Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Finding Her Swan Song at Women’s Center

When Martha Swanson left her post as director of student programs last June, she thought that after 23 years of working at Georgetown she would finally get the peace and relaxation that usually comes hand in hand with retirement. What she found instead was a job back on the Hilltop, overseeing student volunteers at the Women’s Center.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Swanson said, sitting on a blue couch in the small office of the Women’s Center on the third floor of Leavey yesterday. “It sort of just happened.”

But when then-Women’s Center Director Jill Robinson left for personal reasons late last June, the center was left without leadership. Swanson said that she knew she could help out, so she contacted associate vice president for student affairs Jeanne Lord, who is temporarily serving as interim director for the center, and asked how she was needed.

“I said, `How about I come in and volunteer,'” she recalled. “It’s been a group effort.”

Along with student volunteers including Center Coordinator Hemly Ordonez (COL ’08), Lord and Student Affairs Business Manager Lynne Hirschfeld, Swanson has been helping run a center that is currently without permanent leadership.

A feminist in her own right – she deplores the negative connotations associated with the F-word – deciding to help out was not difficult for the veteran administrator.

“I knew Hemly and some other students involved with the center,” she said. “And I’ve been involved with the Women’s Center since it started, and I’m committed to women’s issues on campus.”

The university was put in an awkward position because of the timing of Robinson’s departure, Swanson said. Officials did not feel comfortable hiring a new director over the summer, when students and many administrators would be absent from the hiring process.

Brandi Streauslin (COL ’11), a student volunteer in the center last semester, said that she constantly saw Swanson in the office during regular hours, as well as at many of the Women’s Center-sponsored events in the evenings.

“I think [her presence] is a testimony to her commitment to the Women’s Center,” she said.

Streauslin added that Swanson brought a new perspective to the Women’s Center during her year there.

“I think Martha has been very dedicated to the Women’s Center and to Georgetown in general,” she said. “She often had conversations with people dropping by the office about events going on around campus and seemed to know a lot about life at Georgetown.”

Along with day-to-day operations, Swanson has been involved in the future of the Women’s Center. As a member of the board commissioned by Student Affairs to hire a permanent director, Swanson has played an important role in making sure the center is left in good hands before she retires for a second time.

arjorie Powell, director of the office of institutional diversity, equity and affirmative action, and College Dean Anne Sullivan joined her and Lord on the board, in addition to faculty in the women and gender studies department, administrators from Student Affairs and the Center for Minority Educational Affairs, campus ministry and students involved with the center.

Swanson may finally be able to rest easy with the recent hiring of Laura Kovach, a former Georgetown employee for Health Education Services on campus, to serve as director of the center.

Kovach, who has worked at the Wellness Center at American University for a little over a year, will take her new position this summer, according to Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs.

“Everyone involved with the search is enthused about the strong experience and excellent skills that [Kovach] will bring to this position,” he said.

Swanson said that the committee chose Kovach in part due to her energy, connection with students, familiarity with Georgetown and her sensitivity to Jesuit ideals shaping the community.

Kovach could not be reached for comment.

“We look forward to a vibrant Women’s Center – a welcoming place for all women on our campus with lively and engaging programs and a strong intellectual core,” Lord said.

Despite strong volunteer efforts and a multitude of programs this year, Swanson said there are several important issues that Kovach will have to tackle as the new director.

“It’s not a well-known place on campus,” she said. “It doesn’t have a high profile. [Kovach] will be working on that.”

Vanessa Mueller, a senior at American University and director of American’s Women’s Initiative, a student government department, said that Kovach will make an excellent director at Georgetown.

“Throughout the year, we cosponsored a variety of events with the Wellness Center, where Laura served as a wellness advocate,” she said. Mueller said that events cosponsored with Kovach’s Wellness Center included programs such as Eating Disorders Awareness Week, among others.

“She has also been actively involved in revamping our sexual assault reporting procedures,” Mueller said. “Few administrators are able to make such a large difference in such a short time.”

In the meantime, Swanson said that the Women’s Center continues its mission to serve Georgetown’s female community, and pointed to efforts to receive increased funding, cosponsoring more on-campus events and improved communication with student groups as major projects the center has adopted between directors. She said that Kovach and student volunteers will work with student groups this summer to maintain those connections.

“Success at Georgetown is based on relationships,” Swanson said. “My job has been keeping the center more than just open . particularly encouraging the students to reach out to each other.”

But the ride has not been without a few bumps. The Women’s Center recently had to confront the controversy surrounding the decision by the Student Activities Commission to allow the Georgetown University Grilling Society to host “Grills Gone Wild Week” with T-shirts that read “GUGS: Grade A, Size D.”

Having spent years working with SAC as CPS director, Swanson said that the narrow 6-5 vote to allow the week was problematic to those who see SAC as a direct representation of the student body.

“I know a lot of people affiliated with our office were bothered by the decision,” she said.

GUGS – pronounced with a hard G by many affiliated with the center – also played an important part in the hiring process of the new director. The controversy took place primarily during the last round of interviews, which gave administrators the ability to gauge campus perception of the applicants, according to Swanson.

“It was a nice illustration of the problems the new director will face,” she said.

Kovach will also have the responsibility of balancing the needs of women with Georgetown’s Catholic identity, Swanson said.

“The director is a difficult position because of the Catholic issues on campus,” she said. “There are definitely limits on speakers and other resources.”

But she maintained that the center is not only a resource for reproductive rights and that the Women’s Center remains the one place where women of all backgrounds can find support and companionship.

“This can be a challenging institution to be a female student,” she said. “We have the potential to be a huge resource for the community.”

Erika Cohen-Derr, Swanson’s successor as director of CSP, said that having Swanson volunteering at the Women’s Center has been beneficial to the center, and said that events such as Women’s Week and work with R.U. Ready, the annual sexual-abuse awareness program sponsored by Take Back the Night, have benefited from her experience working with students in the past.

But with the walk to CSP just a skip down the hall, Swanson said that there has been little interaction between her new and old office.

“That was a concern. . I didn’t want Erika [Cohen-Derr] to feel uncomfortable,” she said. “We talked about that before I decided to come back.”

Swanson’s only contact with the CSP office comes with casual conversation among old friends and the occasional use of the copier, she said. She added that most of the campus event planning in coordination with CSP is left to the student volunteers.

While she plans on returning to full retirement after Kovach takes the reigns this summer, Swanson doesn’t see herself straying far from the Hilltop.

“My husband and I still go to all the soccer games, all the lacrosse games,” she said. “I’m here on campus a lot. That’s never going to change.”

She said that she plans to remain active as a member of the center’s board of advisors, which will primarily plan the center’s 20th anniversary that takes place in 2010, as well as continue to raise money for a Kenyan high school she visited along with Lord and other administrators during a Georgetown mission and ministry trip in 2005.

Cohen-Derr said that no matter what position she holds, Swanson will always be highly regarded and sought after by students and staff for her expertise and experience with a wide variety of campus issues.

“Martha is a part of Georgetown and Georgetown is a part of her,” she said. “She brings a lot to the table.”

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