Women’s Resource Center joins the fight for space

Staff worry lack of access and visibility might hinder student services

Portland State’s Women’s Resource Center, currently situated in the basement of Montgomery Residence Hall on SW 10th Ave. and SW Montgomery St., is seeking to return to Smith Memorial Student Union to alleviate concerns that students might have trouble accessing WRC services. However, the WRC is one of many communities on campus fighting for more space than SMSU has available.

WRC’s entrances lie at the bottom of a large staircase and at the end of a long hallway accessible by elevator from the Montgomery lobby. “It’s a big space, it has ample space, but there are…accessibility issues,” said WRC Administrative Coordinator Janit Saechao. “It’s really hard for our students who use wheelchairs or need elevator access to get down here because we have one elevator, and that goes through the actual Montgomery Residence Hall. They have to go through an essential maze to even get in here.”

The WRC moved during the 2004–2005 academic year, expanding from a tiny office in the basement of SMSU to its current space which is 20 times larger than its original location and includes a student lounge and multiple offices. According to Saechao and WRC Volunteer Coordinator Mars Correa, the WRC has continued to expand since its move, adding six paid positions for a total of eight, in addition to numerous volunteer and intern positions.

This growth, as well as the continually expanding breadth of services and groups contained within the WRC, has caused concern about the center’s ability to serve students in its current location.

The WRC offers the Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Program, Feminist of Color Leadership Development Program, Women Veterans Outreach Program, Women’s Mentorship Project and Returning Women’s College Success Class. Confidential Interpersonal Violence Advocates can sometimes be the first line of response to students seeking help for a violent encounter or relationship.

“We take a strength-based approach to a lot of things, and we make things happen all the time, even when we are in a basement or when we have to overcome challenges,” Correa said. “The heart is here. We are in a basement, we don’t have resources, and yet we still show up for our students and make things happen.”  

According to former Smith Advisory Board Chair Cassidy Hines, WRC Director Erica Bestpitch submitted a request to the board in December 2017 to relocate the resource center to SMSU. SAB assists in the process of approving or denying space requests in SMSU, including the Disability Resource Center’s recent proposed expansion. Hines said the WRC set its sights on the quiet study lounge on the fourth floor of SMSU, reasoning that with the improved accessibility and proximity to the other resource centers, the WRC would be able to do more for the student community.

According to Hines, the SAB denied the request, partly because it cost $132,000 to renovate the space into a quiet study lounge. Additionally, according to Assistant Director of Conference & Event Services Casey Payseno, who works with the SAB, study space and lounge space were the number one and number three requests of the student body in a July 2015 campus-wide survey.

Hines added the WRC currently has no proposal to fund moving to a new space. SAB Student Board Chair Emily Korte said no compromise has yet been reached, which leaves the WRC in the basement of Montgomery for the foreseeable future.

The SAB has fielded multiple space requests in the last several years, but requests outnumber the amount of open space in SMSU. However, said Saechao, the main issue is not about how many students are using the space, but about which students are being served and which are not.

“Whether it’s for us or for other resource centers, I think the nature of resource centers in themselves is to serve students who are being underserved, students who are marginalized and need access to these resources,” Saechao said. “But, we don’t have adequate space [to serve these students], and historically…it doesn’t seem like any of us have ever had adequate space to do everything that we need…and we do a lot.”