History of the Women and Gender Advocacy Center
The Office of Women’s Programs and Studies at Colorado State University has evolved over four decades. Its model is a direct result of the evolution of the student and academic affairs structures. In the late 1960s throughout the nation, the Women’s Liberation Movement coincided with the restructuring of Student Personnel Services. On most campuses, the offices of the Dean of Women and the Dean of Men were combined into the Office of the Dean of Students. Colorado State was no exception to this change. However, as the change was made in 1970, the visionary administration at CSU saw a need to continue to provide a more contemporary office for women, and created the Office of Women’s Relations, which reported to the Office of Student Relations. Holding joint responsibilities in the Office of Student Relations, Chris Kelley was selected to be the Director of the newly named unit. She remained until 1972. Early work focused on the education of all students as to the concerns of women, as well as the assessment of the status of women at the university.
Following Chris Kelley’s departure, Mary Leonard was named to the position in 1972. She continued the development of the office, building relationships with students, faculty, and community leaders who were working on issues specific to women and their changing roles in society. During Ms. Leonard’s tenure, the first campus conference on women was held, and a plan to develop a library for print and audio-visual resources was proposed.
In January 1974, Karen Wedge, Assistant Director of Student Relations, was named Interim Director of the Office of Women’s Relations when Ms. Leonard resigned from the position. A national search followed, and Karen was hired for the Director’s position in July of 1974. Under Karen’s tenure, the office continued to develop and evolve. New approaches to addressing all aspects of the institutional climate for women and men emerged after completing a federally mandated Title IX Institutional Self-Evaluation, which was chaired by Ms. Wedge in 1976.
For clarification purposes, the name of the office was changed to the Office of Women’s Programs in 1974. When the Office of Student Relations was dissolved in 1981, the Director of Women’s Programs began reporting directly to the Vice President for Student Affairs.
The Office of Women’s Programs and Studies has been a participating member of the Advocacy Group since its inception in 1979 which also included Black Student Services, El Centro and Resources for Disabled Students.
The early years of the Office of Women’s Programs required efforts be made to address concerns related to access to programs and opportunities for women students, faculty and staff while providing education and resources to individuals dealing with situations that were less than hospitable to the notion of equal opportunity. Included was the implementation of programs, conferences, consciousness raising and assertiveness training. Resources which endure to this day that were created include the Women’s Resource Center, the Victim Assistance Team (VAT), and structured support groups.
The VAT hotline was one of the first sexual assault hotline programs on a university campus in the nation, and one of the first four campus Women’s Centers to provide sexual assault support services. VAT began in 1975 and served three survivors the first year. Since then. 750 volunteers have served nearly 1700 survivors.
A significant change occurred in 1985 when the administration of the Women’s Interdisciplinary Studies Program, founded by a subcommittee of the Faculty Women’s Caucus in 1977, was moved to the Office in a cooperative agreement with the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. The change was made in order to provide the program with more visibility and a home. The title of the office changed to Women’s Program and Studies. The relationship with AAHS continued until 1988 at which time the program began reporting to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
During the late 1980s and through the 1990s, the Office of Women’s Programs and Studies continued to grow and evolve. In conjunction with other campus and community entities, the office brought awareness to the campus by way of small and large scale programming, bringing speakers like Mary Koss, Barry Burkhart, Neil Malamuth, Rus Funk, and Chris Kilmartin. The Women at Noon program continued to grow, especially after receiving a financial gift in the name of Kathryn T. Bohannon. This fund was established in 1993 by David Folkes in honor of his wife, Kathryn, and has allowed the office to provide stipends for speakers, bolstering the caliber and number of speakers each year.
In 2004, after 31 years of service to Colorado State University, Karen Wedge retired. Jody Jessup Anger, the Assistant Director of Women’s Programs and Studies was appointed Interim Director. In fall 2005, Chris Linder served as the Director for five years, through summer of 2010.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, OWP determined that an academic and a student affairs branch needed to be distinct and separate departments. Subsequently, the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research was formally established on the Academic side, currently housed within Ethnic Studies. During the fall of 2010, former Director Dr. Kathy Sisneros was hired, and one of the first responsibilities was to rename/rebrand the Center. By spring of 2011, OWPS was renamed as the Women and Gender Advocacy Center, and fully functions as a student service within the Student Diversity Programs and Services (SDPS)-Division of Student Affairs. In February 2016, Monica Rivera was hired as the Director of the WGAC after a short stint as the interim.
Today the Center continues to serve as confidential advocates providing resource and support for students navigating the academic, legal, medical and emotional aftermath of sexual violence, sexual harassment, stalking and/or relationship violence. WGAC has also grown significantly in the area of the educational programs, trainings and workshops that are facilitated throughout campus by our professional staff and very talented peer educators. One of the more high profile campaign’s that students look forward to is the Consent Turns Me On (CTMO) campaign, which is a large part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) events every April.