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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thomas wants to welcome more people to Women’s Center

Gloria Thomas, Director of the Carolina Women's Center. Photographed July 29, 2016 at the Sonja Hanyes Stone Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When your women’s center only has five employees to serve a campus that is 60 percent female, you quickly learn the power of collaboration, said Gloria Thomas, Carolina Women’s Center director for the past seven months.

“Ideally, I’d love to serve as the hub, to be sort of the clearinghouse, the place that brings it all together and disseminates the information,” she said. “We’re looking at the ways we have the capacity to serve, not only students but also faculty and staff, and we’re going to have to do a lot of that through collaborations.”

The first Women’s History Month during Thomas’s tenure seemed like a good time to check in with her about what she sees as the role of the center and how she intends to shape it going forward.

Currently, two of the center’s staff members are devoted full-time to addressing the needs of students, faculty and staff who have experienced gender and/or sexual violence. They also offer drop-in hours for counseling at the LGBTQ Center and Koury Residence Hall. Supporting these people is one of the center’s greatest strengths, Thomas said, and that role won’t change. Neither will the programming that supports this role, such as HAVEN training, workshops for faculty, staff and students who want to become informed allies for survivors of sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence.

CWC plans to continue to host the Parenting@UNC.edu website, created for student, faculty and staff parents and parents-to-be as a collective web space to find family-friendly resources. The site also includes a list of lactation rooms across campus, a cause strongly supported by the center.

But there are services and programming Thomas wants to add. She would like to make the center a welcoming place for women in all their intersectionalities and gender identities.

“We have not seen the variety of women, women-identified and non-conforming gender identities come through our doors, not to the extent we could,” she said. The center is exploring how to create a space for and “build a sense of community for those who feel marginalized on this campus.”

That’s why the Carolina Women’s Center was one of the sponsors of the March 4 Women of Worth Spring Conference, a day of information sessions to “provide tools and resources to help combat negative representations and trends, and create a collaborative sense of community.” The event was filled to capacity.

The center and its new leader are looking at its other programming and figuring out what fits best with a still-evolving vision statement that will be enacted in the fall. Programs to support empowerment and equity are high on the list. Recent examples include a workshop on gender, activism and leadership and a panel of past winners of the University Award for the Advancement of Women discussing how they advance gender equity in the workplace.

Other possibilities include workshops on how to negotiate an equitable salary and how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment in an environment where it has become “normalized to say and do things that for years we’ve been telling people you don’t do and say,” she said.

“We need to give folks the tools and the courage and the power to combat these instances. We need to make sure they know how to respond,” Thomas said.

Even on a campus dominated by women, “we still need to do a whole lot more empowering,” she said. “There is an imbalance of women to men, but if you look in leadership roles or who’s awarded the most prestigious scholarships, it’s not always women, and it’s certainly not marginalized women.”

As for serving faculty and staff, Thomas said she has heard women faculty members express excitement about expanding mentoring models in place in the School of Medicine to all faculty members. Tonight (March 8) she will participate in Finding the Mentorship You Need, an event for graduate students, junior faculty and early career staff. Thomas and three other women will share strategies to identify mentors and build mentoring relationships.

Thomas plans to work especially hard to support women of color and faculty in STEM fields. The center will also continue to collaborate with the Employee Forum to advocate for professional development for staff members. She wants to recruit volunteers from the community to help with other areas of gender equity and awareness.

These collaborations will continue, but Thomas is also tapping private donors for support of future programs. “We’re doing it now in bits and pieces, but we want to be doing it more comprehensively,” she said.

The Carolina Women’s Center has lined up several events to celebrate Women’s History Month in March. To participate, visit womenscenter.unc.edu.