“Wright State was born with the Women’s Movement.” -Judith Ezekiel, visiting professor
Women’s rights and gender equity are under attack across the United States after decades of forward progress. Institutions like Wright State’s Women’s Center serve as opportunities for coalition-building, education, and advocacy for women and gender equity allies. While WSU’s Women’s Center officially opened in 1993, calls for the space began in the early 1970s, just after the inception of the university itself. During that time, the Women’s Liberation organization launched an informal Women’s Center hoping to “provide abortion counseling, birth control advice, employment counseling, and plenty of information about the Women’s Liberation movement and about the role of women in this and other societies” (The Guardian, 1971).
Institutional support for a formal Women’s Center did not pick up momentum until twenty years later. In 1990, retired Dayton teacher Gertrude Chasens began a letter-writing campaign to Wright State leadership arguing for the need of both a Women’s Center and a Women’s Studies program. She wrote, “Male interest and priorities have determined what is important in history: warfare, empire building and power struggles between men [. . .] Nero, Attila the Hun and Napoleon certainly have had a great impact on people’s lives, but so have many women whose achievements or whose struggles for women’s rights have been co-opted, dismissed as unimportant and mostly forgotten” (Dayton Daily News, 1993). In response, Charles Hathaway, Vice President for Academic Affairs, appointed the Task Force on the Status of Women in the Academy at Wright State University, chaired by Mary Beth Pringle.
The Task Force members reported being “deeply troubled about the situation of women in the Wright State community,” and they offered “ways in which we feel the University can increase its sensitivity to women’s issues and its commitment to promoting gender and ethnic harmony” (Status of Women Faculty and Unclassified Staff at Wright State University Report, 1993). The two biggest solutions offered were the foundation of a Women’s Center and Women’s Studies program. On February 26th, 1993, the official Wright State University Women’s Center opened in 060 Rike Hall, run temporarily by Mary Beth Pringle. Dayton Local News hailed the opening “better late than never”. Paulette Olson was soon appointed to the interim position, before Kelli Zaytoun Byrne was hired as the first full-time Women’s Center director in 1995.
In 1994, the Women’s Studies Committee formed to formalize a Women’s Studies program at Wright State. Individual women-centered courses had been offered previously, but a formal minor program was not approved until 1997. Anne Sission Runyan was appointed as the Women’s Studies Director in 1996, and oversaw the inclusion of Women’s Studies into other degree programs in addition to its own Undergraduate degree and Graduate Certificate program. Throughout the existence of the Women’s Center and Women’s Studies, the entities have merged and separated depending on the needs of Wright State University’s community. At present, they are separate but supportive.
For the past 30 years, the Wright State University Women’s Center has strived to support its students, faculty, and staff through cultural and political crises, multiple waves of feminism and gender-related thought, and the ever-changing landscape of life itself. In the mid-2010s, the Women’s Center reiterated its position as a space open and available for everyone, including gender fluid, non-binary, and trans individuals. In 2023, during attempted Higher Education reform, Women’s Centers remain integral to the success of campus communities.