“Care Not Cuts!”: Women’s Center Protests Hiring Freeze

Leaders of BC's Women's Center at the rally on Sept. 19./Kate Dempsey

By Kate Dempsey

 

   An army of pink descended upon the West Quad gate as the leaders of the Women’s Center rallied on Tuesday, Sept. 18, demanding more action from Brooklyn College administration for the two positions left vacant at their center. The vacancies, which underwent initial review earlier this spring, are the result of a hiring freeze from CUNY Central, which has led to a debate on why the positions have still not been filled.

   The activists at the rally called on BC President Michelle Anderson to heed the requests so that the Center can move forward with their programming. As The Vanguard previously reported, workers at the Center are also specifically calling on administration to take action, reasoning that their lack of response is a major cause of the Center’s frustration.

   “We feel like we have been ignored by the administration,” said Alleyah Charlton, the Center’s social media manager and a senior at BC. “We see already that without the full-time of the office manager and our program coordinator, there is no one to always be at the Center to talk to us when we need it.”

   Founded in 1976, the Women’s Center provides a variety of services to women at BC. They offer free feminine hygiene products, contraceptives, crisis intervention, referrals, and a place for students to relax or pray. Since 2017, the Center has been the home of the Muslim Women’s Leadership Development Project (MWLDP), the only project dedicated specifically to Muslim women in the CUNY system.

   According to the Women’s Center’s petition, without the two positions being filled, they will experience an 80% reduction in programming and events, and staffing and hours of operation will be reduced by 40%. For many of the women who have used the Center’s services, protesting is a means to advocate for the Center to run at its full capacity.

   “I am here at this rally because I really think that it’s ridiculous that these kinds of services are always the first things to go […] The Women’s Center, especially in a post-Roe America, is not the first thing that should get cut,” said Venus Blue, a protest attendee and a senior at BC. “When budget cuts need to be made, these are essential services that are serving people that really need them, and they have a place on Brooklyn College’s campus and we shouldn’t be defunding it.”

   Adorning matching pink cardigans, the Center’s leaders chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back,” “Our school, our voice,” “Care not cuts,” and “One. We are the students. Two. A little bit louder. Three. We are out here fighting for our center!” In a mark of girl power, many helped tie the speakers’ hair back mid-speech due to the wind. Meanwhile, just on the West Quad, BC held its Health and BC Resources Fair, complete with a “BC Cares Bingo.”

   An hour before the protest started, the BC administration sent out an email school-wide regarding the state of the Center, stating that vacancies are being seen across a variety of campus departments and are typical of the budget cuts the college is facing.

   “The two full-time positions requested by the center are on pause until funding becomes available, as are dozens of other positions across the campus,” said Alan Gilbert, the senior vice president for finance and administration at BC. “Because the Women’s Center still has a full-time director, three part-time staff members, and multiple federal work study students, this staffing change need not reduce its hours or programming.”

   Administrators stated that the support towards the Center is unwavering. “While the college is facing budgetary constraints, the administration strongly supports the Women’s Center, and there is no consideration being made to close it,” said BC’s Communications and Media Relations Director Richard Pietras. “The college remains committed to addressing staffing challenges in this and all areas as we work together to ensure a vital community for our students.”

   For speaker Renate Bridenthal, co-founder of the Brooklyn College Women’s Organization in the 1970s that established the Center, fighting for the Women’s Center is crucial because of the discrimination, lack of reproductive rights, and economic disparities that women in America still face.

   “I want to say to President Anderson: you would not be here now as president if it hadn’t been for us. Really owe it as a legacy to support everything the women are doing on campus right now. Things have not changed enough. It is outrageous that young women still have to fight for reproductive rights, that they still have to fight against harassment […] I am here to say as a voice from out of the past: keep it up, keep it going, never let it go,” said Bridenthal.

   Other legacy workers for the Center noted that it is not only a safe space for women to go on campus, it also provides them with a means to thrive.

   “I have been here for 20 years. I have supported and developed multiple generations of women students, women leaders,” said Sau-Fong Au, director of the Women’s Center. “We are not going to be calm because the cut is unjust.”

   At the end of the protest, leaders of the Women’s Center marched a physical copy of the petition directly to President Anderson’s office. As President Anderson was not in the office, center leaders demanded an update from her. Staff told the crowd that the president will discuss the matter with three women from the Center, and a meeting was scheduled.

   According to Iqura Naheed, coordinator of MWLDP, the protest saw 150 people in attendance. To the leaders, this is just the start of their advocacy.

   “For next steps, students of the Women’s Center will continue to keep the conversation going about the impacts of budget cuts on the Women’s Center and other student-facing offices. The students have contacted prominent feminist leaders in the city for support and continue working with our allies to advocate for the Women’s Center,” Naheed said. “One of the rally posters stated ‘A healthy campus listens to its students.’ We sincerely hope the administration is now listening and not just reacting.”

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