*it is important to note that some of the language previously used by the WRC is now outdated and not appropriate—details on the bottom
Our Roots on Campus
The Women’s Resource Center became an official campus organization in 1993; before that, there was a lot of feminist work being done on campus. This work consisted of collaborations between radical student organizations and the Women’s Studies department. As recent as the 1990s, all the way back to the university’s founding, there was a much more palpable presence of such groups. The existence of those first feminist radical groups set a precedence for something like the Women’s Resource Center to follow.
The Role of the Women’s Studies Department
What is now called the Women & Gender Studies Department, started as “Women’s Studies”. First established in 1974, this department took on several different roles for the city of Milwaukee itself and the university’s community. With all the benefits of a department like this, it did not materialize without push back against this feminist work. Given the nature of persistent misogyny and conservatism, it was (and still is) considered controversial. Formation of the Women’s Studies department was the talk of the town because of its perceived “controversy”. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even published articles about it as early as 1972, two years before the department was official and still in its early stages of development.
While the department was an educational one, it also served many other purposes. Before the founding of the WRC, this department
provided the same support to the community that the WRC now continues through our mission of advocacy, education and empowerment. Women’s Studies was juggling much more
than they were being compensated for, yet, with their dedication to feminist issues, they still managed to fulfill people’s needs. They would get calls on a daily basis from women with questions about what resources were available to them at the university and the Milwaukee area. The need for a Women’s Resource Center became apparent quickly after the department was launched. But until they were able to get the ball rolling on the WRC, the department’s office served as a safe space and the office distributed educational materials like a pamphlet of resources in the area. The local resource pamphlet became an essential service that the department provided. It was constituted of over 175 listings, kept updated over time, and some of the listings were even other UWM feminist organizations like the Feminist Center, Association of Women in Education, Women’s Focus Group, and the Single Parent Group. In addition to connecting folks to resources, the department sponsored free lectures, and sent students to feminist conventions and seminars across Wisconsin.
Women’s Resource Center (WRC)
The resource center was the first of its kind on campus, meaning that it was the first demographic targeted student resource center. Through campus advocacy by the Women’s Issues Committee, Women’s Faculty Caucus, among others, the WRC was able to come to fruition with their commitment. A figure at the university that was particularly devoted to formation of the WRC was Roxanne Patton. She was a driving force in the development of the WRC through her role on the Student Association as the “gender issues representative”.
Below is our original plea for the construction of the WRC on the left and on the right is the original mission statement.
(Passed by the Student Association 11/25/1992)
Cathy Seasholes was the inaugural director of the center in 1993 and a great one at that. Cathy was a fundamental developer of the structure of modern-day Student Affairs. Cathy was a huge asset to the center, making its presence on campus something to be reckoned with. During her time as director, Seasholes fought every year for more funding for the WRC, advocated for equitable wages for student employees, and facilitated incredible programs. One of those events comprised of the legendary Angela Davis and Milwaukee’s own, Vel R. Phillips as guest speakers. Seasholes truly set the stage for those who filled her position after her. Not only has the WRC hosted radicals like Angela Davis and Vel R. Phillips, but it has also fostered a commitment to intersectionality. The WRC has proved their commitment by having events that center voices of global feminists and working with other Student Affairs departments like the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Inclusive Excellence Center, and the Military and Veterans Resource Center.
Beginning of Take Back the Night (TBTN)
One of the Women’s Resource Center’s now most prominent events, Take Back the Night during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, was originally a product of early student organization collaborations. The first TBTN took place in 1992 with over 400 participants. Since then, participation has fluctuated and peaked in 1997 with over 700+ marchers. Unfortunately, the origin story of Take Back the Night, is a dark one. It was in response to gendered violence that occurred on the East Side.
TRIGGER WARNING //// sexual assault
In October of 1991, two women, that were UWM students, were raped in broad daylight here on the East Side. Our radical student organizations, the UWM student body, and the community at large were all outraged and they used that fuel their action.
The following January of 1992, a women’s anarchist group called Womyn’s Resistance and the Student Association united to arrange UWM’s first TBTN. On April 30th of 1992, over 400 students marched for the sake of empowerment and bodily autonomy in the wake of gendered violence.
Every Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) since then, the WRC has hosted TBTN to continue raising awareness and rise up for all who have been affected. Panthers Against SexualAssault (PASA) in an organization that has formed in recent years and now co-hosts TBTN with the WRC, which helps us expand our reach more and more students.
The Future of the WRC
Our goal is to grow and serve as many students as possible. How can we do that? With the help of you, reader. You are here reading this because you care and want to continue or start to help implement positive change on this campus. Anyone can make an impact, including you. Get involved in ways big or small and stay up to date on the resources and programs that we provide by checking our website.
Thank you Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Cathy Seasholes, Gwynne Kennedy, the archivists in the UWM Archives, my team at the WRC, especially Justice Grau and Jen Murray. You helped me so much through my research.
Johanna Nevin, May 2021
*In the original mission statement and resolution, it only uses “women” to describe the people we serve. Today, we are open to serving anyone through our intersectional lens to make sure that all marginalized identities are accounted for.
*The term “womyn” that the anarchist group used in their name is coded Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) language. It was not apparent in the research process of whether that was the intended message or not.