Multicultural Engagement Center

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

After working to establish a women’s center at the University 10 years ago, Carrie Tilton-Jones will open a women’s center for the city Saturday. 

The Women’s Community Center of Austin, founded by Tilton-Jones, has been operating by hosting educational events since Jan. 2013, but it has existed without a building and full services.  Now, with its new building on the San Antonio Street opening, Tilton-Jones said the center will serve as a centralized space for women in the Austin community.

According to Rocío Villalobos, one of the center’s board members, the new center will provide educational workshops and have computers, printers, workspaces, a library, a children’s play area and a catalog of community resources for women, among other services.

“You have different groups that focus on different services that people may need, and what the women’s community center is trying to do is be a hub for some of those resources and some of that information,” said Villalobos, who is also the program coordinator at the Multicultural Engagement Center at UT.

Tilton-Jones, who took time off from pursuing a graduate degree at UT to work on the center, said she got the idea to open a women’s center while working as the co-director of the UT Women’s Resource Center, which later became the Gender and Sexuality Center. 

“[The Gender and Sexuality Center] became a home base for all types of women, from [the Rio Grande Valley], from Dallas, from Houston, from all around Texas,” said Tilton-Jones, who is also a founding board member of GSC. “And seeing the power in the women coming together and working together to make cool things happen was so inspiring.”

The center, located at 17th and San Antonio Street, is completely privately funded. The space will also provide another community space, which, Tilton-Jones said, is lacking in Austin.

“There aren’t as many public places where people can gather, and I felt it was important to have a non-commercial space,” Tilton-Jones said.

This center is not Austin’s first. In the 1970s up until the early 1990s, Tilton-Jones said Austin had a women’s center, but it closed for financial reasons.

“I was kind of surprised Austin didn’t have a women’s center of any kind,” Tilton-Jones said. “Most other large cities do.”

While Austin does have many services benefiting women, Tilton-Jones said the center serves to concentrate those community efforts and the center’s own efforts in one location.

“There’s a lot of great stuff going on for women in Austin, but it’s kind of hard to find,” Tilton-Jones said “There’s not really been a home base for the women’s community.”

Villalobos said she hopes the center will give University students connections off campus.

“I think it’s easy to stay in a UT bubble, especially as a student,” Villalobos said. “And we want to make sure that the center is another great resource for them besides the GSC or the [Multicultural Engagement Center] where they can meet folks that are interested in doing great things in the community.”

Marilyn Adams, an intern at the center and psychology senior, said that in addition to giving her peers resources in the community, she thinks the center could offer students a new study space.

“There’s also going to be computers there, so it could give students the opportunity to study off campus as opposed to a coffee shop where they would have to pay,” Adams said.

Two new student groups will help coordinate campuswide responses to diversity issues, a Diversity and Community Engagement official announced at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

The division’s vice president, Gregory Vincent, announced that a Diversity Student Advisory Committee, which will give him student input, and a Campus Climate Response Team, which will respond to incidents of bias, will launch next fall. The advisory committee and the Multicultural Engagement Center hosted the meeting, which about 55 people attended.

Vincent also recommended that Student Government and individual academic units create standing diversity committees.

“You have to make sure that things get institutionalized, meaning that they’re going to live beyond the time that you’re here,” he said. “Even though the students might change, the energy and the mission remains the same.”

Vincent said the division could try to reach out to the entire student population through campuswide events.

“We talk about, for example, what if the entire first-year class had a book that exposed them to these ideas?” he said.

Spokeswoman for the committee Leslie Blair said students at the Multicultural Engagement Center became interested in organizing a town hall after an incident at this year’s Roundup when a black female student claimed another student’s actions against her may have been racially motivated. A few weeks later on April 24, a student wearing blackface came to a Black Student Alliance meeting. Blair said the town hall could prevent
future problems.

“Sometimes issues arise related to campus climate because of misunderstandings or not understanding their culture or the perspective they’re coming from,” she said. “A town hall provides the opportunity to share your perspective and hear other people’s perspectives.”

Vincent said it would be essential to foster a more inclusive environment on campus even if those specific incidents didn’t happen occasionally.

“We’re the place where these issues can get rooted out, addressed, so when you go back to your communities you can go and serve to make sure that these issues of bias and exclusion are minimized and eventually eradicated,” he said.

Government senior Andrea Buckley said she hopes Vincent can host a larger forum with Student Government. Vincent said he would be open to doing so.

“A lot of people may not have known about this event,” she said. “I think issues get addressed on campus when SG is behind it, and I think it is a good idea to not just have one group or one office on campus looking at an issue, but getting several groups together.”