CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s women employees have a new opportunity to work, socialize and mentor each other with the introduction of the OSU Women’s Network.
Started in 1987 as the OSU Faculty Women’s Network, it has now expanded to include all female employees at the university, under the umbrella of the newly created Office of Women’s Advancement and Gender Equality (WAGE).
Donna Champeau, the director of WAGE, said she was glad to make the network a part of WAGE, but she felt that the faculty 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 job titles within the university. Thus the reformed network is now inclusive of all women who work on campus, including classified staff members who 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. She suggested that members form their own special interest subgroups. Those subgroups can be divided many different ways, from interests like quilting or music, to regional origin, to the type of work members do.
Liz Gray was one of the founders of the original women’s network. She came to OSU as a young professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences in 1986, she admits that she was 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 said she felt a little lost and lonely – and needed to connect with other female faculty members for support. Gray began contacting women faculty members to create a support group, 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, 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.
Champeau said the network provides support, but it also allows women on campus an opportunity to use skills they have that 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 the OSU Women’s Network, 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.