Empowering Women

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    SUSSEX COUNTY-The Women's Center at Sussex County Community College plans to debunk some myths this year: Among them, misconceptions that the three-year-old center is just for women, just for women in crisis, and just for students. "There are a lot of myths out there," Women's Center co-coordinator Dian Fitzpatrick said. "But word is starting to get out." The center has kicked off a year full of programs n brown bag lunch discussions, workshops for community residents outside the university, classes and support groups on a variety of topics, as well as a return of its successful annual Clothesline Project. But just as important, Fitzpatrick said, is the center's role as a safe place for women to come and informally talk and get information. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 4 p.m. on Fridays. The office, in Building D, is jam packed with pamphlets on women's issues, a lending library of books and a comfortable sitting area where the Friday lunchtime brown-bag discussions and Wednesday afternoon women's music programs take place. "Initially, we started as someplace for women to go," Fitzpatrick said. The center opened three years ago as a gathering place for students and last year the college decided that a part-time coordinator was warranted. This year the center is open full-time and is run by co-coordinators Fitzpatrick and Priscilla Orr, both faculty members at SCCC. Now, a growing number of men are using the center, too. Earlier this semester, the center sponsored a campaign to prevent gender violence in which men on campus were asked to sign a pledge to renounce aggressive behavior against women. On Nov. 5, a brown bag lunch discussion topic will be "Men and the Value of Feminism." It doesn't hurt the efforts to bring men into the fold that one of the work-study student employees at the center is Ian Mullen, a second-year SCCC student from Branchville. His presence behind the desk helps to make more men feel comfortable walking into the center, Fitzpatrick said. Fitzpatrick hopes to host a "he said, she said" type of discussion between men and women later this year. It's one of a list of projects she and Orr hope to add to the center's growing list of events. "We're trying to make the Women's Center a presence," Fitzpatrick said. All programs are open to the entire community. Some n like a mother-daughter body image workshop slated for November n are specifically for non-college students. "Some of our programs are over attendedand some are under attended," Fitzpatrick said. "But we make them available." More programs help to raise awareness of the center, added Orr. Highly visible projects like the Clothesline Project, an annual domestic violence program; the Mock Trial for high school students; and a holiday craft fair, the largest fundraising source for the center, help let women know the center is there for them. "Later on, something may come up in their lives and it will be easier for them to take advantage of what we offer," Orr said. The center gives out information and referrals on domestic violence, rape, breast cancer awareness, gay and lesbian issues, birth control and other health issues, as well as a variety of issues dealing with health, spirituality, politics and relationships. "We're a place to discuss issues," Fitzpatrick said. "But it's a myth that you come here only if you have a problem."