Stranger-to-stranger heart-to-hearts

Story by Anna Soldner

 

It’s not often one can successfully assemble 60 college-aged strangers in a residence hall lobby and get them to openly and enthusiastically talk about sex.

 

Women’s Issues Program Coordinator Abby Vercauteren manages to do that and more as a facilitator of the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center’s (formerly Women’s and Gender Equity Center) monthly article discussions on women’s issues.

 

“I am confident that the article discussion series has, and will continue to, positively impact the campus community by opening up dialogue about issues,” Vercauteren said.

 

Founded in 2005, WAGE started as a monthly book club on lower campus. When Vercauteren got the job in 2009, she said she decided to make the events more manageable by shifting to article-based discussions and moving them to upper campus, accommodating both the heavy college workload and the underclassmen who serve as a the majority of participants.

 

Since then, attendance has doubled to around 40-60 people each month, partly due to no-nonsense topic choices.

 

“Gradually I’ve picked more risqué issues,” Vercauteren said. “I stayed pretty safe the first semester but then I started talking about things like dating and sex and stuff that people usually don’t talk about.”

 

The discussions, now held in the Towers Hall lounge to accommodate higher numbers, generate in-depth discourse and raise questions about issues such as women in the media, sexual assault and violence against women and the always-popular talk on body image.

 

Associate lecturer in women’s studies and regular attendee Katie Bowman requires her students to attend the events in order to better implement the ideas learned in class.

 

“Meeting in a res hall, for example, is a lot less threatening of an environment than a classroom,” Bowman said. “It’s a lot more peer-centered and focused on learning that is
essential to liberal education goals.”

 

Junior Lindsey Peterson cites Vercauteren’s equal balance of expertise and listening skills as primary reasons she returns each month.

 

“She totally knows what she’s talking about and is super informed on all the topics,” Peterson said. “She has a leadership role but she doesn’t overuse it. She utilizes the skills she has with facilitating in guiding our talk and never talks too much.”

 

Bowman agreed, stating the “open plan and equal conversation field” is key to creating an environment where students can broaden their knowledge and share their thoughts without feeling nervous or anxious.

 

Vercauteren said she encourages interested students to attend next week’s discussion titled “The Body Politic: Exploring America’s Obsession with Thinness” on issue of body image. The event runs in accordance with October’s “Love Your Body Day”, another campus event hosted by the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center.

 

The discussion will be held at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5 in the Towers lobby.

 

“We raise awareness and hopefully inspire people to either make changes in their individual lives or talk to their friends about certain things,” Vercauteren said. “(We’re) implementing change, one person at a time.”