By Emily Joyce
The University of Calgary Women’s Resource Centre celebrated its official opening on the third floor of MacEwan Student Centre Wed., Oct. 18., with a buffet lunch, tours of the new space, speakers involved with the project and the community, information booths and cupcakes for dessert.
The celebration culminated in a keynote speech, delivered by Global television anchor, Nirmala Naidoo.
Naidoo spoke at length about her experiences overcoming obstacles in her professional and personal life, much as the Women’s Resource Centre itself has faced many obstacles.
In 1976, the first women’s centre on campus was opened, but over the years, their space was continually downgraded until the centre was eliminated all together.
In 2003, several female students taking a women’s studies course from Dr. Fiona Nelson decided to make it their mission to re-open a women’s space on campus.
One of those students, Stephanie Garrett, is now the centre’s executive director.
Garrett emphasized the catalyst for realizing the entire project was the vision, commitment and passion of Sheila O’Brien, U of C special advisor to the president on student life. O’Brien spearheaded the U of C 40th anniversary Take Your Place initiative, and personally provided the financial support for the centre along with her husband Kevin Peterson. The names of these donors were revealed as part of the opening ceremony.
Georgia Houston, who led the team of environmental design students who created the new space, emphasized the trust and support her team received throughout the process.
“This has been the most rewarding experience and project I have ever worked on,” she told the audience. “It is an incredible sense of fulfillment to know I contributed to such an important space for women on campus.”
Houston said she wanted the space to be non-institutional, open, safe and secure, a place that women would use and enjoy spending time in. Women can use the centre to interact, exchange ideas, run seminars and hold meetings, all within the confines of a bright, supportive and welcoming environment.
Garrett will be assisted at the centre by executive assistant Gwen Kwann and Joan Wilson, the centre’s volunteer coordinator. They are developing programs to be based in the centre, including a women of colour collective, an international women’s group, a committee on women’s sexuality and a mentorship program.
However, Garrett emphasized the WRC will use a peer-based model to encourage women to get involved and encourage the development of the centre themselves.