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Building communities for returning women

Earlier this month, the Women’s Center hosted an event in their returning women program to help adult learners navigate the complicated expectations of professional attire. Marie Lilly from the Office of Institutional Advancement Staff led the discussion. It was a small event, with ten women occupying the couches and bean bags in the Center’s lounge.

Lilly attempted to keep the discussion informative, but also body-positive, a difficult balance when discussing any dress code. She emphasized the importance that the clothes be affordable and comfortable. Lilly also gave practical advice for women new to professional dress, such as to wear cardigans and layers to help give a put-together image.

Like some of their other events, the workshop was created based on feedback from returning women students. Other workshops are created by the Women’s Center staff. Jess Myers, the director of the Women’s Center, tries to make sure their programming emphasizes skill building as well as a sense of belonging.

“We’re trying to bring people together so they can form a community with each other,” Myers said. “Maybe they’ll feel more motivated to advocate for themselves or ask for help in different ways.”

Other programming created for returning women includes a resume building workshop, a course to help navigate the guilt that comes with having multiple responsibilities, and other events to help women practice networking.

Since the Women’s Center’s inception 25 years ago, it has held programming for returning women, an aspect that Myers said fits in with the center’s goals.

“Our mission statement includes that we do intersectional and social justice work,” she said. “[The returning women’s program is] looking at lots of different intersectional approaches of not just a woman but a woman who is older and who could also be a parent, who has lots of different little challenges.”

They also acknowledge the universal struggle that adult learners have, which is time.

“We try to accommodate different work schedules or family commitments. All of our events are held on different days and different times,” Myers said.

By having events at varying times, the Women’s Center enables a broader audience to attend their events, such as the professional dress workshop which was held on a Thursday at 3:00 p.m. Additionally, they are utilizing technology such as Facebook live videos and Google Hangouts to stay connected with students who want to be involved but don’t always have the time.

The Women’s Center also supports adult learners through scholarships. There are four different scholarships for women who are adult learners that are available to apply for in January. It is a requirement for recipients to attend at least one Returning Women workshop. The varying times of workshops also makes it easier on the scholarship recipients.

“We don’t want to be another source of stress we want to be a source of strength and community building for their experience here, and also give some money their way too,” Myers said.