Outside of Grove apartment Dll stands a tall wire chair and table. A sign is on the door and a floral mat beneath it. Five years ago on March 1, this apartment opened to become the home of the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Women’s Center.
Inside, the one bedroom living space has been transformed into a learning center, designed to educate about women’s issues. A bulletin board is filled with pamphlets that contain information about sexual assault, battered women, dating violence and more. A poster paying tribute to famous Tennessee women like Wilma Rudolph, Ida B. Wells and Pat Summit hangs on the wall. In the back room, there is a crowded desk, small conference table and two tall bookshelves playing host to a wide variety of books from Jane Austen classics to “The Idiot’s Guide to Gardening.”
Though it appears small, the Women’s Center has gained the support of students, faculty and staff and members of the community.
“I think that we need to educate our women and men not just on what have been traditional roles, but what opportunities are out there for future roles,” said Dr. Teresa Collard, UTM’s Associate Professor of Communications. “We need to know our past but we need to see a bright future where everyone has equal opportunity,”
In 2010, Collard, the director, attended a Women in Higher Education conference and listened to speakers who had started women’s centers. She immediately decided that this would be her project. As the coordinator of the women’s studies minor for 22 years, Collard wanted to use the center to support the minor.
After contacting some of the women who spoke at the event, author, columnist and motivational speaker Lisa Smartt, helped Collard to create a plan to present to former Chancellor Dr. Tom Rakes, along with Dr. E. Jerald Ogg Jr, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
The two immediately agreed to the initiative.
“I was excited,” said Ogg. “Dr. Collard was passionate, committed enough to invest her own time and exceptionally frugal in her request for funding.”
The next step was to find a location for the center. At the time, the Fine Arts Building was undergoing construction and there were no available spaces on campus. It was decided that the group would rent out an apartment in Grove.
The first annual Women’s Studies Symposium was the next hurdle. The daylong event takes place during March as a tribute to women’s history month and includes a keynote speaker, panel sessions, and other activities.
The largest event of the year, Collard remembered wondering how she would get 100 students to attend. Approximately 158 students came and the events were packed. At the end of the “Equalitea,” she remembered the chaos of baking scones, getting clotted cream together, serving the tea, making sandwiches and getting the presenters up.
In addition to the symposium, the center is actively involved with the American Association of University Women, and also has a monthly speaker series.
In November 2015, one speech discussed female genital mutilation. An estimated 78 participants attended to hear the address given by a Nigerian student and filled room 336 in Gooch Hall.
The event further fueled fundraising efforts for the Desert Flower Project to fight female genital mutilation.
Over time, Collard has formed a large board of directors that support Women’s Center initiatives and assists with the symposium, along with assistant director Dr. Lisa LeBleu. The board meets once a year and is made up of students including presidents of Women in Communications and Women’s Student Association, faculty and staff, and community members.
Additionally, Collard has an intern. Junior public relations major and women’s studies minor Kathryn Fellman works primarily with updating social media. At her job, she enjoys researching for posts about women in history.
“I think working at the Women’s Center has helped broaden my views about what’s available to me and what my rights are,” said Fellman.
However, men have taken an active role in the organization as well. For example, UTM police officer Charlie Jahr has served as a member of the board and teaches self defense classes at the symposium. He described his students as open minded and enthusiastic.
Throughout the years, Collard has only had one negative remark. When asked where the men’s center would be, the director replied that there was already one – the university.
Though not in the works, Collard would one day like to move out of Grove. She would also like to raise enough money to endow the scholarships for volunteers.
The center is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=UTM%20Women%27s%20Center.