The Women's Studies Community Connection: A "Friends Group"

by Esther Lichti

The idea grew out of conversations that took place at informal weekly "networking" lunches attended by academic and community women in Lubbock, Texas. Because the women from Texas Tech who attended these lunches participated in the Women's Studies Program, aspects of the Program were often discussed, and eventually there was talk of a community organization to support the Women's Studies Program at Texas Tech University. In the fall of 1996, two community leaders, who were frequently acknowledged for their activism and leadership on women's and children's issues, formed the backbone of the new organization and became the first co-chairs of the Women's Studies Community Connection, recruiting for its board a number of prominent civic and political leaders. On November 16, 1996, the steering committee and Chancellor John T. Montford held a joint press conference, at which the Chancellor and his wife became the first dues-paying members of the new organization.

Two years after its formation, WSCC is proving an invaluable resource to the Texas Tech Women's Studies Program. The mentoring project, which matches undergraduate women with community professional women, has served more than fifty students since it began in September 1997. Open to any woman student on the campus, the program draws attention to and often serves as an entry point into the undergraduate minor in Women's Studies. One of the most successful pairings grew out of a student request for a midwife mentor. Although no midwives actually practice within Lubbock County, one does reside here, and she agreed to serve as a mentor. With her assistance, the student was able to begin training to teach childbirth preparation classes and complete her certification as a doula. She has accompanied her mentor on client visits, will attend two midwifery conferences in other parts of the state, and recently assisted at her first delivery. Plans are being developed to extend the mentoring project to target minority student women and minority mentors, to support the University's goal of increasing minority student recruitment and retention.

Women's Studies faculty have answered requests from community organizations for speakers and have provided articles for organizational newsletters and the Chamber of Commerce, increasing the program's (and university's) visibility and helping faculty fulfill their "service" obligations. WSCC members regularly attend Women's Studies Council meetings, serve on the planning committee for the annual conference, and host an annual reception honoring the faculty and students, to which they invite administrative officials. Plans are now underway to create a program matching community women with newly hired female faculty in a "friendship" program designed to combat the feelings of isolation experienced when moving to a new city, a problem frequently mentioned by junior faculty. This program is expressly designed to assist the University in achieving its goal of greater recruitment and retention of women faculty. The most important benefit to the Program has been the increased visibility afforded it by WSCC both within the community and on the University campus. It is impossible to measure the benefits that accrue when a University administration, actively engaged in a major fund-raising and public relations campaign, is reminded by prominent civic leaders that a relatively minor University program serves a unique and important purpose both on the campus and in the community at large.

[Esther Sundell Lichti received her Ph.D. in Theatre Arts from Texas Tech University and currently serves as Assistant Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program at that institution.]

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