Carolina Women’s Center resets

With a new director, location and mission, the organization wants to support more Tar Heel women.

Shauna Harris speaking in front of screen that reads
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Shauna Harris knows most undergraduates who arrived at the height of COVID-19 pandemic aren’t aware that Carolina has a women’s center because it went largely dormant due to staffing and organizational changes.

That’s about to change. Harris, who became the Carolina Women’s Center director in January, has begun the organization’s “reset.”

“I want to ensure that the women’s center is set up in a way that will propel us into the next chapter for our Carolina community,” said Harris, formerly the assistant dean for student affairs in the School of Education. “We’ve been busy.”

Resetting the center

The reset includes new leadership, organizational structure and location. Harris takes over for former director Gloria Thomas, who left in 2021 to become president of HERS: Women in Higher Education Leadership. The center’s assistant director is Shelley Kennedy, a former violence prevention coordinator in Student Affairs and current adjunct faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences’ women’s and gender studies department.

Organizationally, the center is now under the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Physically, the center will move this spring into the renovated West House at 215 W. Cameron Ave., next to the Asian American Center and the UNC Graduate Student Center.

The center’s purpose and programming have also shifted. Pan-campus listening sessions led by School of Law professor Beth Posner in the 2022-23 academic year resulted in recommendations to expand the center’s reach.

“That’s one of our priorities. We want this to be a center for the campus and community, not just focused on one population,” Harris said. She has met with the Employee Forum “so they know that they can partner with us and come to us if they need support or empowerment or professional development.” She also plans to amplify scholars’ “amazing work centered in gender equity and women’s research.”

Passion for supporting women

Harris started at Carolina in Student Life and Leadership as associate director for leadership development. She supported individuals from underrepresented populations through the Women of Worth initiative, now housed within the center, and Spark, a program for undergraduate women.

“I’ve always had this passion of ensuring that women had what they needed to be successful in their careers, in academia, in their personal lives. And now I can really work with others across campus to ensure that we are helping our Carolina women,” Harris said.

She is particularly excited about expanding the base for the center to include staff and faculty as well as students. “On our campus, we have 60% of staff that identify as being a woman and 60% of our students are women. And women, especially those with intersecting identities from other marginalized communities, are dealing with a lot of challenging issues,” Harris said.

Harris ramped up her outreach during Women’s History Month and will continue “CWC Campus Connections,” informal chats held from noon to 2 p.m. in front of Wilson Library, on April 3, April 8 and April 15. An April 4 lunch and learn program on wellness will be led by DeVetta Holman-Copeland, resiliency and student support programs coordinator with UNC Student Wellness. The center’s newsletter and website are being revamped, and Harris is encouraging people to volunteer at the center or serve on its advisory board.

“It’s going to take some time to get reestablished on our campus because there are students who started on our campus when there really wasn’t an active women’s center,” Harris said. “And I want them to understand that we are here to support them. We are here to empower and ensure that we are educating them on women’s issues and that they have a place that they can come to.”