Q & A: Dana Bisignani, Director of the UC Women’s Center
Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School
The UC Women’s Center, a great resource for Bearcats of all genders, strives to achieve gender equity on campus and beyond through educational programming and activism work. Their services are extensive and far-reaching, offering connection and leadership opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. I interviewed Dana Bisignani, Director of the Women’s Center, to learn more about this programming, what the Women’s Center has to offer graduate students, and how we can all get involved in the fight for gender equity.
Q: How would you define the role of the Women’s Center within the larger campus community?
A: The Women’s Center serves as a resource for our entire UC community, but we’re first and foremost student-facing. We’re committed to the personal and professional growth of women and gender non-conforming students by facilitating action toward intersectional gender equity, promoting social justice, and fostering connections for all students. We strive to challenge gender inequities and advance the rights of women and gender variant people by elevating student activism and growing ethical leaders of all genders. We do this through programming and events that fall under our three pillars: action, justice, and connection. These guide everything we do: are we activating students’ strengths and leadership? Are we providing students what they need to build a more just world? And are we building community and connecting students to other leaders on campus and in the city while we do it?
As part of the Identity and Inclusion Unit within Student Affairs, we also work in partnership to advocate for the diverse women and gender variant students on our campus. That includes women of color, queer women, cisgender and transgender women, genderqueer or non-binary students, women with disabilities, and women who identify as neurodivergent. We work to make sure this diversity and intersectionality is reflected in our collaborations, resources, and the programs and events that we offer.
Q: What does the Women’s Center have to offer graduate students specifically?
A: One opportunity is certainly our Graduate Assistantship (currently hiring). Particularly for graduate students interested in a career in Student Affairs or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in higher ed, or for those interested in the non-profit sector or community education, this position is great experience. Our GA is an integral part of our team and will gain experience in program management, event planning and facilitation, leadership development, and budgeting. Graduate students from any program can apply for the full-year position, which is renewable depending on performance and funding and comes with a stipend. Interested students can email resumes and cover letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graduate students also have opportunities to serve on our planning committees for signature events like our annual Black Feminist Symposium and to attend professional development trainings like our Start Smart salary negotiation workshops as they prepare to go on the job market in any field. We know that women – and women of color especially – still encounter a pay gap in every industry, and we want our women graduates to have all the skills and tools necessary to negotiate a fair salary and benefits. We also have a specialized library in our center, and students can check out books for personal or academic purposes.
Q: One of the major Women's Center events this semester was the Black Feminist Symposium held in honor of Women’s History month. Tell me a bit more about this event. What is the importance of intersectionality when celebrating women’s history?
A: The Black Feminist Symposium first started in 2017 and is now an annual signature event that attracts around 200 people from UC, Cincinnati, and the region. It’s really a platform dedicated to celebrating Black feminist scholarship, art and activism and centering connection and joy for Black women. The event features uplifting voices, forums, panels, and lectures led by students, staff, faculty, and community members and works to unite Black feminist work being done at UC and within the community at large. Part of the event’s goal is also to connect student activism with community work while supporting space that elevates Black feminist contributions to achieving social justice.
Intersectionality is foundational to everything we do in the Women’s Center. Of course, this theory also comes to us from Black feminist scholars. Without intersectionality in women’s history, we only get one story. We fail to understand that women may have different “choices,” face multiple threats of discrimination, or encounter more barriers in their lives as a result of possessing multiple marginalized identities. If we want to improve the world for women and work toward gender equity, then we have to understand how systems of power work in concert with one another and how that affects how we move through the world. As Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles look very different from my own.” We have to know the nature of each other’s shackles before we can help each other break them.
Q: April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. How can the Women’s Center help me if I’ve experienced interpersonal or gender-based violence?
A: While the Women’s Center doesn’t provide direct services to victims or survivors of gender-based violence on campus, we’re a great resource for students who want to learn more about this issue and become involved in activism or advocacy to help end it. We also collaborate with other offices on campus to help create space for survivors to speak and heal, such as Take Back the Night. We support and believe survivors, and they’ll find a welcoming and affirming community at the Women’s Center.
The Women Helping Women advocates are a confidential resource for victims and survivors of all genders. They’re located near the Women’s Center in Steger 559 and can be reached 24 hours a day at 513-381-5610. Women Helping Women and CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) are both confidential resources. The Office of Gender Equity & Inclusion (OGEI) houses UC’s Title IX staff and offers reporting and mediation options for students who have experienced sexual assault, stalking, or intimate partner violence. We strongly encourage students to use these available resources.
Q: How could our graduate student readers get involved to support the work of the Women’s Center?
A: There are lots of ways graduate students can get involved, ranging from signing up for our weekly newsletter or following us on Instagram to attending our events to applying for our Graduate Assistant position this month. We’ve also hosted interns who focus on special projects in the past. If you’re interested in helping to plan any of our signature events, contact the Center and let us know! Graduate students are also encouraged to submit proposals to present at the Black Feminist Symposium if that aligns with their research.
Q: What kind of work do you think still needs to be done to ensure justice and equality for women at UC? In the broader community?
A: There’s always more work to be done, both at UC and in our community, and on many fronts. First, I’ll say that I really want to hear from students what they think UC needs. Because I’m still new to UC, I’ve focused on listening and building relationships with student organizations and other campus partners these first few months. I’m always open to having conversations with students about how our institution can do better, and I want to help them act and make change – student voices really do have the most power.
We do have a lot of women at UC who are studying in male-dominated fields like engineering and who will likely enter predominately male workplaces in co-op and after graduation – and this includes women of color who are often simultaneously navigating predominately white workplaces as well. I’d love to see us develop a #STEMinist program that provides community, support, and mentoring for these women, as well as intentional collaborations to better prepare both our students and industry partners to navigate issues like sexual harassment and leadership development for women, starting in co-op. We hear a lot about burnout, too, and research shows that this disproportionately impacts women, who are often expected to place everyone else’s well-being above their own.
More broadly, though we don’t always hear about them, women are leading almost every major social justice movement we know: climate change, labor, public health, Black Lives Matter, a movement founded by three queer Black women. Trans women were on the forefront of the Gay Liberation Movement and continue to be front and center, fighting this recent wave of anti-trans bills targeting trans women participating in school sports.
Here's one example from our current moment: we know that two years of the pandemic have irrevocably altered our work lives, increasing the burden on women who are juggling work (or school) as well as childcare and sometimes at-home schooling now. We’ve seen a marked drop-off in women academics publishing over the last two years as well, and this affects their tenure. The availability of remote work for some has actually intensified the double burden that many women shoulder. Increasingly, women are responsible not only for childcare but increasingly are caring for aging parents as well. So there’s an urgent need for affordable childcare and other infrastructure for care work that would allow women to fully participate in the work force and close the gender pay gap that disproportionately affects women of color and mothers especially.