The University enhances its efforts toward creating a diverse, inclusive, and inquisitive community this month with the opening of its new Women’s Center.
“Gender conversations are integral to developing mind, body and spirit,” says Paige Meltzer, director of the Center, “and can help us forge connections within our communities, improve campus culture, and nurture women’s potential. Women who feel respected and empowered build strong communities, strong families, and strong relationships — personal and professional.”
Meltzer, who comes to Wake Forest from Harvard University, holds a doctorate in women’s history and is an advocate for public policy initiatives that create a culture of inclusivity. She sees the Center as a place of collaboration and networking and plans to let campus constituents shape the Center’s priorities. But she does anticipate promoting female leadership in student government and other campus organizations, professional development, and body wellness.
The Center’s work affects all members of the Wake Forest community. “We may not always think about it, but women’s rights affect men and families and society. The Women’s Center is a resource that can help us to recognize gender inequality and promote change on campus and beyond.” Those are conversations for all community members, regardless of gender.
Others share Meltzer’s philosophy. The Wake Forest Women’s Forum, a grassroots organization of faculty and staff, has worked to promote women’s issues within the University since 2004. Theatre professor J.K. Curry, co-director of the Forum, says the success of the work-life balance taskforce in securing an improved parental leave policy at Wake Forest is an example of how what is often perceived as a women’s issue affects men as well.
“For many years, maternity leave was not available to all women. Today, at Wake Forest, parental leave applies to adoptions, as well as to births, and it’s available to both men and women,” Curry says. “For faculty, it includes a semester of leave from teaching. The policy gives academic departments the resources to cover leaves with minimal disruption and without burdening other faculty members.”
Wanda Balzano, assistant professor and director of the women’s and gender studies program at Wake Forest, looks forward to the Center raising visibility for women’s issues through events such as the Human Rights Clothesline, which for several years has been spearheaded by faculty member Patricia Willis. The Center will provide a home for students with the desire to advocate for gender equity in the community — a role the academic department has been challenged to fill up until now.
“The Women’s Center is a clear commitment by the University to create a campus climate for women and men that is mutually beneficial. Its resources will complement what happens in the classroom, ” says Balzano.
Connecting the curricular and the co-curricular is high on Meltzer’s agenda. “I’m excited about bridging the classroom and the real world,” she says. “Developing supportive relationships between women and among members of the campus will help us learn to pause and reflect on how gender informs the way we think about ourselves and how we behave towards each other.”
The Women’s Center follows the establishment of the LGBTQ Center in September 2011.