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Opening celebration of UW-Eau Claire’s Intersectional Women’s Center set for Sept. 23

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Dr. Sandibel Borges, pictured above teaching in 2018, was a member of the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program core faculty at UW-Eau Claire, specializing in the areas of feminist theory, transnational feminism and women of color feminism.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will soon have a new resource center aimed at bringing the campus closer to equity, diversity and inclusion goals of gender and racial equity.

The new Intersectional Women’s Center (IWC) will open for fall semester, providing a supportive space for the diverse population of women at UW-Eau Claire. Sponsored by the student organization Women Uniting and Fighting: Coalition Against Sexism and Misogyny at UWEC and the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program (WGSS). The IWC mission is in keeping with the stated institutional goals of “creating an inclusive campus community that challenges students to develop their intellectual, personal, cultural and social competencies.”

(Note: As of fall 2023, the WGSS program will be known as the Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.) 

The IWC will provide:

  • Educational gender content that is attuned to the intersections of sexism and misogyny with racism and other systems of oppression (e.g., xenophobia, ageism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia and classism).
  • Programming that will relate the concepts and case studies of this educational content to the intersections affecting women of color at UW-Eau Claire.
  • A space for students to explore their racial, ethnic and cultural identities alongside gender-based issues through readings and conversations.
  • A space for students to share their lived experiences at a predominantly white campus.
  • A space for organizing for a transformative campus experience.

An opening with a keynote speaker is from noon-1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, in Room 312 of Hibbard Hall, followed by a reception in Room 385 of Hibbard Hall, the home of the new center.

An important feature of the IWC is a mural that represents the collaboration of many campus individuals, groups and units. Two senior bachelor of fine arts students — Mayly Vang of Eau Claire and Megan Miller of Bloomington, Minnesota — created the piece over the course of the summer. The art portrays 10 feminists who are Black, Indigenous or people of color, selected by members of Women United and Fighting. Jill Olm, associate professor of painting, mentored Vang and Miller about the materials and process. The hope is that the mural contributes to the center's mission by supporting and inspiring the diverse population of women on campus. The artists will participate in a discussion about the mural from 9-10 a.m. in the center as part of its grand opening on Sept. 23.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for Mayly and Megan to apply both their technical and conceptual painting skills to support and celebrate the IWC while working together as part of the Blugold art community,” Olm says. “The mural is a great example of how visual art can help create meaningful and welcoming spaces for people to think, work and gather.” 

Dr. Rose-Marie Avin, professor of economics and director of the WGSS program at UW-Eau Claire, is pleased to welcome back Dr. Sandibel Borges, a former UW-Eau Claire assistant professor in the WGSS program currently teaching women’s and gender studies at Loyola Marymount University.

“Dr. Borges was a critical voice in advocating with students for a space that centers the voices of women of color at UWEC,” Avin says. “This year, the IWC staff will build on the previous work of student, faculty and staff advocates to shape the center’s mission and goals.”

Borges’ presentation is sponsored in part by the UW-Eau Claire Visiting Minority Scholars and Artists program. The talk, titled “Refusing Isolation and Exclusion: The Need for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Women and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) Spaces.”

The interim director of the IWC is Dr. Sarita Mizin, assistant professor of English and WGSS affiliate, and she helps to position this special presentation and Borges’ work within the work of the IWC.

“As stated in her abstract, Dr. Borges will discuss how the leaders of women of color feminisms and queer of color critique have long taught us about the need for our own spaces, organization and knowledge in the face of exclusion, marginalization and oppression within so-called progressive spaces,” Mizin says.

“She further studies the ways in which queer, trans and gender nonconforming migrants, looking at the Latinx migrant population specifically, resist and refuse such logics.”

Mizin further points out that IWC students and student staff members will build transferable skills as they conduct campus needs assessments and gather feedback related to intersectional feminist issues of concern at UW-Eau Claire.

“This process will assist in defining the IWC’s identity as a research center that educates, organizes and pursues action on behalf of the intersectional race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality-based needs of our many campus communities,” Mizin says.

Taylor Maki, a senior behavior analysis and WGSS double major and WUF member from Rice Lake, has been hired as a student staff member in the IWC. She looks forward not just to this opening event but to the important work she plans to help execute in the new center.

“Dr. Borges’ research centers on home and belonging specifically in Latinx queer communities, and it offers insight into the need for spaces like the Intersectional Women’s Center at UW-Eau Claire,” Maki says. “She shares a deep understanding of intersectionality and how communities and spaces of care are survival and resistance strategies against systemic violence. The Intersectional Women’s Center at UW-Eau Claire is intended to be a place for such education and care — a place for women of color and queer women to feel at home during their time on this campus.”