No longer in their own house, the Women’s Center is moving to the Memorial Union. Photo by Siobhan Richards.
The Women’s Center will relocate its resources to the Memorial Union this year after major declines in funding and residential interest.
Last semester, the University of Rhode Island’s Housing and Residential Life (HRL) informed students that the Women’s Center building on Upper College Road would be closing, and the resources would be reallocated to an unspecified different location that did not involve housing.
According to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success Lori Ciccomascolo, who oversees the Women’s Center, in March, the University invited two field experts from Michigan State University to campus to evaluate the Women’s Center. The University had already decided to close the Upper College Road Women’s Center building previous to the community conversations.
While their visit was postponed due to COVID-19 reasons, the experts, Jesse Beal and Heather Shea, held a virtual, week-long community conversation in August instead.
Beal and Shea engaged in conversations with campus stakeholders and community members to determine a vision for the future of the Women’s Center, according to Ciccomascolo.
One recommendation made throughout the conversation was to relocate the Women’s Center resources to a more central location on the Kingston campus.
“We are identifying two office areas right now [in the Memorial Union],” Ciccomascolo said. “We look forward to occupying one of the offices probably by the end of October.”
Hunter Gray is a junior that lived in the Women’s Center for a year before it was shut down. She feels that the decision to remove the Women’s Center from Upper College Road was hasty and is doing it a disservice in terms of location.
“The placement of it was perfect,” she said. “It’s right near the Gender and Sexuality Center, it’s right near URI police if any emergency were to happen. I just think they really need to reconsider what they’re doing.”
According to Frankie Minor, director of HRL, 22 Upper College Road, the previous Women’s Center is currently unoccupied, but will require major repairs before they repurpose it into something else. Minor said the columns on the front portico need to be reinforced, as well as the fire escape on the back.
“There are plans to occupy [the building] with students from the Talent Development program as a scholarship [or] achievement house,” Minor said. “However, timing on that is [to be determined] due to COVID and needed repairs.”
Gray suggested that these repairs had been concerns for a while, but while it was the Women’s Center nothing was renovated.
On the final day of their virtual engagement, Shea and Beal held a town hall meeting where they discussed their preliminary data, findings and recommendations with those involved in the conversation. According to Gray, she was not informed of any of the community conversations that took place over the summer.
“Vice President [Kathy] Collins and the Division of Student Affairs is very serious about making sure that the reimagined Women’s Center is inclusive, is engaged [and] is resourced,” Ciccomascolo said. “[The community conversations are] the first initiative that we wanted to create as we moved forward with the reimagined Women’s Center.”
As the Women’s Center undergoes these major changes, it leaves URI’s campus without a housing option exclusive to women-identifying students. Gray has been relocated to a different dorm on campus, but there is not a space exclusively designed for women-only at this point.
“As somebody who came from domestic violence, I know how important it is to have a place that’s meant for women-identifying people only,” Gray said. “The safety is so paramount. We need a place like that on campus for diversity, but also inclusivity. There needs to be a place where women feel safe on campus so they don’t have to live in a co-ed dorm. It was one of a kind on campus.”
According to Minor, HRL offered the former residents of the Women’s Center a place on campus for women-identifying housing in a few dorms, but no there was interest at the time. He did suggest there could be one made in the future, as soon as this semester, if there was interest. Gray said that the former residents didn’t take the option offered by HRL because “what they were giving us wasn’t the Women’s Center.”
As the Women’s Center undergoes these structural changes, the University has hired an Interim Coordinator, Christiana Molinski, to oversee the progress. According to Ciccomascolo, Molinski and her are working closely together to develop the plans for the Women’s Center.
“It’s really important that the community understands, it’s really important to be sensitive to students and others who may have felt a sense of loss of the Women’s Center building,” Ciccomascolo said. “We certainly understand their loss, while we recognize the importance of, again, a reimagined, engaged and well-resourced Women’s Center.”