What’s in a Name?

The Carolina Women’s Center is not just for women.

The Carolina Women’s Center is here to serve all students, faculty, and staff at UNC. Its mission is to “create an inclusive education and work environment where gender is not a barrier to success, difference and diversity are celebrated, and everyone is safe to live, learn, teach, and work without threat of harm or unequal treatment.” It provides programming that promotes gender equity for people of all gender identities.

For the past three weeks, I have been learning just how difficult it is to communicate this message to UNC students, faculty, and staff as well as individuals outside the university. For example, in reaching out to UNC employees for recommendations of other staff members who would participate in CWC focus groups, several individuals have responded enthusiastically, saying they knew many women who would be interested, even though I hadn’t said anything about wanting only female participants in focus groups. Similarly, at the first-years’ orientation resource fair, male students didn’t stop at our table, and their parents reacted similarly. I heard more than one mother say, “That’s not for us. I have a son.” When the word “women” is in the organization’s name, reactions like these make sense. However, it makes it difficult for the CWC to promote gender equity if only women participate in programs and use CWC’s resources. Furthermore, students, faculty, or staff who don’t realize that the CWC serves them might need resources that the CWC has.

So what should the CWC do? I’m not sure that changing its name to something like the Carolina Gender Center would make a difference. However, it is becoming clear that many of my internship assignments will involve promoting the CWC in a way that educates UNC faculty, students, and staff and the community about what we do and who we serve. In the MPA program, we often talk about the importance of communicating clearly, concisely, and unambiguously. Creating a communications plan to address the confusion over who the CWC serves and what programs are available seems like it will be a priority for the organization in the future, and it is certainly going to be a priority of mine for this summer.

More on my CWC adventures next Wednesday!

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