On Nov. 3, the Women’s Resource Center held Firepit Friday. Students made s’mores, sang karaoke, and familiarized themselves with the space and resources available.
The WRC is a long-standing Swarthmore organization that serves as a safe environment for female-identifying, gender-nonconforming, and marginalized students with intersecting identities. Director of Gender and Sexuality Initiatives Paige Jennings, who oversees the operation of the WRC, spoke with The Phoenix about the WRC’s functions and overall mission.
“[Students] have a safe space to sit, talk, and discuss how to be better activists and how to rally around certain issues,” she said.
Among the attendees was Annie Hauze ’27, who had visited the WRC only one time before the event.
“Before the open house, I didn’t really have any idea what the WRC was [and] what it [did]. After the open house, and more recently, the bonfire, I’ve constructed this more solid idea of it in my head as a very homey space that is really easy to exist in and be myself fully,” Hauze said. “It felt like I was walking into the living room of somebody who happened to have really good taste in decor.”
The WRC also employs student associates from a variety of different backgrounds to help further its objectives.
“Everything that is front-facing is the work of the associates. They’ve put so much into [the space], whether it be the design, event creation, our direction — that’s all driven from what they want and what the larger student body wants,” Jennings explained.
WRC Associate Anastasia Lewis ’24, who manages the physical space of the WRC, explained that the comforting environment motivated her to work there as a first year.
“When I first went in [to the WRC] my freshman year, I immediately fell in love because I felt [cozy and welcome]. I’m trying to just recreate that for students who haven’t been to the center before,” she said.
Lewis added that, because of the WRC’s supportive atmosphere, she was able to work alongside a variety of different people during her time as an associate.
“I got to meet some incredible supervisors who have come through over the years. There’s plenty of work to be done around because the students that come through there are genuinely invested.”
Aside from their regular duties, WRC associates also work alongside Jennings to develop their own passion projects.
“Honestly, [a passion project] can be anything, it just has to be related to feminism or queerness in some type of way. They develop an idea — that can be an event, it can be an initiative, it can be a resource — it’s completely up to them,” Jennings said.
Jennings emphasized that associates have complete creative control over their projects and that she primarily provides logistical support to them during the planning process. Associates identify an issue, devise a solution, and present a proposal to Jennings. She then assists the associates in developing their ideas and secures funding to make the projects a reality.
“They’re the driver — I’m just kind of sitting in the passenger seat helping them navigate,” she said.
Furthermore, WRC Associates develop real-world practice and hone their professional skills throughout the process of planning and implementing their passion projects. This can include budget creation, identification of key stakeholders, and proposal writing.
“They’re not only addressing an issue on campus or something they’re passionate about. They are getting real-world experience to then turn around into their professional careers,” Jennings added.
Associates are also required to involve other organizations or student identity centers on campus to recognize and work toward intersectionality.
“They’re involving cross-campus contacts, and the things that [the associates] have come up with is so exciting. I’m really happy to see how these play out,” Jennings added.“It’s just truly amazing to see the amount of empathy, the issues [the associates] care about.”
WRC Associate Nick Rodriguez ’27 told The Phoenix about his passion project: a queer closet that will provide students with binders, packers, and other gender-affirming items.
“It’s probably going to be a physical cupboard or closet inside of the WRC. There’s most likely going to be a very simple short form that people can fill out to get access to the gender-affirming items,” he explained.
He added that the closet may have a delivery option available for students who require privacy but still need access to gender-affirming items. Rodriguez also said that he and WRC staff are in the process of consulting with other colleges, like the University of Pennsylvania, on how they have created queer closets, and how Swarthmore can implement one, too.
To ensure greater inclusivity and acknowledge all marginalized genders and sexual identities, the WRC is working on changing its name. Jennings expressed her appreciation for the support she has received for the name change. She mentioned that the label “Women’s Resource Center” may seem exclusive to trans or queer students who “don’t identify with femininity, or what society has deemed a woman to be.”
“I know that it’s really easy to get attached to names and spaces, and to feel a certain type of affinity towards [how a space has always been]. But, one really great thing about Swarthmore is we’re a campus of activists and a campus of individuals who want to support everyone if someone is left out, especially if their identity is intersectional and is not being represented,” she said. “We have to recognize that there is a certain type of exclusivity when you name a place ‘Women’s Resource Center’ and then say, everyone’s welcome.”
Similarly, Lewis highlighted the importance of rebranding the WRC and taking steps to create a space for all types of femme and queer bodies, which the associates try to do through their passion projects and the inclusion of pride symbolism in the WRC’s decoration.
“Times have changed, the student body has changed, and we want to be a center that reflects that. [We’re] not only still there for the students that need it, but are [also] there for the students who are of the time and of the future,” stated Lewis.
To encourage and give space for discussion regarding the branding change, the WRC is hosting Name Change Listening Sessions on Dec. 7, from 6-8 p.m. A survey for students interested in the event will be sent out soon, according to Jennings.
Another aspect the WRC is working on is to increase the student body’s awareness of the resources they offer. Rodriguez acknowledges that some students are not familiar with the WRC, may only have heard of it in passing, or may even incorrectly assume that the space is only intended for women.
Jennings also hopes that students will utilize the numerous resources offered, such as menstrual and gender-affirming products. They also have a sexuality library located on the third floor with works from queer and feminist authors.
“We have a lot of actual tangible resources as well as emotional and supportive resources. I [also] want the student body to know that no matter how they identify, they’re welcome to all of our events.”
Lewis believes that the associates themselves are helpful resources to talk to.
“We might not always have the proper answer or response that you’re looking for, but at least we can [point] you in the right direction, because all of us had to engage with our resources on and off campus, and we had to bring awareness to different social issues that are happening. Have a discussion with us, reach out to us, ask about what groups on campus would be good to have a collaboration with,” she said.
To increase awareness of the space, Hauze suggests that the WRC host some events in collaboration with other groups on campus, such as Kitao Art Gallery and Olde Club, the student-run performance and party space.
“I really liked WRC parties, and I was thinking about how Olde Club is right there. It might be really cool to have an Olde Club-WRC party that focuses on some kind of intersectional, feminist style of music,” proposed Hauze. “College students like to party, so if they’re partying and the WRC is directly involved, it creates a party where you feel a little bit safer as a woman or as a person with an expansive gender identity. That might be a really valuable thing.”
In the future, Jennings hopes that the WRC continues to create comfort for students, especially those with marginalized backgrounds or identities.
“I want to have the space feel like it’s not an afterthought for students, but somewhere that they think ‘I want to go study at this place. I want to go to an event at this place. I want to go here, because I feel like it’s my second home,’” she expressed.