The presence of organizations such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Women’s Center have helped women of all identities in Nebraska attend higher education.
The Women’s Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Celebrations will take place on Mar. 17 at the Nebraska Union, coinciding with the Women of Courage, Character and Commitment Awards.
The establishment of the Women’s Center started in 1970, after Patricia Kaminski, an undergraduate student and member of UNL’s Women’s Action Group, held organizational meetings that led to UNL developing its first women’s studies course, Women in Contemporary Society. The Women’s Resource Center officially opened in 1971 as a student-led initiative.
Pat Tetreault, director of LGBTQA+ Resource Center and Women’s Center, has worked as the director since 2019. She said the women’s center has evolved greatly over the past 50 years.
“It was founded in activism, so a lot of the issues at the time were what people worked on. Over time, there was the development of a peer counseling program and sexual assault awareness and many programs to offer women on campus more opportunities,” Tetreault said.
Stephanie Alderson, assistant director of the Women’s Center, has worked at the center since May of 2020 but has been involved in programming since she was in graduate school. Alderson said she’s amazed to see how the center has progressed from a student volunteer group to an integral space on campus with professional positions. She believes it has helped women find more opportunities, allowing for a vast array of identities of women on campus.
“I think that having a women’s center, period, is a sign of the efforts that women have put in on this campus in the past to ensure that women-identified folks have a voice on campus and a seat at the table,” Alderson said in an email.
According to Tetreault, one of the biggest moments for the Women’s Center in the last 50 years was when a panel of nationally distinguished feminists spoke at UNL in 1978 for “The Feminist Aesthetic” speaker program. These people included writers Germaine Greer, Tillie Olsen, Mary Helen Washington and Catharine Stimpson.
Tetreault said another significant feat for the Women’s Center was UNL signing the V-Day College Initiative in 1999, joining over 300 universities in performing “The Vagina Monologues, a production made up of women to promote the V-Day global movement that educates about preventing violence against women and girls.
Up until 2019, Tetreault said interpersonal violence and sexual assault were focal points for the Women’s Center. Now, with a generation of new ideas and perspectives, the Women’s Center has been reconstructing their primary objectives for women and gender equality.
“The Women’s Center is still focused on sexual health and assault prevention, but now we’re focusing on women’s leadership, reshifting from men in masculinity dialogue to more gender equity, and doing more collaborative programming with the health center, the LGBTQ+ center and athletics,” Tetreault said.
Currently, the Women’s Center is working on many expansive goals that are important to women now, according to Alderson. Alderson said in addition to leadership, there’s more concentration on safe sex promotion, applying for grants to help students with children and now distributing a podcast called “That’s What You Missed at the Women’s Center” for students to get updates of progress.
“We want to continue to evolve as the student body and student experiences evolve,” Alderson said. “We never want the center to be or feel outdated or out of touch with our student’s needs, so we want to go where the student’s needs, wants and interests are.”
*Editor's note: This story was updated Wednesday, March 17, 4:22 p.m. to correct the spelling of Pat Tetreault's name.