University News

WIU Women's Center Celebrating 30th Anniversary

May 6, 2016

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MACOMB, IL – During its 30 years of advocating for and celebrating women, the Western Illinois University Women's Center has developed countless memories and milestones, tightly woven into the fabric of University history.

Over the past year, the Women's Center has held numerous events to commemorate the anniversary, as well as to celebrate the women who have directed the center over the years.

The Women's Center opened in Fall 1986, but before that, University students, faculty and staff were already providing organizations, resources and support for women. The center grew from a proposal submitted by Janice Welsch, of the English and journalism department; Essie Rutledge, of the sociology department; and other members of the Western Organization for Women (WOW) to the Board of Governors by former Provost and Academic Vice President Sue Flemming.

The center's first part-time director was Maurine Magliocco, who was also an English professor. Her Women's Center staff members were five practicum students in WIU's College Student Personnel Program. Magliocco said a review of the center's history has made her realize how many of the issues that were being worked on during her time as a director are still present today, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault and pay equity.

"The Women's Center was still a challenge to the system and we had to work hard to stay in existence," Magliocco said.

In March 1988, Magliocco submitted an expanded program request for the Women's Center, demonstrating its need and benefits. The application resulted in the program being expanded to full-time status as the Office of Women's Resources and Programs in 1989 and moving into two rooms in Sallee Hall. Linnea High was hired as the center's full-time director, and in 1991, the center was moved in with the Faculty Development Office. High's position was later cut to three-quarters time for the Women's Center and one-quarter time for Faculty Development.

The Women's Center moved to the second floor of Memorial Hall in 1994, and Martha Klems was appointed a half-time director. She also continued to teach computer science classes at Western, serving until Loretta Kensinger was hired as director in 1995. That was the same year the Women's Studies program was added to Western's academic line-up.

"We convened a two-day planning session, where 30 WIU women mapped out the Women's Project: brainstorming together," said Klems. "We then broke into two groups who worked for the next month on developing a plan for the WIU Women's Center and a plan for advancing Women's Studies at WIU, with attention to how the WC could support Women's Studies, as well as support the development and needs of WIU women students, faculty and staff."

Klems said it was those plans that led to the eventual continuation and expansion of the Women's Center.

"We were given larger space in Seal Hall and permission to search for a full-time Women's Center director with a background in Women's Studies," said Klems. "Under Kensinger's leadership, the Women's Center was well launched onto the successful path that Director Janine Cavicchia continued and greatly expanded on, building the Center into the incredibly active hub it is today."

Klems said some the center's accomplishments during this time included the first Clothesline Project, developed in collaboration with women from the community who were concerned about domestic violence. Also under her leadership, with assistance from College Student Personnel practicum student Donna Dennoncourt, the Feminist and Friends (later renamed the Feminist Action Alliance) student organization was founded.

Cavicchia was appointed the center's interim director after Kensinger left the University to teach in California. The Women's Center was moved from Academic Affairs to Student Services at the same time.

In 1999, the center was relocated to Seal Hall, and Cavicchia was hired as the center's full-time director, moving from the University's residence life arena.

"I always had been interested in feminist issues and in all types of human issues - education and social justice work," said Cavicchia.

The Women's Center's final move came in 2009, with the completion of the WIU Multicultural Center.

Cavicchia will retire as the center's director June 1. She said she is extremely proud of the program expansion that took place during her leadership, including adding positions for graduate and undergraduate students.

"We've tried to be more intentional about hiring students with specific interests and skills for these positions," she said. "We also work with the college student personnel, women's studies, health sciences and social work and recreation, park and tourism administration departments to provide volunteer opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in those programs, majors and minors to have hands-on theory-to-practice experiences."

The Women's Center Resource Library Collection has also grown from 300 books to more than 3,000, with purchase made possible by donations to the center's Foundation account.

During her time leading the center, Cavicchia said she believes awareness about gender equity, women's history and intersectionality has increased considerably.

"We obviously still have a long way to go to achieve parity and eliminate discrimination based on race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical and mental ability, nationality, etc. (in our society)," said Cavicchia.

Some of Cavicchia's favorite memories at the center include bringing feminist singer/songwriter Jolie Christine Rickman to Macomb to perform twice, having input in the construction of the Multicultural Center and seeing former students become successful in their careers.

Cavicchia said she hopes the Women's Center continues to thrive and grow after her retirement.

"Just as it's not the same now without my predecessors--Maurine Magliocco, Linnea High, Martha Klems and Loretta Kensinger--they all left their marks, as have the hundreds of student assistants, graduate assistants, office support staff members, practicum students, interns, volunteers and other supporters who've been important parts of our herstory as they helped lay a strong foundation upon which we've continued to build; I'm confident my successors will continue to do so in shaping the Center's future," Cavicchia said.

Women's Studies Professor Lori Baker-Sperry has been chosen to serve as the center's interim director until a permanent replacement can be found.

Over the past 12 months, numerous programs and activities have been held to commemorate the anniversary, including a 30th anniversary celebration weekend April 15-16 in the Multicultural Center. Two of the previous directors were on hand, and the other two, who couldn't attend, sent remarks, which were shared about their memories and reflections of their time at the center. Additionally, numerous students, who had been involved in and impacted by the center over the years, along with many campus and community partners and supporters, also attended.

For more information about the WIU Women's Center, visit

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