When Liz Gray came to Oregon State University as a young professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences in 1986, she admits that she was pretty terrified.
“I was a brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears, tenure-track professor who had no idea what she was doing,” she said.
At the time, her department was predominantly male, and Gray felt a little lost and lonely. She felt like she needed to connect with other female faculty members for support, but she didn’t know how to do it.
So she contacted the only female OSU administrator at the time, Joanne Trow, who invited her over to her office to talk. The discussion grew into an idea, the creation of a faculty women’s network.
Gray took on the task, and 200 women responded to the first request to meet.
“Obviously there was a need, and we were born,” Gray said.
During those first years in the early 1980s, the network tackled a lot of issues, from forums on how to negotiate salary to how to deal with sexual harassment. Guest speakers from other universities were invited in, and social gatherings rotated around food and conversation.
Beth Rietveld, director of the OSU Women’s Center, was one of the early members of the board, and took over the running of the network for two decades.
“I felt it was a welcoming atmosphere,” she recalled, even when the topics were tough. The network focused on issues that were unique to women, such as how to balance being a mom and a professional, what childcare options were available, how to navigate promotion and tenure in a heavily male environment.
“Some topics led to us taking suggestions to the upper levels of administration,” Rietveld said.
When the Office for Women’s Advancement and Gender Equality was formed last year, Rietveld decided it was only right to hand over the operations of the network to Donna Champeau’s office. Champeau, the director of WAGE, was glad to make the network a part of WAGE, but she felt that the network needed a little expansion to fit in with WAGE’s mission of social justice.
“We want to break barriers down,” Champeau said, including those of class, race and status within the university. So after a lot of discussion, it was decided to shift the network from being faculty focused, to being inclusive of all women who work on campus, including classified staff that were previously not included in the “faculty” designation.
“There was always the sense that we might lose something, but we are going to try hard to provide programming for all areas and interests,” Champeau said.
Mirabelle Fernandes-Paul of the WAGE Office is now in charge of the OSU Women’s Network (OWN), and at an open house on May Day, she suggested that members form their own special interest subgroups, “So that everyone feels anchored in sisterhood,” she said. Those subgroups can be divided many different ways, from interests like quilting or music, to regional origin, to work type.
Champeau said the network provides support, but it also allows women on campus an opportunity to use skills they have which may not always be expressed in the work that they do.
“This organization can address issues to empower women and bring women together,” she said. “But we don’t have to join hands in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya.’”
For more information about OWN, go to http://oregonstate.edu/wage/OWN. Members can make a suggested donation of $20 or less, but it is not required to participate in OWN activities. The donation will go toward programming costs.
~ Theresa Hogue