At the beginning of this semester, the office of diversity and inclusion moved from Unity House to the central location of Lower Wismer. Moving a diversity center from the outskirts to the center of campus shows Ursinus’ symbolic progress to prioritize diversity and inclusion related efforts. Having worked in both Unity House and the IIE, I can say that while humans are the driving force behind diversity support systems at Ursinus, the symbolism of spaces is also incredibly important. This move should remind members of the Ursinus community about the importance of physical space, and as a result, I have often wondered why Ursinus does not have a physical women’s and LGBTQ+ resource center.
Other colleges in the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts (PCLA) such as Dickinson and Gettysburg colleges have physical spaces devoted not only to sexual assault services but also mental health, sexual health, and advocacy for women-identified students. Dickinson College’s Women’s & Gender Resource Center is located in a house on their main street, and Gettysburg College’s Women’s Center is located on the first floor of one of their student halls. While these centers likely have their own struggles and areas in which to improve, they show that other schools recognize the importance of holding specific safe physical spaces for these services.
Students at Ursinus do not necessarily struggle from lack of resources, but rather a lack of easy or comfortable and safe access to those resources. During my time at Ursinus, I think the Peer Advocates have drastically changed how they’ve approached sexual assault education in many positive ways. They have made strides to provide better support and preventative education for the campus. That being said, their work is limited by not having a physical space.
The only space the Peer Advocates and the Prevention and Advocacy Educator/Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Jess Oros, have for themselves is Oros’s office in Lower. This may be a comfortable space, but it is also a personal office housed alongside student activities. While the Prevention and Advocacy Educator/Deputy Title IX Coordinator office will be eventually moved to the IIE, I still think a personal office is not a sufficient location to house the range of sexual assault, sexual health, mental health, and other advocacy programs at Ursinus. The full range of these services are, in a sense, location-less. To find them all, students must float between pages deep in the Ursinus website.
I don’t think this sexual health center necessarily belongs in the IIE because the key mission of the IIE is to provide a student support and educational space—not necessarily to address private health concerns. Senior Solana Warner added, “The IIE is great for advocacy and education, but a different kind of space would be great for privacy for these health-related services.”
Sophomore Kiley Addis said, “I would be more comfortable getting services if there [was] a physical place. I feel like there’s a lot of judgement [when students go] to get sexual health resources. To get to Wellness you kind of have to walk through Reimert which isn’t comfortable for a lot of students.”
I have heard students complain many times that we don’t have enough sexual health-related resources. In an anonymous survey I did for the Rainbow Resource Center (RRC), one of the biggest concerns students brought up was lack of queer and LGBTQ+ sexual health resources.
Wellness currently provides confidential STD testing and can write prescriptions for birth control pills. You can make a medical appointment at Wellness without having to disclose the reason for the medical visit and then just discuss those details with the nurse or doctor. While I think more sexual health resources would be better, these resources we do have aren’t well known. Having a specific center for these services could help students know that these services exist in a safe and confidential space.
Jessica Parrillo, the Director of Counseling and Wellness, said, “I’d love if we had the funding and space for a center like that. We’re currently working to get the word out about what services we do have and how we can refer students to outside resources to fill in the gaps.”
Wellness would be a suitable place to host such a women’s and LGBTQ+ center. I understand it’s not easy to totally overhaul and reconfigure a space, nor do I think that will happen anytime soon. Wellness already has a lot to pack into one building with both counseling and medical services.
Lack of physical space for this group of services can be a barrier for students who are seeking help, whether it be for sexual health or gender-related violence services. While building the IDC and having established the IIE, it’s important for Ursinus to think about the implications of not creating a central, distinguished space for these wellness-related services.