Secrecy surrounds proposed women’s center at UNC-Wilmington

Talk of a new women’s center at UNC-Wilmington has at least one student organization asking questions. According to John Kaiser, Chairman of the Conservative Leadership Group (CLG) at UNC-W, it’s not the idea of having a women’s center at the university that upsets members of his group, but the secrecy surrounding the issue.

The Women’s Resource Center, should it be created, would cater to “women’s issues” but would be open to both men and women, according to English Professor Janet Ellerby, who spearheads the Women’s Issues Task Force that is exploring the idea.

The center would “direct women towards services on campus and will collaborate with other campus groups on projects,” according to Grace Newman, a graduate student on the Women’s Issues Task Force. “It will acknowledge that UNC-W’s female student body, faculty, and staff come from a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and political affiliations,” Newman told a reporter for The Anchor, CLG’s student publication.

Since CLG obtained that information, members of the Women’s Issues Task Force have been less forthcoming. Before finding out that The Anchor was published by the Conservative Leadership Group, Ellerby invited inquiries. She gave an Anchor reporter the email addresses of task force members as contacts for questions about the center.

Ellerby changed those directives last week when she realized that she was talking to reporters from The Anchor rather than from The Seahawk, UNC-W’s official student newspaper.

“I wasn’t putting off their questions. But I am concerned that this publication is against what we are doing and the progress we have beg un,” Ellerby said. “What I didn’t realize is that there was a motive there from the beginning to stop any progress toward the women’s center.” Ellerby has since asked that all questions regarding the center come to her.

CLG’s intent, said Kaiser, is not to stop progress, but to provide students with valuable information. The group wants to run a story about the idea for a center in The Anchor. The Seahawk has published an article. But their article didn’t answer some important questions, Kaiser said.

“Would the Center be funded by the taxpayers or students? Do they want to use the academic or student affairs budget? Who would approve the proposal? These are the kinds of questions that members of the student body deserve to have answered,” Kaiser said.

But those are questions, said Ellerby, that even the Women’s Task Force can’t answer. “We are so much in planning stage,” she said. “That’s not part of [the Task Force’s] charge — to worry about money and where it would come from.”

Last week, CLG sent a letter to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to find out when the Task Force meets — meetings that should be open to the student body and the public, said Kaiser, but that are never published.

The responsibility to publish meeting times, said Ellerby, lies with the University Provost John Cavenaugh and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Patricia Leonard, who directed the formation of the Task Force and receives the minutes of each meeting.

Cavenaugh, for his part, sharply defended the closed meetings process and said that there was no proposal for a women’s center at this time.

“What we asked [Ellerby] to do was a needs assessment,” he said. “There are lots of committees that meet on campus. There is no requirement that we publish advance notice of these meetings. There is no officially proposed center for UNC-W at this time.”

“Maybe after the proposal is completed [in mid-March] I am sure there would be more student involvement, especially if it is funded by students,” Ellerby said. “We’re not being secretive. We’re just a committee with work to do and we’re working hard at it.”