After several months of meaningful discussions, project teams and training sessions, Cornell’s Women’s Resource Center’s former Executive Board renamed itself the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition to reflect changes to their mission statement, as well as a change to the structure of its leadership.
“The people who were on the board wanted to be more of an advocacy and activist-y organization, and we couldn’t do that still having the same name and being within the confines of the name that was associated with the University,” said Liz Davis-Frost ’20, current president and outreach coordinator of GJAC.
In fall 2018, the former WRC Executive Board went on a local retreat and discussed revising the board’s mission and restructuring its leadership. During this retreat, the group was notified by another Cornellian of a WRC brochure with a series of several cartoon people featuring only one of which was a person of color, according to Davis-Frost. This was the tipping point for Davis-Frost.
“The WRC traditionally has been a space on campus that has been known for being super-white-feministy and not as intersectional as it should be considering the breadth of the people that it can reach,” Davis-Frost told the Sun in an interview.
After the retreat, the WRC cut all its programming for the fall semester, including co-sponsoring events and hosting Feminism Food for Thought and Love Your Body Day, in order to discuss how the Executive Board wanted to move forward, Davis-Frost said.
The board decided after a semester of meetings to move away from a solely women-focused organization to become more intersectional with its programming and partnerships.
According to the Student Assembly Resolution #35, on March 28, 2019, the S.A. approved the amendments to the WRC Constitution and the organization’s name change to the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition.
The mission statement of GJAC reads, “The Women’s Resource Center Executive Board has renamed and rebranded as the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition, in order to be more inclusive of non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals who can benefit from the programming, cosponsorships, and provided resources.”
Current GJAC executive board member Meredith Abato ’20 said that the rebranded organization will be more intentional with whom the organization is reaching.
“The name change and the mission change kind of echo those sentiments in trying to be a more substantial and meaningful presence on this campus and how we engage with the communities around us,” Abato said.
Since GJAC’s new mission is to not exclusively target women, the board recently asked for more byline funding, in hopes to be able to support smaller organizations across campus.
As long as the organization’s mission aligns with the mission of GJAC, then they will consider pursuing a co-sponsorship with the organization. The organization does not have to specifically focus on gender justice advocacy, but it does have to broadly fit GJAC’s mission, Abato said. Possible partners include Cornell Minds Matter, the International Students Union and Haven.
GJAC also restructured its leadership from a horizontal leadership structure to a hierarchy, with Davis-Frost as president. Previously, the WRC had a consensus model, where everyone on the board had to unanimously agree on every situation.
With GJAC’s independence from WRC, their meetings will now be student-run, instead of facilitated by either the Associate Dean or Assistant Director of the Center. However, the GJAC is still advised by the WRC administrative staff.
“GJAC, as a byline funded organization, continues to be advised by WRC professional staff, a responsibility that Greta and I share,” said Shura Gat, the Assistant Director of the WRC. “GJAC is not a new organization, but simply the new name for the former WRC Executive Board with the same funding and advising structure it that has existed for many years.”
The Women’s Resource Center, located on the second floor of Willard Straight Hall, still exists as part of the Dean of Students’ office, run by Gat and Associate Dean Greta Kenney.
According to its website, the goal of the WRC “is to foster a more vibrant campus community by supporting the full and active participation of women-identified students in both their personal and educational pursuits at Cornell.”
Abato’s ultimate goals with the GJAC’s new name is to support a “broader range, a more intersectional mission, and to be more true to the values that we’ve all been aspiring to for a long time.”