In the spring of 1994, Virginia Tech’s first women’s center opened in two rooms in Lane Hall.
Funding from the Provost’s Office was sparse, but the founding group of Virginia Tech women — called the Coordinating Council on Women’s Concerns — managed to sustain and grow the new office for the two decades.
The Women’s Center commemorated its 20th anniversary with an open house and art exhibit at its on-campus center on Wednesday.
Open house guests were welcomed with tea, coffee and snacks and were invited to explore the house at 206 Washington St., the walls of which are decorated with the work of Tech horticulture professor emeritus and local artist Diane Relf.
Relf — who, according to the biography posted beside her artwork, is currently in New Zealand building an art studio — was selected to display artwork in an effort by the Women’s Center to support Blacksburg’s women artists and feminist painters.
“Back in the fall, we were thinking, ‘we have all these blank walls. We really want to do something with them. How great would it be to have some type of women artists feature?’” said Kelsey Harrington, the Women’s Center’s program coordinator.
From there, the Women’s Center partnered with the Blacksburg Regional Arts Association to establish the house as an art gallery. Beginning in the spring semester, the house officially became a gallery space, with Relf as the first featured artist.
The center plans to feature different artists and their work every three months, with a request for female artists specifically.
The open house event marked the kickoff of the Women’s Center's events, which will take place in March and early April.
“The various events that we’ve put together are launching with this open house,” said Anna LoMascolo, co-director of the center. “(The open house is) not only an opportunity to meet and greet with our colleges and stakeholders and to spend some time with them and connect with them, but it’s also an opportunity to showcase the beautiful artwork here.”
The center will be holding its events while commemorating 20 years of service to the Virginia Tech community. Among its signature events is “Women’s Month,” which, according to Jessie Meltsner — the center’s special projects director and longest-serving staff member of 17 years — was just “Women’s Week” before the Women’s Center on campus opened 20 years ago.
“What we really wanted to do for our 20th was – in addition to having educational opportunities – to really have some moments of celebration,” LoMascolo said.
On March 12, the Women’s Center plans to “celebrate Ut Prosim,” as LoMascolo said, through their all-day event, “Women’s Day of Service.”
Groups of students, faculty and staff can sign up to travel to Floyd, Va. to prepare and deliver food through the grassroots organization “Plenty!” and to clean at the Jacksonville Art Center.
The day of service will be rounded off at Jacksonville with art classes on colored glass, felting soaps, clay bowls, paper, quilting blocks and blacksmithing.
On March 29 at 3 p.m., the Women’s Center will host “Lunafest at The Lyric Theatre,” sponsored by the Luna Bar company. LoMascolo described Lunafest as festival of film shorts “by women, for women, about women.”
“The proceeds go toward victim services here at the center, and also the Breast Cancer Fund,” said Christina Nellis, special projects intern.
To wrap up “Women’s Month,” the Women’s Center has planned their finale event: the Women’s Health and Wellness Chocolate Festival.
“We thought that would be a great way to send off this 20th anniversary,” LoMascolo said.
A student planning committee, led by special project interns Christina Nellis and Hannah Jones and under the direction of Meltsner, is currently seeking individuals as well as businesses to donate chocolate for the festival. The committee is also seeking donations from businesses for the silent auction.
“A big part of it is the resource fair we have with places around the area that support women’s health and wellness,” Jones said. “I think something that’s really neat about the chocolate festival is that everybody loves chocolate, so it brings people of all different kinds together to celebrate and educate about women’s health and wellness.”
The Women’s Center, since its founding, has operated under the Office of the Provost, giving it the unique advantage of serving students, staff and faculty alike, whereas many collegiate women’s centers may only serve students. The Women’s Center further serves the community at large through outreach programs.
“We serve the entire university. We do outreach into the community,” Meltsner said. “For example, we have a group of Virginia Tech mentors, and there’s one of them who goes out to Blacksburg Middle School every week and works with five or six groups of middle school girls.”
“It’s not unusual for us to partner with Downtown Blacksburg on Women’s Month events, so we do keep an eye towards staying connected,” LoMascolo added. “We also partner really closely with the local rape crisis and domestic violence shelter in Radford. They serve as our 24-hour hotline and they also collaborate with us a lot on education programming and supporting our clients.”
In the past 20 years, the Women’s Center has relocated twice, according to Meltsner — from the Lane Hall offices to a now-demolished house where the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) building stands today — to their current location on Washington Street where they moved in 2004.
As for where they’d like to see the Women’s Center in the next 20 years, Meltsner and LoMascolo agreed: “Our actual goal would be not to have to have a Women’s Center on campus,” Meltsner said.
“If we can run ourselves out of business, then mission accomplished,” LoMascolo said.