Oakland Community College
By Tawni Shuler
from 2013 Art Show

The Road We Travel

The Road We Travel is a series of reflections written by Arlene J. Frank, Womencenter Program Coordinator

Winter 2008

Mary White, founding mother of the Womencenter, died in November of 2007. These are the words shared by the Womencenter at her memorial service:

Mary White was an "uppity" woman. The women's movement knew no better friend, advocate, or organizer. She was a gentle, caring, savvy, insightful, and outspoken champion for all women. She was a teacher, a leader, and a tireless advocate. She could recognize a problem, see through the problem, and see past that same problem. She could tell it like it was, how it is, and how it should and would be. She had a sense of history, currency, and the future. She understood deeply - philosophically, politically, personally, and practically - that women's oppression could be fought and that women could and would rise to their natural potential when given the chance. She opened doors for women students at Oakland Community College, created space for them, and gave them a seat at the table.

Mary White had insight, she had insight into the women students who came to see her as a counselor at Oakland Community College's Orchard Ridge campus. In 1972, she saw women struggling to define who they were, who they could become, and what resources and programs were available to them, as they struggled through the roadblocks to becoming successful students at the college and to finding meaningful and fulfilling lives and careers. If she had only had the insight and spoken to her students about what they could accomplish, that would have been enough. But she harnessed that insight and coupled it with vision - vision of a program that would do more than just talk to each individual woman student, vision of a program that would bring women students together to recognize and discern the sexism in the society that was affecting them in the choices and options in their lives. Mary's vision brought women together through a program that could help them to learn what they needed to learn about themselves in order to become successful. And if she had only had the insight and vision, that too would have been enough. But Mary understood the importance of joining insight and vision with action - and she took action. With the help of the staff and students at the College, she created a place that would nurture the women who were coming back to school; that would connect the issues in society and politics with what was happening in their everyday lives - domestic violence, narrow career choices, gender inequity, low self esteem, pay inequity, lack of child care. Mary had the insight, and the vision, and the commitment to action - and she created the Womencenter, a place that is nurturing, supportive, and educational to women students at the College as well as to women in the larger community. She discussed and programmed topics that many of these women had never expressed - this was consciousness raising at its most meaningful. And if Mary had only had insight, vision, and action - these all would have been enough.

But, finally, she was a mentor as well. Mary made sure that what she and others at the College had created would have a chance to survive, that there would be a legacy. The Womencenter, now 35 years later, is strong and present for women at the College and in the community because she realized it from her deep insight, her clear vision, and her unwavering action. Her consistent and comprehensive efforts are still impacting, and will forever impact, women at Oakland Community College. Her legacy is the imprint she has left on the Womencenter, the College, the community, and all those who knew her, worked with her and were changed through her. A chorus of voices of those eternally grateful women now sing Mary to her final rest.

Girls can gain a lot of social status for being in a relationship, and letting that go can be hard to do.

In the past year and a half I’ve become active in speaking to teens about dating abuse. It is distressing and I feel outraged when I think about violent dating relationships, but I won’t close my eyes to the truth. According to a survey commissioned by the Empower Program and sponsored by Liz Claiborne Inc., 24% of 14 to 17 year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence. A Children Now/Kaiser Permanente poll shows 40% of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. Yet 81% of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it is an issue. The vast majority of the victims of teen dating violence are girls, and not all abuse is physical; emotional and verbal forms of abuse are very real and constitute a considerable component in violent teen relationships. It’s hard for many of us to think about 14 year olds in dating relationships, much less that they may be the targets of violence in those relationships. But statistics and anecdotes and personal stories tell us that we must be thinking, seriously and actively, about teen dating abuse and how we can help to stop the cycle in the lives of our teens. I encourage you to visit the website www.loveisnotabuse.com to get information for you and for teens. Hiding our heads in the sand won’t make this public health issue go away; becoming informed and active in eradicating teen dating abuse will positively affect the boys and girls we know and love.

Fall 2007

STEPS to the future

This past summer, high-school girls came together again at a summer STEPS (Science, Technology and Engineering Preview) camp held by OCC. They were looking to expand their exposure to and knowledge of science, math, technology, and engineering opportunities. In addition, the girls we hosted learned about self worth, budgeting, teen dating violence, life management, personality profile and career exploration, and self defense. They were given opportunities to discover, apply, and succeed in areas traditionally populated by men, along with the chance to discover strength, creativity, wisdom, and resourcefulness within themselves. These girls will be looking to live their lives outside of the traditional career paths women have been directed to for many years – and they will succeed with the help of programs like STEPS.

“You cannot be what you cannot see.”     ~Governor Jennifer Granholm

The Governor spoke these words at the National Organization for Women (NOW) nationwide conference held in metropolitan Detroit this summer. But she could have spoken them forty-one years ago when NOW first was formed. While there have been many significant changes for women over the past forty-one years, there are many issues raised at those first organizing meetings and consciousness-raising sessions that still remain today. Domestic violence (see the comments above), body image, education and careers, work/life balance, pay equity, media images of women, physical safety, social roles – these are the issues that were talked about at both the first NOW conference and at the 2007 conference. And while career opportunities have expanded for girls and women, there is still not true career equity in either education or the world of work. Girls need to see women working in non-traditional careers to believe that it’s possible. Those “uppity” NOW women who, forty-one years ago, marched, advocated, spoke out, and demanded to be heard are the women upon whose shoulders we now stand. They created the possibilities for a variety of programs for girls by advocating for greater choices and opportunities for women in the workforce, in politics, the family, and the greater society. They opened the door to equality (we’re still walking through that door), to questioning the status-quo for women, and they gave us the courage and insight to continue to advocate for resolution to the issues yet to be solved. There is a bridge that crosses the years and generations – the issues that bind us together. The women who pioneered the modern women’s movement in the 1960s, and those who have carried on their work, have continuously extended their hands across that bridge to the young women from each subsequent generation in the ongoing struggle for women’s equality.