Women*s Center celebrates 50 years with reading party

Executive members of the Association for Women Students gathered in 1975.
Executive members of the Association for Women Students gathered in 1975, a year after the Women*s Center was established. AWS changed its name to the Coalition for Women Students in 1993 (photo courtesy of MASC).

The Washington State University Women*s Center invites members of the Pullman community to come together, read, and enjoy each other’s company.

Tickets are on sale for Heritage of Words, a special reading party that’s part of the Women*s Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Organized in partnership with the Association for Faculty Women (AFW), the event is scheduled for Saturday, March 2, from 5-8 p.m. in the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center on the Pullman campus.

Amy Sharp, director of the Women*s Center, got the idea for the reading party after seeing an article in The New York Times about similar events in other cities. She was drawn to the concept as a new and unique way for the WSU community to connect. The party will bring together members of the WSU community – faculty, staff, and students of all identities – in a relaxed atmosphere conducive to meeting others and connecting with friends.

She stressed that the party is not a book club, where everyone reads from the same book; instead, participants bring whatever book they are currently reading.

“Books have always been good conversation starters, and this can be a fun way to meet new people or spend time with those you already know,” Sharp said.

Partnering with AFW on the event gives the Women*s Center an opportunity to work with another key organization on campus supporting women.

“The reading party aligns well with AFW’s focus on providing women faculty opportunities for professional development, camaraderie, and social opportunities,” said Katie Forsythe, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and AFW president-elect. “I’m looking forward to it and already have a book selected to bring.”

Tickets are $30 ($15 for students) and include hors d’oeuvres, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages; proceeds will support the Women*s Center.

Celebrating a milestone

The Women*s Center and AFW have long histories at WSU: the Women*s Center was established in 1974, and AFW formed the following year. Sharp and Forsythe said their organizations were founded in large part to fight against the systemic sexism that was prevalent in higher education at the time.

That fight has led the Women*s Center to many milestones over the years. In 1977, the center created the concept for the Women’s Transit Program, the precursor to today’s Cougar Safe Rides. In 1994, it worked with YWCA and other student organizations to organize WSU’s first Week Without Violence.

The center’s equity work was widely recognized in 2013, when it received the Diversity and Inclusion Award from the National Council for Research on Women. In 2020, the center published its first edition of Harpy*s Magazine, a publication dedicated to showcasing art and literature created by women students. The center is celebrating the newest edition of Harpy*s at a launch party on Friday, March 1, from 12-2 p.m. in the CUB Junior Ballroom.  

Sharp said that while the center has achieved many of its aims in its 50 years, current events suggest there are still many issues threatening future progress for women’s equality.

“Everything from the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, the diminishing access to critical health care, the controversy surrounding critical race theory, and even the cultural wars banning books and closing libraries, all are having a profound impact on women, children, and people of color,” Sharp said.

As students learn about these kinds of far-reaching issues in their classrooms, the Women*s Center provides a safe space for them to gather and talk about ways to engage and support the community. How that engagement happens is constantly evolving with the times.

“Our 50th anniversary is a big milestone, but the fact that we still have a Women*s Center here means there is still work to be done,” said Sharp. “We will continue advocating to make sure all women are heard, and that they are part of the conversation.”

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