Elizabeth Simpson
663 words
4 March 1997
The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA
(Copyright 1997)

BEHIND THE FOOD COURT, past the bookstore and beyond a flurry of students in Old Dominion University's Webb Center is a place women have sought out for years.

It's called The Women's Center, and though it first opened 20 years ago in a different location, the mission has remained the same: to address the needs of women on campus and in the community.

When the center first opened, the issues in the forefront of the women's rights' movement were sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender inequities.

Guess what?

They're the same today.

"If someone had told me I'd be talking about the same issues today as I did when I first started working in the women's movement, I don't know whether I could have done it," said Julie Dodd, who has directed The Women's Center at Old Dominion University for the past 15 years.

But she has, and will continue to do so until there isn't a need for a place like The Women's Center.

The idea, she says, is to work her way out of a job. To create an environment where there isn't a need to designate March as Women's History Month because their achievements will be celebrated throughout the year. To create a campus atmosphere where women are never raped, harassed, or treated unfairly. And a society where women have equal power with men in judicial, political and business circles.

Dodd doesn't expect that to happen in her lifetime, though.

That doesn't mean that progress has not been made. The accomplishments of the center have been many.

Dodd and the center's staff have helped hammer out and refine policies on sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus. They've lobbied for female professors to be paid the same as their male counterparts, and to boost female enrollment in fields dominated by men. And perhaps most important, they've created small communities of women to help maneuver the women through prejudice and pain: A support group for African-American women called "Sisters," a group for women who've been sexually assaulted; sessions on sexism in the media, lesbian rights and healthy relationships.

On top of the core issues that Dodd and The Women's Center have dogged for the past two decades are layered new concerns of women. A key one is women returning to college after raising families or after trying careers that didn't work out. That's a population that's grown over the years.

The center works with these women to bolster their confidence, help them brush up on study skills and focus their efforts on professions where they can thrive.

And to help women take the next step of moving up in their fields, the center last fall launched the Women's Institute for Leadership Development.

While the images of the women's movement in the '70s may have been of young, revolutionary women marching in the streets, the image today is more likely to focus on women trying to juggle work, education and family roles.

And while gender gaps may still be with us, Dodd believes the environment surrounding them has changed over the past two decades. The awareness of the problems has increased, and the attention to righting them in political and judicial arenas has reached new heights.

As such, the idea of having a women's center on campus has gone from a revolutionary concept to an expected one.

"I don't find myself having to justify The Women's Center in the same way I did early on," Dodd said. "There's a general understanding of what we do and why we are here."

Color photo by Tamara Voninski/The Virginian-Pilot Julie Dodd has been the director of the Women's Center at Old Dominion University for 15 years.

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