Strengthening Identity: Rollins' Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies

February 03, 2011

Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies
Photo by Anna Montoya (Class 0f 2013)

Rollins has more in common with Dickinson College in Pennsylvania than its small student body. The two institutions are considered sisters in at least one other respect: they are both part of the 62 percent of comparably sized private liberal arts colleges that have a women’s center.

This cheerful space in 205 Chase Hall serves as both a library for women’s literature and a gathering place for discussions about gender and its effect on the lives of both men and women. Named after Lucy Cross, the woman who became known as the “Mother of Rollins” through her suggestion that the state of Florida needed a quality college, Rollins’ Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies celebrated its grand opening on October 14, 2010.

“The Lucy Cross Center [for Women and Their Allies] helps to bring together various groups on campus that may not be aware that they have common interests and therefore assists in creating new and engaging dialogues and relationships,” said Graduate Assistant Mary Robinson (Class of 2010HH ’12MLS). “The Lucy Cross Center [for Women and Their Allies] also supports campus organizations that hold events or programs that deal with feminist or gender issues.”

This open environment is a collaborative effort between the women’s studies program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) and Dean of Student Affairs Karen Hater.

Road to Realization

The Rollins community has shown an interest in having a women’s center since as early as 1976. Records in the Archives and Special Collections detail a request from that year asking for the Wattles Library, then located in McKean Hall, to be converted into a women’s center. Like its present day counterpart, it was intended to be open to the entire campus and to house “books written BY women, FOR women and ABOUT women.” Unfortunately, there is no known record of the proposal’s outcome.

Another request for a women’s center was made in 1997. Professor of Anthropology Carol Lauer drafted a proposal for the Maya Angelou Women’s and Multicultural Student Center, which was approved the following year. But the center never opened. A shortage of space put the project on hold and it never became a reality.

In 2008, Associate Professor of Sociology Rhonda Ovist, then the women’s studies coordinator, assigned her graduate assistant, Sunshine Schulenberg (Class of 2007HH ’12MLS), the task of compiling a history of the women’s studies program. During her research, Schulenberg discovered the long-lost approval letters, and it was decided that the time had come to see the idea of a women’s center through to completion. An open meeting was held to discuss the possibility of having a women’s center and in May of 2010, a group of representatives met with President Lewis Duncan and Dean of the Faculty (now interim Provost) Laurie Joyner.

“There has been ongoing discussion about the importance of having a safe place to meet, read and focus on issues facing women… [and the] number one [logistical] issue was recognizing that once we had a separate space identified that it would require some level of staffing to become integrated into the curricular and co-curricular life of the College,” Joyner said.

Hater heard about the need for space through Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of multicultural affairs. Armed with that knowledge she solved the problem that had been plaguing the creation of a women’s center for over three decades. “When we reorganized Chase Hall over the summer and a room became available, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the Lucy Cross Center [for Women and Their Allies] a reality,” Hater said.

Worth the Wait

Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies

Director of the Library Jonathan Miller, Professor of Philosophy Hoyt Edge and Assistant Professor of Political Science Eren Tatari

The Center is a major achievement for the women’s studies program and its collaborating organizations; but it’s a milestone, not a final destination. “Many people think that the feminist movement serves no purpose because women can vote, work outside of the home and run for political campaigns. This just simply isn't the case. The progress is all because of the feminist movement, but we are not even close to finished,” said women’s studies minor Liza Saffo (Class of 2011).

Women’s studies at Rollins began in 1983 under the direction of Rosemary Curb, a professor of English. The program has been an active part of Rollins’ curriculum and community life ever since. Founded in 1992, Voices for Women, a student-led organization, also addresses the growing interest in modern issues that affect women’s lives.

But the Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies is open to all who support the improvement of gender relations and seek to understand the defining role that gender plays for everyone.

“It is not all about women. Feminism is more about striving for gender equality,” said Anthony Wehrer (Class of 2011). “Although many are not aware of it, men are subjected to certain inequalities as well, particularly in the emotional and social realm, and this is something that is actually covered at length here at Rollins under the women's studies curriculum. Men's support and participation are always welcomed because, ultimately, these issues concern them just as much as they concern women.”

Likewise, the term “women’s center” can be misleading to those who aren’t familiar with feminism or women’s studies. “People don’t realize that a women’s center is about different identities. The idea is to educate everyone about how gender affects our lives and [how] gender equality will improve everyone’s lives,” said Professor of Philosophy Margaret McLaren, who is the coordinator of Rollins’ women’s studies program.

For additional information about the center or to arrange a small group talk on gender and identity, please contact Mary Robinson at or (407) 646-1563.

View more photos of the Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies.

By Jennifer Ritter (Class of 2013)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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