education around three main themes: women’s empowerment and leadership, sexual violence prevention, and gender and sexuality. As an agent of change, the WGC leads educational efforts concerning these themes through active and passive programming for the Champlain community. It should also be noted that the WGC provides specific support for historically marginalized groups: women and LGBTQ+ students.
At Champlain College, 38% of students identify as women. The number of trans students is estimated to be much smaller, and statistics concerning sexuality are not solicited. Overall, these populations can be defined as marginalized groups within the Champlain community, deserving of specific resources and support. The WGC works to fulfill this need. As a VISTA at the WGC, it is my duty to ensure that education access is being promoted and facilitated. I am working toward this goal while supporting marginalized groups through my VISTA project: a Women’s Mentoring Program that supports female-identified Champlain students.
The Women’s Mentoring Program aims to guide and encourage the success of female-identified students at Champlain College. From the very beginning of my VISTA service (August 2017), I have been working to establish this program, gathering feedback from student life staff members, students, and other colleges in the area to determine what would work best for the Champlain community. In the end, this program has evolved into a cohort of upper-class female-identified student leaders serving as mentors to first-year female-identified students who face significant personal/financial obstacles to obtaining their education at Champlain. To put this program in terms of education success, providing guidance during a student’s first year at Champlain is pivotal. Supporting a smooth transition will provide a foundation upon which students can grow, develop, and learn in an environment they are familiar with and comfortable in. Mentors will also benefit from the program through opportunities to develop their leadership styles and interpersonal skills. Such opportunities will be facilitated by events led by the WGC and Champlain’s Women’s Empowerment Initiative.
Throughout the spring semester, I look forward to working with both mentors and mentees as we navigate the pilot-launch of the Women’s Mentoring Program. My hope is that participants will inspire and empower one another to accomplish their goals and work toward their dreams through education at Champlain. Having a support system of encouraging, female-identified companions who can bond over similar experiences, life at Champlain, and women’s leadership sets them on the path to education-success.
With regard to the College’s diversity, equity and inclusion mission, an excerpt from Champlain’s website states:
“It is our fundamental belief that in order to create a supportive educational environment and prepare students for life experiences, we as a community must seek and create opportunities for each of us to better understand our own beliefs, values, and cultures to fully experience new ideas, perspectives and traditions.” (Champlain College Diversity Statement).
The Women’s Mentoring Program will facilitate such opportunities, and more. Mentors and mentees will learn from one another, sorting out their identities and leadership styles through shared experiences during a time in their lives that is defined by drastic personal development and growth. The time for equity and inclusion is now, and the WGC will serve as a conduit for its fulfillment through the Women’s Mentoring Program. The WGC is not just a safe space, but a promoter of positive change for the Champlain campus and beyond.