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WRC Tries to Adjust Identity

Dolores Diaz | Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Formerly the Women’s Resource Center, the Women in Social Service and Health club has donned a new title and a new approach since steadily declining membership hit a new low with the opening of the new Gender Resource Center.For WISSH, every meeting – like last week’s, when co-president Corinne Liamzon walked in to rows of empty chairs – is particularly critical.”The WRC, no longer a resource center, will be renamed Women in Social Service and Health because we will now be focusing our efforts on community service, fundraising and social event planning on campus,” co-president Ashley Merusi said. This shift in focus – from primarily counseling to community service – occurred this year, now that many of WISSH’s responsibilities have fallen under the jurisdiction of the new Student Affairs-funded GRC. “We’re changing perspective and changing focus,” Liamzon said, “and I really hope we can get things going,” But for WISSH, the GRC’s opening has meant more than just an attitude adjustment. This year their office, previously located on the third floor of Lafortune Student Center, was relocated by the Student Activities Office to a smaller space in the same building.According to Liamzon, things were very different when WISSH, then the Women’s Resource Center, first opened in 1993 as a student-run center. “It was a very big deal,” she said. “It was the first center in the school where you could come and talk about whatever you wanted. It wasn’t pro-women or pro-men, but pro-humanity.”Liamzon said WISSH has experienced declining membership since 1998 when the then-WRC faced an investigation into its distribution of pamphlets containing information about abortion. University sanctions in September 1998 allowed the center to remain open but required it to remove the pamphlets and accept a two-year probation period. Club leaders at the time maintained that the pamphlets in question did not openly promote abortion. While Liamzon said WISSH is still dedicated to improving gender relations and aims to increase awareness of issues such as eating disorders, date rape and sexual harassment, the GRC will now be the official resource for information about topics associated with gender.”As a resource center, the WRC has strived to disseminate information on resources available in the campus and community for counseling and health care for women. With only student members, the WRC has struggled to meet the needs of the female Notre Dame community,” Merusi said. “For this reason, the Gender Resource Center was created last spring as a more permanent and reliable response to the issues confronting the campus.”Liamzon said WISSH realizes the new GRC will have more resources available than the former WRC did. “We’re happy it’s opening because they have more resources available to them than we ever had,” Liamzon said. “The Women’s Resource Center was student run, thereby relying mainly on the availability of its members to have someone at the office, [but] the Gender Relations Center has actually been able to hire a person to be at the office at allotted times.”Heather Rakozcy, director of the new GRC, said she intends to work closely with student leaders of the former WRC as the new center develops this year. “The only way the Gender Resource Center is going to flourish is if students express an interest in it,” she said. “We hope there’s going to be a very close relationship [with WISSH].”Rakoczy, who has served as rector of Pangborn Hall for the past seven years, said she sees the WRC as a precursor to the new center and believes the change represents an important transition in the University’s attitude toward women and gender issues.”The kinds of issues that the WRC would’ve taken up are certainly continued in our efforts,” she said. “It’s the forerunner to the GRC in many ways.”Specifically, Rakoczy said she planned to be in contact with Merusi this fall to receive input on the new center’s direction. Ultimately, Rokoczy said WISSH might become a part of the GRC gradually over the next several years. The new GRC is the result of a student-led initiative started three years ago by 2001-02 student body president Brooke Norton, who investigated gender studies at the University as a way to commemorate Notre Dame’s 30-year anniversary of female students.Despite this year’s changes, Liamzon and Merusi said they still plan to continue the annual WISSH Distinguished Notre Dame Woman Awards. The awards are WISSH’s main project and honor four women faculty members for dedication and improvement of the Notre Dame community on women’s issues. Each year, members of WISSH collect student nominations and assemble a panel of faculty and staff to select the winners.”We think that the club is an important part of Notre Dame’s history, and we mean to keep it that way,” Liamzon said.

Teresa Fralish contributed to this report.