Hammersmith: Why counseling at the Women’s Center is not dispensable

Ariana Hammersmith, Op-Ed Contributor

Amid all this debate around safe spaces on college campuses, I don’t think I ever really understood the issue until I found one of my very own. The Women’s Center sits on the corner of Sheridan Road and Foster Street, a space I had not gotten to know until the fall of my sophomore year.

It took me a while to work up the courage to call. Like many other Northwestern students, I have a hard time asking for help. I can actually remember my hands shaking as I dialed the number for my phone appointment. There were so many times I debated not calling, not going and just forgetting the whole thing. I figured therapy was just for people with “real” problems.

It took me awhile to get comfortable at the Women’s Center. At first, I debated skipping appointments, telling myself that it wouldn’t make me feel that much better anyway. I was nervous about telling someone I barely knew my most intimate thoughts and feelings, things I had never verbalized before.

Over time, I grew more at home. There’s something very special to me about the physical space the Women’s Center occupies. The main room on the first floor has these comfy, broken-in couches and a coffee table littered with feminist magazines. The walls are covered with flyers from the Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE) and Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE) as well as black and white portraits of former directors of the center. Potted plants line the windowsill, and upstairs there are shelves full of books on feminist theory. The bathroom is a nice shade of green and has curtains with little leaves on them, and it always, always has a basket of complimentary pads and tampons. When you first walk in, the front desk has a bowl stocked full of condoms and lube. For the past year, the Women’s Center has supported me in body and mind and sex and blood.

It’s hard to put into words, but there is something visceral about that space to me. Not only was it a space to access free, long-term mental health care, but there was also something about the actual physical space of the Women’s Center that made me feel supported, respected and cared for.

The Women’s Center provided mental health care services for students of all genders through a feminist lens and specialized in providing care for victims of sexual assault, violence, harassment and discrimination. It was a service that did not exist anywhere else on campus.

I am deeply saddened to hear that the counseling services offered at the Women’s Center are moving to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I feel that I am losing my ability to access mental health care in a space that is safe and comfortable and understands my unique experiences as a woman.

Although the University has made strides to improve CAPS through increasing the size of its staff and eliminating the twelve-session limit, it still primarily acts as a system for short-term care.

It is so, so hard to ask for help. Most students, including myself, don’t reach out until they’re at their lowest point. When you finally feel so awful that you pick up the phone to call, the last thing you need is an appointment seven weeks away, only to walk out of the appointment with a list of referrals and a knot in your stomach.

The last thing the University should be doing is limiting options. It seems that President Morton Schapiro likes defending safe spaces when it’s good for PR, but loses interest when it actually comes to supporting the ones that exist on campus.

I’d like to thank all of the absolutely incredible women who put their time, hard work, dedication and love into the Women’s Center for all these years.

Ariana Hammersmith is a SESP junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.