The mission of the Gender + Equality Center is to cultivate an affirming, educational, and diverse community by focusing on LGBTQ+ inclusion, interpersonal violence prevention, and advocacy for victims of gender-based violence.
The Gender + Equality Center will empower OU community members to create affirming, violence-free communities and actively work toward a just and equitable society.
Departmental Learning Goals
OU community members will demonstrate culturally aware, intellectual and practical leadership skills to build an affirming and justice-oriented community through social influence, civic engagement, organization development and program management.
OU community members will develop a greater personal awareness to foster authentic relationships and to build affirming communities.
OU community members will demonstrate knowledge of active bystander and allyship practices as well as campus and local resources regarding gender-based violence prevention and response, support for LGBTQ+ people, and advocacy for marginalized populations.
When members of the OU community have a vison, anything can happen. One such vision became a reality after a needs assessment was conducted in order to establish a women’s center on the Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma. Lesley Kelman, a program development specialist at Goddard was a key player in getting the Women’s Outreach Center up and running. After extensive research of other women’s centers in the nation, Kelman gained the support of the first lady, Molly Shi Boren. With the support of President and Mrs. Boren, the Women’s Outreach Center opened its doors in November of 1999 as a part of Student Life.
From the moment Mrs. Boren cut the ribbon at the Center’s grand opening, we have served the OU community offering referrals and student support in the heart of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. The Center has made tremendous strides and changes over the years. Some of the initial programs at the Center included the Sister to Sister Mentoring Program, World AIDS Day Quilt, Women and Wheels auto maintenance workshop, Clothesline Project, Rape Awareness Week, eating disorders awareness, breast cancer awareness month and various support groups.
Our biggest event is the Pink & Black Ball, a spring campus-wide formal dance hosted right here in the Union. From 2003 to 2009, the Women’s Outreach Center received grants for breast cancer awareness programming from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. During this time, all proceeds collected from the Pink & Black Ball were directed back into breast health programming. However, since the Center no longer receives these grants, all proceeds from the Ball are put back into GEC funds and go towards other programming efforts.
Sexperts, a peer education program bringing safer sex education to students, began in 2003. Students volunteer their time to become peer educators. Once trained, the Sexperts provide workshops to various campus groups about STD’s and pregnancy prevention. In fall 2008, the program will expanded to include sexual assault prevention peer educators. These peer educators give Step In, Speak Out and Our Voice presentations, focusing on issues of consent and active bystander intervention. In the fall of 2017, Step In, Speak Out became a mandatory training for all incoming freshman and transfer students.
In 2008, the Center took over the Sexual Assault Response Team for the University, and eventually rebranded to form OU Advocates. OU Advocates is a group of staff from the Division of Student Affairs, trained to respond 24/7 in the event of a student experiencing sexual assault.
In 2015, the Women’s Outreach Center changed its name and came to be known as the Gender + Equality Center, better encompassing the work done by the Center.
While some of the programs have changed over the years, the mission to support students on OU’s campus has not. Building awareness through outreach, hosting seminars, and providing resources and referrals are all a part of the Gender + Equality Center today. We continue to be committed to addressing issues of gender, celebrating diversity, developing leaders, empowering students, and supporting the LGBTQ community.