Women’s Center marks five years of playing substantial role in diversity and inclusion efforts

Paige Meltzer

Five years ago, the newly-opened Wake Forest’s Women’s Center joined a new women’s leadership event, which attracted Wake Forest women and others to participate but also helped spread the word on campus that the new center was ready to play a big part in the University’s strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.

On March 20, the Wake Forest’s Women’s Center will present the fifth annual women’s leadership event.  Offered in partnership with the Office of Student Engagement, the reimagined event called “Amplify: Women’s Leadership Expo” will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. in Reynolds Gym.  It is open to undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty and staff.

The Women’s Center opened in January 2013.  It is located in Benson University Center on the third floor.

It has been led from the start by Paige Meltzer, who arrived as the center’s founding director from Harvard University, where her teaching had focused on gender, politics and social movements during the 20th Century in the United States.  Paige holds a Ph.D. from Brown University. Prior to academia, Paige worked in Boston’s non-profit sector on public policy related to women’s economic justice.

“Our leadership event is aptly named. We’re trying to amplify the voices of women and to amplify the visibility of women’s leadership experiences,” Meltzer said. “By facilitating learning of new leadership skills, creating mentoring moments, and hearing women’s leadership stories, Amplify helps participants expand their leadership impact.”

And, more events are ahead this spring.  Up next is a March 27 workshop that is part of the center’s “Gender Equity@Work” series for faculty, staff and graduate students. It will be held in Reynolda Hall. The series digs into themes that have emerged from brown bag lunches, book discussions, and speakers Meltzer hosts, as well as everyday conversations. Upcoming workshops explore work/life balance, boundary-setting, imposter phenomenon and limiting gender norms.

 Since the Women’s Center opened, it has organized events ranging from academic-credit classes to summer writing groups, as well as discussion groups, workshops, and community engagement opportunities. The Women’s Center also provides support and mentorship for students, staff and faculty.

“We’re here to build Wake Forest’s capacity for gender equity as part of creating a diverse and inclusive Wake Forest,” Meltzer said. “We have a wide range of offerings because people learn in different ways and engage around different kinds of activities.”

Colleen Lofton

Meltzer is especially excited about the center’s work developing student leaders. This year, assistant director Colleen Lofton launched a peer education program aligned with the model used by the Office of Wellbeing.

“Our peer educators are designing and implementing their own programming to educate their peers about gender equity issues,” Meltzer said.

The Women’s History Month programming coming out of the Women’s Center has also been created by students. And none of the center’s work would be possible without their student worker team.

Carrying out its mission often involves collaborating with staff and faculty and students campuswide.

“We are fortunate to be part of a generous community who want to do this work with us,” Meltzer said. “It’s been an incredible five years.”

Reflecting on the five-year anniversary, 2016 Wake Forest graduate Deborah Marke said, “The Women’s Center wasn’t just a space to learn – it was my home. It was the space where I felt most authentically myself, a space where I was challenged to go further, to be better, and where I felt I most belonged. Because of the WFU Women’s Center, I now work at the Women’s Center at the University of Cincinnati and I hope I am creating a space where students can bring their whole selves in the same way WFU Women’s Center did for me.”

The center’s success is evident in comments the center has collected on its website.

Katherine Shaner, assistant professor of New Testament in the School of Divinity, said, “The Women’s Center at Wake Forest University gathers women from every corner of the campus for mutual support and critical engagement with women’s issues.”

Shaner added that more than a physical space for women to gather for support, mentoring and inspiration.

“It also shines a spotlight on women’s issues, leadership and success across campus and the wider communit,”Shanner added.

Student Ashley Davis described the center as “one of the most welcoming spaces for me during my time here at Wake.”