A seat at the table

‘We are the leaders and innovators of tomorrow’: Women’s advocacy on the UW-Eau Claire campus

%22Our+mission+is+to+protect+everyone+and+anyone+that+are+individuals+who+have+taken+on+the+title+of+being+a+member+of+WUF%2C%E2%80%9D+Jackie+Buttafuoco%2C+founder+of+Women+Uniting+and+Fighting+said.%0A

Photo by McKenna Dirks

“Our mission is to protect everyone and anyone that are individuals who have taken on the title of being a member of WUF,” Jackie Buttafuoco, founder of Women Uniting and Fighting said.

Across the UW-Eau Claire campus, women and intersectional identities have come together under one mission: to mobilize and uproot gender discrimination in their communities.

With this action at the forefront of student’s minds, the Women Uniting and Fighting coalition was formed. 

Women Uniting and Fighting, an all-inclusive coalition at UW-Eau Claire, was first brought to life in July of 2020 after Jackie Buttafuoco, a fourth-year biology student, felt a need for a new intersectional women’s center to provide services for all identities on campus. 

“Our mission is to protect everyone and anyone that are individuals who have taken on the title of being a member of WUF,” Buttafuoco said. “We are fighting for all women, but that also means the security of women.”

Some resource centers available to students at this time include the Center for Awareness of Sexual Assault, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

The new intersectional women’s center, proposed by WUF, will allow for individuals with multiple identities to be advocated for in a truly safe space directed by women, she said.

“Historically (in our university) there has been discrimination, prejudice and even sexual violence that has been perpetuated on to LGBT+ groups, on black women, on women of color and on women with disabilities,” Buttafuoco said.

Now, the coalition meets weekly to not only discuss the restructuring of an official women’s center on campus, but any issues felt by marginalized women in the UW-Eau Claire institution, she said. 

“Our university is inadequate, and completely ignores and dismisses any types of forms of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of oppression,” Buttafuoco said. “To create this group was to allow actual organic criticism to be formulated and productive work to be done.”  

Kylie Engel, a third-year women’s gender and sexuality studies student, said she was first introduced to the idea of WUF — before they even had a formal name — this past summer after Buttafuoco’s social media outreach.

Each member of WUF has an equal role in the coalition and it is crucial to have that framework of non-hierarchy within the coalition, she said.

“Jackie is our fearless leader but we all contribute in different ways,” Engel said. “I really love our feminist model that removes a hierarchy of power. I think that is one of the things that makes us stand out.”

WUF’s most recent action toward change has been through a university-wide petition sent out to students and staff on campus. 

“It can be kind of terrifying, especially going up against a machine that we call an institution,” Buttafuoco said. “But, the more and more of us that come together, the more powerful we become. It takes a whole village — we have got to do it together.”

This petition, and an open letter to the UW-Eau Claire administration, was a result of the recent fourth-degree sexual harassment notice on campus, according to an email sent by the dean of students in February.

“This (petition) is a microcosm of a larger issue on our campus, which is the complete ignoring, and downplaying of sexism, misogyny and other forms of gender-based violence,” Buttafuoco said. “There is no intersectional lens that’s being used within our own upper administration or vice-chancellor of EDI.”

Engel said all levels of the university system have a responsibility to raise their voices when injustice happens on our campus. These issues do not affect us in our own social locations but include those that might be different from each other, she said.  

“It should not be the responsibility of the students to hold the administration accountable; however this is our unfortunate reality,” Engel said. “Despite our university claiming to care about issues of gender or race, in action, they fall incredibly short — let alone with issues that affect multiple identities.”

The coalition currently has faculty support and endorsement from the women’s gender and sexuality studies department, with Rose-Marie Avin, the department chair, acting as faculty adviser of the commission. 

Avin was unavailable to comment at the time of the story’s publishing.

Members of WUF continue to reach out to administrative officials in hopes of progressing the fight toward an intersectional women’s center, Buttafuoco said. 

“What we’re doing is just kind of collecting the information, going through the bureaucratic system, creating a sheet of expectations for space and creating more opportunities to have a dialogue with students,” Buttafuoco said.

Direct conversations with students are set to occur at a scheduled ‘Unpack It’ series event hosted by the University Activities Commission, where WUF members will host an open forum on their goals for the women’s center and a space for student input. 

This event is titled “Raise your Voice, Find your Space: Creating an Intersectional Womxn’s Center at UWEC,” and will be held at 5 p.m. on March 16 via Zoom.

The organization meets weekly at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays through the app BlueJeans. For more information on the coalition’s meeting times, contact Buttafuoco at [email protected]

Engel said she believes the university has run its course for not advocating the intersectional issues affecting its students and WUF is ready to motivate others and mobilize toward a better campus community. 

“If our university values the concerns of the students they should be investing into us as a population,” Engel said. “We are the future. We are the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. Invest in us, the world needs us.”

Nelson can be reached at [email protected]