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On September 12, from1:00-3:00 p.m., Grand Valley State University Women’s Center has their 11th Annual Art Reception (1201 Kirkhof Center, Allendale Campus). The Women's Center offers services to the downtown Grand Rapids and Allendale. GVSU communities. The artists will be there, as will refreshments and lovely conversations. I went to the Center to talk with Brittany Dernberger, the Assistant Director, about the reception and about feminism. Admittedly, I felt slightly conspicuous as I approached the Center (being a man and all). However, the resulting awkwardness quickly dissolved as I was struck by the Center’s...niceness. It is crisp, well lit, comfortable, friendly - they even have toys! - and, of course, there’s the art.
Steven Edelman: How does art fit into the Women’s Center’s work and mission?
Brittany Dernberger: We have several different aspects of our work. We do a ton of events and programs each year. It can be everything from very small programs, creating dialogues, to a full scale play [this year it is That Takes Ovaries]. Anything related to gender, from pay equity to violence against women, to body image, to eating disorders. That’s one aspect.
Another is resources and referrals. We don’t have any trained counselors or health care providers on staff but we work really closely with the counseling center on campus and agencies in the communities. We always tell students we are a great first place to come if you don’t know what your next step is.
A third area is leadership, service, volunteer opportunities and the fourth is our physical space. Students use our space to hang out in between classes. I think our call for art really ties into that. Part of our mission is really giving voice to women’s experiences. We publish a journal every spring (In Our Own Words). Another way to give voice is through art.
SE: What do you look for in a piece when deciding whether or not to make it a part of your gallery?
BD: We look for work that represents diverse women’s experience....However, a common misconception is that you have to be a woman to come into the Women’s Center and you have to be a woman to participate in our program. This is by no means the case. We are open to everyone. You can be a man and be interested in women’s issues.
As far as the art, we leave it open on purpose. Some are more commentaries on gender, capitalism, and different structures in society. Some are more like, “This is my experience,”...it’s really open.
SE: Can I ask you about the term “feminist”? For the last decade or so, younger women seem more reluctant to self identify as feminist. Some may agree with and support their own understanding of feminism’s ideal’s and goals, but then qualify this support with the phrase,“but I’m not a feminist.”
BD: We see this a lot. I think feminism has been branded. All the stereotypes, hairy, man-hating, bra-burning, angry. That was such a term that come out of the 60’s...it's an image they don’t want to be associated with. I work with a lot of students who say - it’s exactly what you said - “I’m not a feminist, but I think women should be paid the same as men. I’m not a feminist, but I think violence against women is an issue.” All these things and I’m like, but all these things are feminism! So, I think yes, there’s this huge stigma associated with it.
We are very open. You don’t have to identify as a feminist to come to the Women’s Center. That is not a requirement. However, a lot of our programing is based in feminism and feminist leadership principles.
Personally, I was very much that person when I came into college. “I’m not a feminist, but I think I should have x, y, and z.” In your head it's this very negative thing. Through the course of taking Women and Gender Studies classes and my own development I came to believe that this is part of my identity and who I am. I came to realize that being a feminist is not a scary thing. It’s actually about equality and social justice and all these things that are important to me!
For more information on Grand Valley State University’s Women Center, digitally visit them at https://secure.gvsu.edu/women_cen/. Or you can do it the old fashioned way and experience the Center’s...niceness, in person (8am - 5pm, Monday through Friday, 1201 Kirkhof Center).
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