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Women’s Center becomes Feminist Collective

Image by Beloit College

Image by Beloit College

This article was originally published on Oct. 26, 2015.

The club formerly known as Women’s Center has changed its name to Feminist Collective, after more than a year of discussion. The shift was announced on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at its 9 p.m. meeting, along with announcing a mission statement and a call for zine submissions investigating what feminism at Beloit College looks like.

The new mission statement reads: “We envision a space for communities concerned with ending forces of oppression. Our first and foremost concern is in investigating the complex ways in which gender operates in and around Beloit College campus.”

Tessa Sebastian’17, who was influential in the change, commented that the mission statement is “idealistic,” and that it’s always up for revision.

It is yet to be decided if both the house and the club will be called Feminist Collective; other clubs such as SHARCC (Sexual Health and Reproductive Choice Coalition) also meet in the space, and it is unclear if the space is open for other groups that might not be necessarily “oriented towards feminism,” as house member Nina Tran’18 said.

The Club sent out an anonymous survey on its email list on Sept. 20, asking if members wanted to change the name. The options included Feminist Center, Feminist Collective, Womxn’s Center and a write-in. Of 28 total responses, only seven voted against a name change. Of the majority that supported the change, only one voted for Womxn’s Center instead of Feminist Collective.

However, some have expressed concern over the spellings “womyn” and “womxn.” While the spelling tries to disassociate from “men,” they also have transphobic histories. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, for instance, held annually in August since 1976, stopped after this year’s festival due to controversy. The event was open to “womyn-born-womyn,” excluding transgender individuals, leading to boycotts. The term “womxn” is similarly associated with women’s separatist movements that have a transmisogynistic history.

While Women’s Center described itself as feminist in the past, some are concerned that officially using that word is still exclusive. Not all club members might identify as feminists, for instance; the word has a history of being associated with white, middle class, ciswomen. “For a long time we’ve existed as a static image [of feminism],” Sebastian said. “What if we looked critically at the way clubs function on campus and how they’re organized and reimagine that?” she continued.

Women’s Center formed during the 1970-71 academic year, in conjunction with a group called The Sisterhood, which was a “support group for women in the Beloit community. Working as a collective, this group has coordinates the business of the Women’s Center.”

Over the years, the group has also called themselves Womyn’s Center and Womxn’s Center; indeed, most event posters from the early 2000s used the former. Many events were also advertised as open to “women only.”

Violet Lane-Ruckman’17, who lived in the house last semester, acknowledges the club has been exclusive. “As long as I have been at Beloit, Women’s Center has been trying to include a variety of identities, but the intention of inclusivity is often overlooked when the visible members are primarily white middle-class ciswomen and when those who feel excluded do not let the club know what to do to grow,” she said. “Women’s Center in the past has made mistakes, but has always aimed at inclusivity.”

While club meetings are open to all, the group has hosted different events open only to certain identities. The group is reconsidering its Topless Spaghetti Dinner event, which has only been open to “women-identifying” or “female-identifying” people in the past, as a space to discuss breasts. While this is designed to help women students feel comfortable without the presence of cismen, it excludes trans and non-binary students. Another event, Red Tent, is originally based on a movement to give women a space to celebrate menstruation and share their feelings. Some sessions have been open only to “women-identifying” or “women identifiers,” while others have been open to everyone.  Other events, such as armpit hair dyeing, have always been open to all. This has led to a continuous discussion about the value and implications of gendered spaces and inclusivity in general at Beloit.

However, no name is perfect, members say. “There are limits to us calling ourselves and this space Women’s Center, and there are limits in calling ourselves Feminist Collective,” Macy Tran’17, house member, commented. However, Lane-Ruckman anticipates productive changes. “I hope that [the] campus sees this name change as a step towards a more inclusive Feminist Collective and that we want to hear your voices.”

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