UCSB Women, Gender, & Sexual Equity Department Making a Difference


Joanne Howard
Staff Writer

Diversity among students is especially important on a campus like the University of California Santa Barbara. That’s why the Women, Gender, & Sexual Equity Department is an imperative resource for any student who faces sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

Within WGSE are four program areas: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resources (LGBT); Non-Traditional Student Resource Center; Rape Prevention Education Program (RPEP) and Women’s Center Programs (WC). The department also oversees three spaces: Non-traditional Student Resource Center, the Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity (RCSGD) and the Women’s Center. I sat down with Rape Prevention Education Program and Women’s Center Programs director Jill Dunlap, along with Women’s Center student staffer Hannah Brown and RCSGD director Joshua Moon Johnson to learn more about their work.

Since 1975, the Women’s Center has offered a sheltering space for students, staff, faculty and community members to explore matters of gender and social justice. While their mission statement, found at the women’s center website, articulates “a feminist approach to provide support, advocacy, resources and education to the UCSB community,” their programs are open to men as well. In fact, Brown says many male students first get involved as RAs who are working on passives, educational materials that can easily be displayed on bulletin boards, focusing on rape or sexual harassment for their residence halls. The Women’s Center in the Student Resource Building is also a space for discovering new resources about personal identity, healthy relationships and safety at UCSB; the center additionally includes a library and art gallery that feature themes of gender and social justice.

“Safety is clearly still an issue for women on campus,” Dunlap says, especially around Halloween. Brown cites the many visitors from out of town who come to Isla Vista without the benefit of rape and sexual harassment education that UCSB students are required to complete as a reason for a spike in harassment this time of year. To combat this, she says the university should encourage women to be comfortable in a costume that is creative rather than simply revealing.

The Women’s Center carries out other initiatives such as encouraging better female representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and connecting women student leaders from feminist, Panhellenic and athletic organizations to better foster female leadership not only within the university and during enrollment, but also in the surrounding community and after graduation.

Like the Women’s Center, RCSGD is dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all people, especially for those who face bias because of their gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or disability. Johnson, who holds a Doctor of Education degree, names lower graduation rates among LGBTQ students as reason to believe they are less likely to be happy with their college experience. Therefore the RCSGD is an important center committed to education, healing and recovery. Career staff members meet with students one on one about challenges with professors, roommates or any incidents of hate or bias, Johnson said. The center also holds trainings for RAs, orientation staffers and TAs to educate them about hate crimes as well as how to properly respond to such cases.

However, the ambitious goals set by the center are difficult with only the two career staff members. In partnership with the UCSB LGBTQ Staff and Counseling Services, Women’s Center, Associated Students and Residence Life, Eucalyptus (the University committee on LGBTQ climate) is proposing a $10,000 fund to “support three UCSB student trainers and a student coordinator to schedule bystander intervention workshops. Three UCSB peer-educators will schedule at least one workshop presentation a week for non-LGBTQ student organizations,” according to the proposal summary document, which can be picked up at the RCSGD located on the third floor of the SRB. This fund would help RCSGD reach its long-term goal of increasing student leadership development.

The Women’s Center and RCSGD are just two of the many programs within the WGSE Department. However, all the programs work towards WGSE’s mission of “creating a campus environment that is safe, equitable, and just.”

The WGSE Department is located in room 1220 in the Student Resource Building. Students looking to learn more are encouraged to follow UCSB Women’s Center on Facebook or @ucsbwomenscen on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo Courtesy of greggoconnell