Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield officially opened its new women’s center on Tuesday.
BCC President Ellen Kennedy spoke to WAMC Tuesday in a packed wing of the Susan B. Anthony Student Engagement Center.
“We are here to open the women’s center at Berkshire Community College, that has been a goal, a dream, a passion of Beth Wallace’s since she experienced one herself in finishing up her undergraduate degree, and it is something we’ve known we’ve needed for a long time," said Kennedy. "We’ve done a lot of programming around it, but we’ve never had a dedicated space.”
Beth Wallace is the school’s Assistant Dean Of Students. While minoring in women’s studies, she worked in the women’s center at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, about 20 miles north. When she came back to BCC in 2002, Wallace had a mission.
“At the time, we weren’t at a place in the college space wise to open a women’s center and have it be in an area that students would be. This past summer, we reconfigured two offices. As the dean, I was given this huge space, and it’s the student engagement center, right? So, what better place for a women’s center? So I pulled together faculty, staff, and students for a committee, to say this is what we want to do, let’s make this happen,” said Wallace.
BCC backed the plan, and gave her startup money, roughly $1,400 for furniture, from its Five-Year Strategic Plan budget. Interest soon followed from the surrounding community.
“After the election, in 2016, I felt there was a loss that some young girls and women felt," said Karen Zink. "And I had a niece who was very upset by the results of the election, which got me thinking I need to talk to other women and make sure that young girls and women understand that hope isn’t lost, that we’ve come a long way and we will continue to go further, and when I heard about the women’s center opening I thought that’s the perfect place for me to be able to give back to what I felt some people gave to me along the way.”
Zink is president of Berkshire Gas Company, and she spoke at the ribbon cutting Tuesday. At the request of Ellen Kennedy, Zink became a part of the planning committee for the women’s center from the first meeting. After decades of experiencing sexism in the corporate world, she was thrilled at what the center could offer the women of BCC.
“They have a place to go if they have any concerns, or if they have something they want to share, whether it’s positive or negative, that they have other people around them that they know that when they speak, they can speak openly, honestly, and not have a fear that there’s going to backlash for anything they say. And again — share joy, share excited, share progress that they make," said Zink. "This is a positive thing.”
Liliana Atanacio also spoke at the ceremony. She’s an engineering student about to graduate from BCC.
“Here, we have a place where — there are some other women here, we can share the conversation," said Atanacio. "From there, from those kinds of conversation, is the way you get what you need from other women.”
Atanacio is a mother, an immigrant from Mexico, and wants to pursue a degree in the biomedical field after BCC. She sees the women’s center and the space it provides as a crucial ingredient in her vision of the modern woman.
“A woman who doesn’t see any limitations," said Atanacio. "I feel like the world is out there, the opportunity is out there, just go and work hard — because you have to work hard, you have to pay a price, but it’s totally worth it. That’s how I raise my girls.”
In a system of ingrained prejudices, she sees solidarity among women as vital.
“I’m a Latina. I’m representing a minority," said Atanacio. "We are making less money than any woman in this country. So definitely we need to help each other.”
Her goals for the women’s center?
“Definitely that more women get empowered, that more women get involved, that more women feel the same way I feel — yeah, I can do it," laughed Atanacio.
Berkshire Community College has a student population of just under 2,000, 61 percent female.