In 1972, UI President Ernest Hartung appointed a committee to study the high attrition rate of women students (about 35% of students were women, and their drop-out rate was 25-30%). President Hartung wanted to know what the problem was, and why it was occurring. Dean Jean Hill, Student Advisory Services (SAS), was appointed chair of the committee; Elna Grahn, Virginia Wolf, and others also served. The committee's scope was broadened to include other issues affecting women on campus - numbers of women in the various faculty ranks, promotion, pay scales, etc. The committee did extensive work over the next year or so and published their findings in a booklet (UI's first "campus climate" report).
During this time, those interested in the committee's work would meet weekly; President Hartung and Vice President Robert Coonrod were invited and did attend. This large group of concerned individuals became known as the Women's Caucus. Committee members spoke to various groups on and off campus about their findings, yet they felt frustrated that progress was not forthcoming. Those who wanted to take further action became the Women's Caucus "Core Group." The Core Group became the vehicle for action; they worked in confidence, had pipelines across campus and the state, and trusted each other fully. When President Hartung declared he was unable to make concrete changes, and that they would have to instigate direct action, the Core Group filed complaints with the Idaho Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May 1973.
According to Virginia “Ginny” Wolf, chair of the Women's Caucus at the time, the Core Group started planning their strategy carefully. They did not want to damage the university’s image or reputation, yet they wanted their story told, and for progress to occur for female students, faculty and staff.
Rather than have the complaint go to court, President Hartung and the nine members of the Women's Caucus Core Group (eight were staff members, one was a faculty member) signed a "Conciliation Agreement" on May 8, 1974 which detailed several actions the university would take to address various issues. Some of the results of this agreement were the creation of an Affirmative Action Officer, an affirmative action plan, a Women's Center director, job analysis, back pay, equal starting salaries, High School Relations Program (now called New Students Services) to implement good faith efforts to recruit and retain women students, a position filled by a female physician in the Student Health Center, and more. A supplemental appropriations request for one-third of a million dollars was made to the State Legislature for equity in women's salaries at UI.
Once the Conciliation Agreement was signed by UI President Hartung and the nine members of the Women's Caucus in May 1974, the focus of the Caucus became to ensure its timely implementation. Representatives from the Idaho Human Rights Commission would make regular compliance reviews of the progress made by the university. As the years went by, various portions of the agreement were met, with the appointment of a female physician at the Student Health Center being the last one. Salary studies were done; one-of-a-kind positions were given job descriptions; back pay was awarded; an Affirmative Action officer and staff were created; a full-time director of the Women's Center was hired; a High School Relations Office (now New Student Services) was made to focus on the recruitment of women students; and so forth.
What had begun in 1972 with the formation of a president's committee to study the high attrition rate among female students at the university became the vehicle for long-lasting change affecting many aspects of the lives of women on campus. Much is owed to the university administration and dedication to make these changes possible.
The Women's Caucus continued to meet with noon programs focusing on issues of interest to women, and the Caucus Core Group worked with the university administration on implementation of the agreement.
Then, as the times changed, university administration changed, and membership in the Caucus changed, the focus around which the Caucus initially formed was no longer a burning issue. With key members of the Caucus no longer at the university and providing leadership, interest in the Caucus lagged. By the early 1980s, the Caucus was no longer meeting.
The Women's Council was formed in 1983 to pick up the gap that now existed in an organization on campus focusing on interest of the concerns of women. The purpose of this group, led by Joan West, Libby Stevenson, Nancy Weller, Jackie Hertel, and Jayne Geoffroy was to "assist all women employees in researching their greatest potential by means of mutual support."
There still was a missing element on campus that would direct its work towards issues of concern to women and also fulfill the networking needs of professional women across a diverse university campus. In the spring of 1987, a number of women met to plan for a new organization for professional women at the university with goals of networking, discussion of issues, and professional programs. The group, led by Joan West, included Mary DuPree, Connie McQuillen, Kathy Aiken and Kathie George. By the fall, the group had had its first regular meeting and ratified bylaws in November. Finding a name for this group was a difficult task, with the name Athena finally chosen. Dr. Joan West was elected as Athena's first president.
And the rest is herstory. The Women's Center and Athena continue to work towards their goals, meeting with the university administration to discuss issues of concern to women and minorities, holding conferences, having professional programs, networking, and doing work through committees (such as Campus Climate).
HERSTORY of the Women’s Center at the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho Women’s Center first opened in the fall of 1972, on the ground floor of the Administration Building, across the hall from President Hartung’s office. At first, the Center had no staff and was run entirely by volunteers. It opened with second-hand furniture, posters and rugs brought in by volunteers. For the first five years, the Center operated with volunteer staff and a part-time director. The 1974 Conciliation Agreement (see link below) with the UI Women’s Caucus mandated a full-time center with staff, including hiring a full time, permanent director.
“A survey conducted two years previously had determined that while only 3 percent of all men who entered the UI at the time left school before graduating, 51% of all women dropped out…They dropped out because they didn’t know who they were, what they were, or where they were going…Half of the women surveyed said they needed more information about women’s roles, job opportunities and other issues. One of the primary roles of the Women’s Center was providing those resource materials. By making people aware of both subtle and overt sexual discrimination, we hope that we can be instrumental in breaking down those socialization process that channel both women and men.”(UI Magazine, Fall 1997).
In the early years, the Center provided a “space” where women could gather and share ideas, talk, study, or just visit with friends. The first Center was located in the Administration Building, in a room near the president’s office. The intent of the first Women’s Center was to offer female students a “safe” place on campus. The Center became just that for many students, especially non-traditional women returning to school.
The Center’s first goals were to 1) increase the number of women attending the university; 2) decrease the drop-out rate of women; 3) develop and sponsor programs to increase awareness of the status, problems and needs of women in Idaho; 4) provide services and programs to help address the needs and concerns of women; 5) provide a clearinghouse of informational and educational resources on issues important to women; and 6) serve as a peer counseling and referral agency (UI Magazine, Fall 1997).
The Center moved a number of times during its first few years, and in 1981, the Center moved to its home for the next 19 years, in a building that also housed the Tutoring and Academic Assistance Center, located in the center of campus. That building was demolished in 2001. The Women’s Center then moved briefly to the Theater Arts Annex, a small, cozy home across from the Administration Lawn. Frozen pipes and the discovery of asbestos and lead paint in Fall 2002 meant a hasty move to the current Women’s Center home in Room 109 of the Memorial Gym.
In addition to the physical space provided by the Center, staff worked hard on programs to end sexual assault and to increase safety on campus. Educational programs were offered on topics relevant to women and brown bag programs became a tradition of the center. A rape crisis line was started on campus within the Women’s Center, and soon became the essential and important community service known today as Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse (ATVP). The library collection that began with a few books now contains more than 2,500 volumes and is part of the University of Idaho library system.Download a pdf copy of the text of the Conciliation Agreement here!