Oakland Community College
By Geralyn Vankerschaever
from 2013 Art Show


The Womencenter has both been formed by and helped to form the modern women's movement. And we have both offered direction to and been given direction by individual women's lives. In fact, this "give and take" profoundly defines the existence and work of the Womencenter from its inception in 1972.

Sadie Davis, then a faculty member in the Sociology Department, and Mary White, then a faculty member in the Counseling Department, joined together with concerned women students, college staff, and community members to build a space where women could learn about themselves, challenge their thinking, develop their capabilities and skills, and connect with each other in a mutually enriching and nurturing environment.

Beginning with a core of concerned, questioning, activist women, the Womencenter was launched into the campus and community scene amidst the growing women's movement thriving locally and nationally. Resource, referral, and peer counseling services formed the framework of the center. Women accessed referrals and resources from a network of private and community agencies, organizations and individuals. Peer counselors were trained to listen to women and assist them in determining their options and choosing the avenues to reach their goals. As women's discussions raised the issues of adjustment, support, information, self esteem, and balancing school, family, and work, the Womencenter expanded its offerings and assisted women in adjusting to life on campus and coping with challenges at home through conferences, presentations, workshops, seminars, and supportive groups.

Mary White said that nine years spent as a counselor made her aware there was a need for special counseling and support mechanisms for women on campus. "There are special needs women face," she said. "There's a returning woman phenomenon with more women on campus." Indeed, the 1970s, with its burgeoning women's movement, proved to be a time when women were turning or returning to educational institutions. Women entering school face daily problems with mothering, raising children, taking care of a home, and living up to society's proscribed roles. The Womencenter became the place to address the issues raised by the modern women's movement as well as the challenges of being a student. The perspective that was espoused from its inception - "we can never separate personal needs from social conditions that created those problems" - led the Womencenter to present programs on larger social issues such as pay equity, child care, legislative matters, equal rights, the economy, sexism in education, advertising, health care, racism, peace, and many other compelling and complex issues.

OCC's Womencenter exists by definition to help women facing challenges as students on campus and to support women both on campus and in the community to raise their sights, develop their full potential, and create and achieve their dreams. It is designed to provide a framework in which to help women gain leadership skills and confidence.

For almost 40 years, the Womencenter of Oakland Community College has provided women with a unique place to contemplate, educate, activate, and celebrate. We have encouraged women to draw from their inner reserves, challenge the dictates of others, and move forward in their journey. For almost 40 years, we have helped women find their own unique place and we will continue to do so as we live our mission of women helping women.