AUBG’S Women and Gender Resource Center
The Women and Gender Resource Center (WGRC), located on the AUBG Campus, used to serve purposes no other place in this region has served before. It was created mainly as a safe space, particularly for students who were in ethically underrepresented groups, or in terms of their sexual orientation. Another function of the center was to serve as a safe study space, and provide sources on gender, orientation, race, feminism, and disability study.
Currently, the center is far from achieving those primary purposes.
The center was created a year and a half ago by Dannie Chalk, an assistant professor in the department of Arts, Languages, and Literature in AUBG. One of its functions was to offer a crisis point for students. Chalk shared that under the U.S. federal law, universities are required to have an intermediate place between the student and the reporting authorities. She further explained the meaning of an intermediate place – a location where students can discuss something that happened, get help, refer to doctors, psychiatrists, or the dean. However, if they are not ready for that, they can still share all that information without putting it on the record.
“Many of us come from countries with predominantly conservative values,” said Indira Urazova, fourth-year student at AUBG who used to volunteer in the center. “One of the goals of the center was to provide a space where students could discuss these issues in a friendly and open atmosphere,” she added.
For the center to be fully established, Chalk used her FIRE account, an annual stipend that professors receive to buy teaching materials. Chalk’s parents invested $1,500 for her to purchase bookcases and extra furniture. She also received a small budget from the university in the first year but did not spend it.
She recalled that in the beginning when the center opened, seven or eight students came for help each week.
“There was basically nobody but me,” she said. “Some of the volunteers called me and said there’s someone here, they’re shaking, they won’t say what’s going on,” Chalk added.
“The most important goal of the center was to provide help to people who experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment,” said Urazova. “In my experience, people (mostly girls) who had this kind of problems contacted Dr. Chalk directly. The existence of the WGRC, in this case, made many students aware that the person to contact in this kind of situations is Dr. Chalk, and this, in my opinion, was the point of the center’s existence.”
A year after the center was opened, Chalk and the volunteers encountered some serious problems with security. The key locks were old and lots of keys to the center kept disappearing. Chalk started receiving reports of people using the center inappropriately – sleeping in the center, doing drugs, and drinking.
Chalk decided to use the entire budget she saved, as well as the one she expected to get the next year for buying proper electronic locks. However, the following year she discovered that the budget she got initially was dissolved, and that there was no budget for the new year.
“Unfortunately right now it is not possible to put digital locks to that corridor primarily because of the cost. This floor was never wired in the first place, so to make those offices be able to use the swipe card, basically, we have to wire from the floor above all the way down,” said Lydia Krise, Dean of Students.
Krise said she supports the idea of the center very much but added that the university needs a lot more resources allocated for the center to function as a proper safe place. She also expressed concern that with Chalk’s departure, the faculty is still discussing what is going to happen with the center.
“It is sad that Dr. Chalk is leaving,” added Urazova. “I would go as far as to say that the opening of the center without someone as qualified as Dr. Chalk is not recommended. The issues that the center is supposed to handle are too sensitive and nuanced for unprofessional hands.”
“Eventually, it was either ‘close it’, or ‘let it be everything it was not supposed to be’,” said Chalk. “To let it turn into a monster, and I’d rather kill it than let it turn into a monster,” she explained.
This article was prepared by second-year AUBG student Kalina Dushkova.