By Rachel Gobep
Megan List indicated that the Women’s and Gender Resource Center Initiative Board is requesting a “safe central location and the agreed upon funding arranged last August  by October 12, 2018,” in a letter written to YSU President Jim Tressel and interim Provost Joseph Mosca on Oct 3.
“If we do not receive such help, we will understand that your administration does not wish to make half its student population’s safety a priority,” List, the director of the initiative, wrote in the letter.
Mosca said senior leadership at the university are currently in the process of discussing the initiative to “determine a direction and a consequent plan.”
“Part of that discussion will include determining how the WGRCI aligns with other diversity and inclusion initiatives such as the Culture of Community,” he said. “I have asked Dr. List for a copy of the proposal for the center in order to further inform our discussions.”
Development began for a women’s center at Youngstown State University in September 2017. This initiative was intended to result in a center, but this has not become a reality.
In August 2017, “ample funding and a central space” was promised to create a Women’s Center at the university. According to individuals involved with the initiative, the progress on the center has been slow and communication between those involved and the administration at YSU is lacking.
List indicated in the letter that the administration promised the center would have a space no later than January 2018.
“In January, we were informed this space would be ‘delayed,’ and it has remained in such a state ever since.” The letter continued, “Currently YSU has no women’s center — and thus no safe space for women.”
According to the YSU Women’s Center Action plan revised on July 31, 2017, an implementation phase was supposed to begin in fall 2017. This plan included initial labor requirements such as a part-time interim director, an assistant director, full-time administrative assistant work, a volunteer rape crisis counselor and Nicole Kent-Strollo as a volunteer liaison with Student Outreach and Success.
As of Sept. 1, 2017, List was hired as the interim director for the center. All other requests have not yet been made. Issues from difficulties finding an assistant director to attempting to locate a space have shown to be problematic for those advocating for the center.
Tressel said the concerns of those involved with the initiative when it comes to progress of the center are “fair.”
“The thing we don’t want to do is invest into something that doesn’t touch the whole. We want to invest in something that will create the whole, which will then be able to create some pockets of activity and awareness,” he said.
Tressel said the administration is currently working on the development of an Inclusion and Multicultural Strategic Plan at the university, which includes the Culture of Community.
He said his target deadline for the plan is Dec. 31 to know how it will be staffed, what the university can realistically do and what the students want. This plan includes the women’s center.
“The women’s center has been derailed by the administration … We have nothing for over 50 percent of the campus. I think part of this is a sexist attitude by our president and our administration, and they’re hiding their sexism behind coded words such as culture and diversity,” Michael Jerryson, board member for the initiative and professor of philosophy and religious studies.
Jerryson said when Martin Abraham resigned as provost in May the center was set back because Abraham was pushing for the initiative.
“After the dismissal of Abraham, the women’s center has reached out to the administration asking if there will be any resources, if there finally will be a room provided, as was promised to us last August. There has been no response,” he said.
Additionally, Jerryson said the women’s center struggled with attempting to organize a fundraiser and there was little community support for the fundraiser initially, which could give a signal of a lack of funding. He said this perception is incorrect because the fundraiser was not well marketed.
“It’s no surprise that with no funding, no additional paid resources for a resource that would provide for more than half the population of the campus and the community … that the administration thought its more important to put funding in other areas,” Jerryson said.
List wrote in the letter to the administration that a safe space for women needs to be created on campus, along with an area to increase education about the “horrific problem” of predatory sexual assaults on college campuses.
On Sept. 7, Youngstown State University Police received a report that a rape occurred at Lyden House, according to a YSU Penguin Alert.
Jerryson said the reported rape in September may be one of many that is happening on campus, but the campus community may not be hearing about it because there is no “safe space” at the university.
He said the women’s center at YSU is “an afterthought” to the administration.
“Everyone expresses concern; they might provide a little action, but there isn’t enough action or priority to do something to make it happen,” Jerryson said.
Through different presidents and provosts at the university, Jerryson describes the current women’s center initiative as the third one that has been shut down.
“Part of it has been the failure of the student body to support such an initiative … The second reason has been the continual culture at YSU privileging white, male power over non-white, non-male authority,” Jerryson said.
Lindsay Heldreth, a YSU alumnus and former student board member of the WGRCI, said she believes the YSU administration continues to “make excuses for itself” when it comes to the women’s center.
Additionally, Jerryson said the Student Government Association at YSU has failed to prioritize the center.
Caroline Smith, executive vice president of SGA, said as far as the association knows, there is no ongoing initiative within YSU’s administration.
She said she and SGA President Ernie Barkett met with a group concerning the initiative in the spring 2018 semester, but “since then, there has been no movement that we have been made aware of.”
“We are more than willing to discuss the project with the administration; we would just need the people currently taking on the idea to contact us,” Smith said.
She said that SGA believes the initiative is worthy of university attention and is important to have on campus.
“The support appears to be lacking because of limited university resources. From what we know, there is little money and space available for a Women and Gender Resource Center,” Smith said.
Three-hundred and forty-seven people in the YSU community participated in a survey conducted in the spring 2017 semester about the WGRCI with 151 or 44 percent of the respondents saying they believe a women’s center is important on campus or a 10 on a 1-10 scale.