As the term approaches, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union centres are preparing for an influx of old and new students. With a newly hired co-ordinator and a different lounge space, the USSU Women’s Centre is up for the challenge.
The Women’s Centre, established in 1972, provides a safe and inclusive space for all students, focused on feminism and activism. This summer, the center was moved from the Memorial Union Building room 105, now occupied by the USSU Help Centre, to room 103, a larger room previously occupied by XL Print & Design. The move was part of an effort to consolidate the resources of the Women’s, Pride and Help Centres.
Ashley Clouthier, fifth-year English and history major, began work as the new Women’s Centre co-ordinator at the beginning of summer 2016 after two years as a volunteer, and her first major task was moving the Centre into its new home.
“I feel honoured to be the first co-ordinator in this space … The last centre was beautiful and I loved it, but it’s been there for so long, it was just so cluttered … I got the wonderful opportunity to go through it all and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. It’s just a completely fresh start in here and it’s so bright and so spacious. I’m really excited about it,” Clouthier said.
Although the space is new, the Centre’s services remain the same. It continues to offer peer support with trained volunteers who listen to students in need. The Centre also offers referrals to resources on campus and in Saskatoon. It is a welcoming place, including a kitchenette and library, for students to relax and make connections with others.
Aside from general support, the Women’s Centre always hosts multiple events throughout the year. Clouthier, along with the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition, has already begun to plan Take Back the Night, a march to end violence that will begin at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the YWCA.
The roster of upcoming events also includes the Who Needs Feminism campaign, Pro-Choice Awareness Week, a menstrual product drive and International Women’s Day. Most prevalent on Clouthier’s mind, however, is the USSU Sexual Assault Awareness Week, set to run from Sept. 26–30. The week will feature a panel discussion, a poetry reading event and the Centre’s third annual Concert for Consent.
“Our theme for [the week] this year is … ‘We’re All Part of the Solution,’” Cloutier said. “I really want to challenge the way people perceive assault and the way we feel like we should be combating it because a lot of the time campaigns like this will be focused on what to do after an assault has already happened. But I think we’re going to try to focus a little more on preventative measures this year and kind of addressing the reasons assaults happen, especially on campuses, because the rates are so high.”
While co-ordinators like Clouthier are integral to the Women’s Centre, its volunteers provide the life-blood that forms its community and allows the Centre to host numerous events. One of Clouthier’s major goals for the year is to recruit more volunteers and increase their level of involvement.
“I’d like to see volunteers take more initiative, I think. So in the past it’s been the co-ordinator [who] does a lot of work in terms of planning events and coming up with new ideas and stuff, but from my experience our volunteers are so brilliant and so creative and everybody has different strengths and passions,” Clouthier said.
The Women’s Centre is always accepting new volunteers. Aspiring volunteers simply need to visit the Centre, fill out an application form and meet with Clouthier to discuss volunteer responsibilities. Clouthier also organizes orientation seminars once a term for those volunteers who wish to provide peer support for other students.
“You don’t have to be a woman to come in here,” Clouthier said. “That’s kind of a misconception … We’re very welcoming of all gender identities. So I’d just like to see a really diverse crowd in here. I want everybody to feel welcome.”
Jessica Klaassen-Wright / News Editor
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor