Diverse Students' Experiences with a Campus Women's Center: Re-imagining Culturally Responsive Student Engagement

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-4427-4615
Jenkins, Sarah Tucker, Higher Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Steinmetz, Christian, ED-EDLF, University of Virginia

Women’s and gender equity centers (abbreviated as women’s centers) were first established in U.S. universities in the 1960s and currently number in the multiple hundreds across all types of higher education institutions in the country. Women’s centers play a vital role in providing high impact, culturally responsive student engagement; however, research on women’s centers is often informal and infrequent, leading to a dearth of knowledge about the efficacy of student engagement efforts. Women’s centers, and the feminist movement from which they arose, have historically excluded the voices and experiences of women of color and other marginalized identities. While centers are evolving to serve and attract a more diverse student population, there is little research on how students experience these spaces, particularly students from systemically marginalized background and identities. Utilizing feminist research theory, Black feminist thought, and intersectionality as framework, I conducted a qualitative study to learn about the experiences of fourteen students from diverse backgrounds who were highly engaged with one campus women’s center. Findings revealed that participants’ identities impacted and informed the ways they experienced feelings of belonging and exclusion during their women’s center engagement. Participants also reported myriad developmental benefits received from their engagement. Recommendations for policy and practice are presented to make the women’s center more culturally responsive and structurally supportive of a diverse student population. Implications for future research are also discussed.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
women's and gender centers, feminist theory, Black feminist thought, intersectionality , diverse student population, culturally responsive student engagement
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