Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women's Center Director Makes Big Things Happen

By Courtney Westlake

Upon entering the Women's Center, located at one end of the Student Affairs Building, a visitor can't help but feel welcome by the colorful decor and comfortable furniture throughout the room.

It's a feeling that director Lynn Otterson wants to be sure to convey to the campus community, especially the women, who come through the door.

Despite a small space and a limited budget, Otterson and the Women's Center have reached out to the campus time and again through a vast array of social events, programming and education efforts to promote important women's issues and safety.

Otterson first started with the Women's Center in 1995, a year after the center opened. Currently, she works with one graduate assistant, Amanda Looney, in running the center, and receives additional help and support from the Women's Issues Caucus, which is a separate organization but still works closely with the center. And the Women's Center is never lacking in activity.

The Rape Aggression Defense program, in coordination with campus police, and the WhistleStop program are two efforts currently at the forefront of the center to educate the campus about sexual assault. Last year, for the first time, the Women's Issues Caucus Club teamed up with the Women's Center to put on a play, and the center also hosts many social events, including the UIS Women's Holiday Party, which is very popular with the women on campus, Otterson said.

In the spring, the Women's Center is planning a large campus event called "Take Back the Night," which is also a national event, Otterson said. In connection with Lincoln Land, the two schools will host the first-ever LLCC-UIS Take Back the Night.

"We'll start at one school and have a rally and then we'll do the march and probably have a party at the end to signify taking back the night," Otterson said. "So women can be free in the night to have fun or go to school or whatever they want."

The Women's Center also recognizes the efforts of others on campus with the annual Naomi B. Lynn Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women at UIS, through which each recipient is given a certificate and plaque, as well as something placed in the Peace and Friendship Garden in their name, such as a tree, bench or birdhouse.

In future semesters, the Women's Center hopes to add space to the program as well as the program called CARE - Campus Acquaintance Rape Education. With UIS growing not only in numbers but also adding freshmen and sophomores to campus, a program like CARE is essential to campus, Otterson said.

"It's so positive because they can talk freely with peers," she said. "It's really state of the art; it's really the bottom line for good schools now to have an intensive peer educator- acquaintance rape education right at the front for all the students."

Otterson said she sees every day how important the Women's Center is to UIS.

"I have a great time in here just about every day," she said. "A lot of people come in and out. Sometimes they're needing connections or a sense of community, and sometimes they need something specific or just wanting to find copacetic people to be active with or be in a club with and share ideals."

"I try really hard at getting good students in here," Otterson added. "The right kind of people, as with my current graduate assistant Amanda, that if I'm not here, and someone comes in and says "I've been raped," they can, first of all, be the right person but then turn around to our referral books and give them the right advice, people to talk to and resources. Sometimes our women just need a lot of support, and I think we do well with that."