The Evolving Definition of Women

The UCSC Women’s Center celebrates its 30th anniversary

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Dozens gathered in the Cardiff House to be a part of the celebration. The event kicked off outside where the speakers expressed the importance of having safe places for women. After the speeches the attendees socialized and shared cake in the newly-renovated house. Photo by Casey Amaral
Dozens gathered in the Cardiff House to be a part of the celebration. The event kicked off outside where the speakers expressed the importance of having safe places for women. After the speeches the attendees socialized and shared cake in the newly-renovated house. Photo by Casey Amaral

On the lower side of campus, right off Coolidge Drive, three generations of UC Santa Cruz affiliates gathered in the newly renovated Cardiff House to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the UCSC Women’s Center on Oct. 18. Dozens of students, faculty and staff filed into the building for food, music, poetry read by Maya Chinchilla and a keynote speech from Dr. Bettina Aptheker, one of the founders of the Women’s Center in 1986, speak about changes in feminism she has witnessed.

“In the ’80s when we thought about having a women’s center, [it was in the] height of  second wave feminism,” Aptheker said. “Ideas about safe space for women, productive space for women [and] also women’s empowerment and anti-racist agendas in space [were] a key component of that.”

In the 19th century and early 20th century, the first wave of feminism brought the right to vote and own property to suffragettes fighting for gender equality. As time went on, the movement grew and the second wave of the 1960s and ’70s established rape crisis centers and drew attention to domestic violence and reproductive rights.

Today feminists bring new voices to the movement, asking the question, what does it mean to be “woman”? What is “woman”? This represents the third wave of feminism and broadens the focus to include women across all realms of race, gender and sexuality.

Founded with the idea of creating a safe and productive space for all members of campus regardless of gender identification, the Women’s Center is a place for survivors of sexual assault, for those experiencing bigotry and prejudice and for those who don’t feel like their voices are being heard.

“I see a lot of opportunities, a lot of places where healing from gendered violence can happen and a lot of moments for connection with the community here at UCSC,” said gender and sexuality specialist Tam Welch.

Bettina Aptheker who is a political activist, author, UCSC professor of feminist studies and UC Presidential Co-Chair of women’s critical race and ethnic studies, recalled the founding of the women’s center as a time filled with ideas of women empowerment.

“The movement has changed, not in the sense that we don’t want empowerment,” Aptheker said in her speech. “But it has broadened out and it is much more inclusive, which I celebrate when I look out here and on the campus.”

Photo by Casey Amaral
During the celebration of the UCSC Women’s Center, attendees were greeted by tables full of scattered memorablilia including photos, books and t-shirts meant to commemorate the newly renovated center and celebrate its 30-year milestone. Photo by Casey Amaral

The 30th anniversary celebrates not only the history of the center, but also the new facility, which was renovated last year to keep with seismic codes and to be more accessible for those with disabilities.

“We engage in a lot of conversations about what does feminism mean, what does healing look like and what does it mean to identify as a women,” Welch said.

Annual events include Take Back the Night, a week-long event in April that focuses on empowering survivors of sexual violence and sister solidarity that explores intersectionalities of womanhood.

“One of the primary things I learned as an undergrad is this idea of writing yourself into history,” said Maya Chinchilla a UCSC alumni, who is a writer in residence at Oakes College who said she will be teaching creative writing and Latinx media in the winter and spring quarters. “That’s what I learned especially from women of color feminist.”

The event ended with her reading poems from her book, “The Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poética,” a piece of Latinx and queer literature. She told a tale of self-discovery explaining what it is to be, “fem on purpose.”

“The personal is political,” Chinchilla said. “They want us to feel like we’re isolated and alone, but as soon as we connect with other people, powerful movements happen.”

During the celebration of the UCSC Women’s Center, attendees were greeted by tables full of scattered memorablilia including photos, books and t-shirts meant to commemorate the newly renovated center and celebrate its 30-year milestone. Photo by Casey Amaral
Photo by Casey Amaral