With a new, widened scope, UI women’s center gets bigger location
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Monday afternoons, University of Iowa junior Marissa Gordinier and several dozen other students trickle into a nearly century-old brick house across from the residence halls on the north end of campus. They exchange greetings and plop down on cozy furniture that has been arranged in a large circle in the living room of the former residence.

They’ve come to the UI Women’s Resource & Action Center (WRAC) for a weekly meeting, and they often arrive early to wind down from the day and chat with their peers about any number of topics—from school projects to campus activities to the latest news headlines—before the official proceedings. At 5:30, they get down to business: the work of “WRACtivists,” a group of students dedicated to converting their interest in social justice into action.

Mission statementServices

The Women’s Resource & Action Center at the University of Iowa works to create greater equity for individuals and communities of all identities, with a particular focus on women, through activism, social justice initiatives, leadership training, advocacy, service, and personal and professional development. Visit wrac.uiowa.edu to learn more.

Not only does WRAC provide educational programming and volunteer opportunities, it sponsors the annual Iowa Women’s Music Festival, an April conference, small discussion groups, skill-building workshops, and a number of lectures and presentations.

The center, which moved to the larger space in February, provides a safe and comfortable environment where several groups, including the WRACtivists, meet regularly. Although it originated on campus in the early 1970s as a group of women dedicated to fighting sexism, WRAC, a unit in the Division of Student Life, has expanded its focus over the years to include racism and other forms of oppression. A staff of six full-time employees, eight part-timers, and about 120 volunteers reaches about 12,000 students per year via campus-wide programming, support and discussion groups, and counseling services.

Gordinier, who is from Ankeny, Iowa, is studying social work, as well as gender, women’s, and sexuality studies. She got involved with WRAC her first year on campus, and she says the experience has changed her.

“I knew social justice was what I was most passionate about when I came to college, and WRAC gave me opportunities that I didn’t have in high school,” says Gordinier, who has worked with WRACtivists on a policy-level project aimed at making taxis safer and also participates in the center’s youth-mentoring program. “I know now that no matter where I go after graduation, I will volunteer.”

WRAC’s welcoming environment has been key.

“When you walk in the door, you will be supported no matter what identities you hold, and you will connect with others who have similar values,” she explains. “Having that support system has been really important to me.”

In addition to the services it provides to the UI community, education and leadership development are central to the center’s mission, says director Linda Stewart Kroon. Staff members regularly present programming for resident assistants (or RAs) who work in the residence halls, as well as for student athletes and members of fraternities and sororities. Student volunteers, in turn, gain experience in group leadership and facilitation and hone their interpersonal skills. WRACtivists learn how to research policy, prepare educational materials, and organize an event.

“Not only is volunteering a way for students to explore possible careers, it sets them up with skills they can use for the rest of their lives, whether related to their jobs, politics, or their children’s schools,” Kroon says. “The center also serves as a home away from home, a central location that is convenient for many on campus. Students can come here for any reason—or for no reason. The house is usually lit up from morning until 10 p.m.”

In addition to WRACtivists, the center sponsors the Men’s Anti-Violence Council, a group of men dedicated to preventing violence and providing bystander-intervention training, and it hosts an intensive residential institute each spring for women interested in public leadership.

The center’s new home on Clinton Street features a number of comfortable and quiet study spots, ample space for group meetings, private counseling rooms, and a library with materials on subjects as varied as personal finance, LGBT studies, and women’s health.

Kroon says she feels encouraged by the university’s commitment to the center—and by the engagement she sees in the current generation of UI students.

“Violence, discrimination, and harassment are ongoing concerns, but I see a renewal in spirit in students wanting to change the world,” she says. “The consciousness of social issues is growing, and we invite in all issues for discourse at WRAC. If you are interested in changing things, this is the place to be.”