The Women’s Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County opened a survey earlier this fall to poll the UMBC community on whether they believe the center should change its name. The survey includes a ranking of five name choices curated over the past two years from other Women’s Centers who changed their names along with a few generated during discussions with UMBC community members.
Since 2017, the Women’s Center has discussed changing their name to better represent the diversity of the students, staff and faculty they serve. Universities first established Women’s Centers in the 1960s in response to women’s lower representation on college campuses.
However, Director of the Women’s Center Jess Myers explains that the Women’s Center at UMBC serves a much broader community and that their new name should reflect that. The current five names under consideration are:
- Gender Equity Center
- Gender and Women’s Center
- Center for Women’s and Gender Equity
- Women’s Center for Gender Equity and Social Justice
- Intersectional Feminist Center
“We just feel our name is a little bit outdated for the programming and support services that we’re currently doing,” said Myers.
This programming includes Spectrum, a bi-weekly discussion group for trans and non-binary people, and Rebuilding Manhood, an 11-week discussion-based program that allows men to explore the meaning of manhood and masculinity. In addition to these programs, Myers highlights the increased use of the Women’s Center as a place for LGBTQ+ identified students, no matter their gender identity.
According to Myers, students, staff and faculty are confused about whom the Women’s Center caters to because of its name. Myers explained that this confusion requires Women’s Center staff to qualify who the center is for. Myers states that students often mistake the center’s women-centric name as meaning that they only serve women.
“I’m actually more concerned about the students who might just see our name and completely discount that we might be for them,” said Myers.
Senior psychology major and co-founder and President of the Queer People of Color Student Organization Lauren Roundtree was one of those students who believed the Women’s Center was not for them because of its name.
“I know when I first got to UMBC and I was looking for places to find community and everything, the Women’s Center was there, but I identify as non-binary,” said Roundtree. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, maybe this isn’t my space because I’m not a woman.”
However, Roundtree’s understanding of the community the Women’s Center serves changed as they attended the center’s programming.
“There’s plenty of non-binary people there [at the Women’s Center]. There’s tons of queer people there,” stated Roundtree. “So, I think that if they were to change the name, it would just help make it more obvious that there’s a gender-inclusive space and it’s not just for women or cis-women or anything like that.”
Roundtree emphasized that a more gender-inclusive name would make the space more welcoming for those who do not identify as a woman. Specifically, they highlighted how much the Women’s Center’s name impacts people’s understanding of the resources available to them, stating that a name change would make people more comfortable reaching out to the Women’s Center.
Myers emphasized the importance of the UMBC LGBTQ+ community in deciding the name change. The Women’s Center reached out to many LGBTQ+ campus groups, including QPOC and the LGBTQ Student Union to have them take the name change survey and to help spread it to other student organizations. However, Myers explained that all UMBC community members’ voices are crucial in making this decision.
“I wanna know what a random math student who’s brand new at UMBC would think because, if we’re thinking about being inclusive, I don’t want to just be asking the people who are already a part of the Women’s Center,” said Myers.
The Women’s Center staff plans to choose a name this month or sometime in January. They plan to spend the Spring 2021 semester finalizing the name change, with an official launch of the new name in Fall 2021 in coordination with the Women’s Center’s 30th anniversary. These steps include possibly designing a new logo and focus testing the new name with UMBC students, staff and faculty.
As of Dec. 5, the Women’s Center name change survey is still open. You can fill it out here.