There’s always a pot of coffee brewing at the UMBC Women’s Center, which has made its home on the ground floor of The Commons since 2004. So it seemed like the right place to grab a cup with Jess Myers, acting director of the Women’s Center, and Simmona Simmons ’74, American studies, services development librarian, who helped to found the center 20 years ago. The Women’s Center is marking that landmark anniversary with events throughout the academic year, and the two women took a break from those celebrations to talk about the center’s past, present and future.

How would you describe the Women’s Center’s role at UMBC over the years?

Simmona Simmons: The original idea was just to raise awareness about women’s accomplishments and history, and to have a place for women to come together. I didn’t think much about the future; of course I hoped that it would be thriving, but mostly I was just excited. I had no idea I was making history.

The earlier locations [including Gym I and the Mathematics/Psychology building] were not the best, but we’re thankful for those beginnings. One of the things we talked about in those early meetings was making sure that the center would be in the path of traffic, where students could come and go. We talked about a place like this.

Jess Myers: Now that The Commons is in the same location that Gym I used to be, it’s kind of like we’re back “home” in our original location again.

I always think of the Women’s Center as a transformer; we can transform into whatever the person walking through the door needs us to be. The Women’s Center has become not just a place for feminists and people who need help, but a home for students who wouldn’t otherwise have an affiliation on campus. It’s a space for more than just filling a need, it’s a community. Twenty years ago, people asked why we needed a Women’s Center.

Simmons: Now the question people are asking is, “What would we do if we didn’t have the Women’s Center?”

The theme of the anniversary celebration is “100,000 Stories.” What have you been learning as you’re hearing some of these stories from alumni?

Myers: It’s been really rewarding to hear the stories, because each one is so different. The neatest part of the story is that the Women’s Center has helped so many people understand who they are, or who they want to be or who they can be.

Simmons: It’s that transformative piece.

Myers: Definitely, even if the transformation is as simple as “I was really stressed out, so I came to the meditation room and was able to find peace.”

How do you see the Women’s Center growing and changing over the next 20 years?

Myers: What I’d really like is to see it have more of a holistic approach, not just focusing on women but focusing on gender as a whole. It’s so exciting to see men come into the Women’s Center, because men have a hard time with their gender roles, too. It needs to be a safe space for everybody, no matter what their gender is, to really explore and dive in.

Simmons: I was so happy to see men here today. It should be a center for all, women, men, whomever.

— Richard Byrne ’86

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