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Before 1969, the only group for women at Portland State University was the Women’s Faculty Club which was open to female faculty members and wives of professors. The group’s goals were mainly philanthropic in origin with a focus on small scholarships for women with top GPA’s.
By 1969, the first feminist oriented group formed on campus calling itself University Women. This group, although smaller than the Faculty Club, also had women-centered goals in mind, specifically the formation of a free child care center on campus.
By 1971, this small group had become the PSU Women’s Union and the focus of the group became the status of women at PSU. Eventually the Women’s Union would come to be known by its current name, the Women’s Resource Center. Over the next three decades, the WRC evolved from an outspoken group on campus, to hosting events, to being a full fledged community advocate and resource/referral center.
By 1972, individuals involved with the Women’s Union formed the Women’s Studies Institute which was the foundation for the office that eventually developed into the Women’s Studies Department.
The Women’s Union focused its efforts on combating sexism on campus, getting women’s lives, roles, and outlooks represented in the curriculum, achieving a childcare facility, and generally making PSU a learning environment in which women were respected, represented, and welcomed.
These goals were achieved both by working with the administration and speaking out against them when traditional methods were unsuccessful. The Union spent the next several years focusing on these issues while slowly building a permanent niche for themselves on the campus. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Union had its own office on campus from which to operate. Speakers and film presentations were the consistent events sponsored by the Union. By 1981, the Women’s Union was officially acting as resource center providing information and referral. With a paid student coordinator and staffed primarily by volunteers, the Union was a permanent fixture on campus.
In 1982 the focus of the Union was on self-help for women through workshops and support groups, promotion of women’s history month, anti-violence against women campaigns, and how women can fight back against violence. Membership in the Union remained low during the 1980s due to the nation’s aversion to feminism. The Union marched on in throughout the decade, hosting events on abortion, birth control, and rape. Membership picked up in the 1990s and the focus revolved mainly around domestic violence awareness and reproductive rights.
Since the turn of the century, the WRC has focused on annual events that reflect the issues important to the students involved. These events, such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Love Your Body Day, the Roe v. Wade Anniversary, Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and Take Back the Night, as well as providing a resource area and referral center, continued to increase awareness of the WRC among the student body. In 2002, the WRC held PSU’s first production of the Vagina Monologues to sold-out audiences and raised over $12,000 for the Portland Women’s Crisis Line.
In January of 2003, the Women’s Resource Center hired the first staff coordinator, Aimee Shattuck. Aimee had been the student coordinator for the two previous years. She and fellow students lobbied the student fee committee to pay for a half-time permanent staff person.
The students argued that evolving from a student-group to a student-service allowed them more legitimacy and credibility on campus, allowed them to begin providing more services to students, and would actually increase the amount of student involvement and leadership at the WRC. This has proven to be true. Since 2003, student involvement with the WRC has nearly doubled each year, from three active students in 2001 to over 100 in 2005.
Beginning in Spring of 2001, the WRC became a leader on campus advocating for sexual assault and domestic violence response and prevention. In 2003, the WRC hired a Graduate Assistant to work with the Interpersonal Violence Advocacy Program. This program has grown to include support groups, one-on-one advocacy, and awareness raising and education campaigns.
In May of 2003, the WRC took on the responsibility of housing and supervising the Returning Women Students’ Program which once was housed in IASC. In Fall 2004, Bridge Gorrow began with the program as a Graduate Assistant and reinstated the mentor program and provided leadership for the 4-credit Returning Women Student Workshop as well as providing one-on-one support and drop-in groups.
In December of 2004, the WRC moved to a new home in the lower level of Montgomery Hall. The new space is twenty times bigger than the location in Smith Memorial Student Union, accommodating a large lounge area, reception area, storage, four cubicle spaces, and a library.
In the past 8 years, the WRC has grown to support 4 professional staff positions, 4 paid student positions, an MSW intern placement, and multiple practicum students from PSU and other local universities.
Our Empowerment Program houses the Women of Color Leadership Development Program, the Women Veterans Outreach Program, the Women's Mentorship Project, and the Returning Women's College Success Class. Collectively these programs serve 100 students each year.
Our Leadership in Action Program houses Action Teams, Student Support Specialists, practicum and internship placement, event planning and volunteering, and outreach. We have over 100 students volunteering their time and talent to promote and sustain the WRC each year.
In January 2016, we expanded our Interpersonal Violence Program. Adrienne Graf, once our Lead Advocate, transitioned to the role of Sexual & Relationshiop Violence Response Program Coordinator, providing direct services to students as well as coordinating a student peer advocacy program. Last year, the Interpersonal Violence Program served over 200 individual students. Our advocates helped students navigate legal proceedings, student conduct processes, SANE nurse examinations, and many other processes both on and off campus.
The University has invested in supporting students dealing with Interpersonal Violence with the hiring and training of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) at SHAC, as well as a detective at Campus Public Safety dedicated to working on sexual violence cases.
The Women's Resource Center advocates for student survivors not only on campus, but also at the state level. As members of the Attorney General's Statewide Sexual Assault Task Force, we collaborate with other statewide stakeholders to enhance policy and ensure accountability for institutions across Oregon.
The Women's Resource Center has seen tremendous growth in the past few years and our continuing commitment to creating intersectional feminist spaces for students on campus is strong than ever.