Inside the Women’s Hub, a cozy lavender room inside UCI’s Cross-Cultural Center, an eclectic array of signs decorates the walls: “Relax,” one reads. Another says “Love.” But the largest placard best captures director Tamara Austin’s philosophy on the space: “This is my happy place.”
Austin opened the W-Hub, a resource center for UCI women, in fall 2016. It functions as a haven “where women can feel supported, speak their minds and find what they need to thrive on campus,” she says. “At the W-Hub, we’re invested in making women successful and heard.”
When Austin, a Philadelphia native with a background in social work, came to UCI in 2011 as assistant director of the Student Outreach & Retention Center, such a place for women didn’t exist. She remembers walking around campus one day shortly after arriving and stumbling upon a door with a “Women’s Center” plaque on it. Intrigued, Austin entered – only to find an empty room. Co-workers told her that the center had closed a few years earlier due to budget readjustments.
“I couldn’t imagine a school without such a facility, so I decided then and there that I would work to bring one back to UCI’s campus,” Austin says.
After a few years of planning, the W-Hub opened in the Cross-Cultural Center. Earlier this year, it was moved to Lot 5, but the staff returns to the original (now shared) lavender room each Wednesday.
Still a relatively new presence on campus, the W-Hub attracts dozens of students, faculty and staff each day. Some drop by to grab a pastry or cup of tea from Austin’s generous supply; others come for the resources provided (including informational pamphlets, feminine hygiene products and school supplies); and many just want to talk to one another in what Austin calls an “open space where people can learn with no judgment.”
Lots of W-Hub visitors pose questions about sexual health and relationships that they might not feel comfortable discussing with traditional counselors, Austin says. Some seek advice on thriving in male-dominated majors, and others ask about applying to graduate and professional schools, gaining confidence from those who have been through the same process.
“Women can have conversations here that they’re often told not to have,” Austin says. “Claim your space, and don’t ask permission to say what you need to say. That’s the No. 1 thing I tell the women I meet.”
The W-Hub also orchestrates events, programs and workshops, from movie and open mic nights to mental health seminars and photo sessions for professional headshots.
Janani Venkateswaran, a senior majoring in both psychology & social behavior and drama and one of the W-Hub’s five student interns, initially encountered the place through one of these events during her junior year. Now, she says, the W-Hub has become an integral part of her life on campus, inspiring her to learn more about feminism and even start a minor in gender & sexuality studies.
“When I first heard of the W-Hub, I was really excited. The center had awesome events, and I really enjoyed talking to the interns in the space, having meaningful conversations and meeting dynamic women that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Venkateswaran says. “I didn’t realize how much we needed this center on campus until I experienced it.”