For 48 years the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender has been a center for feminist and gender-centered discussions and activism at the University.
“This is really a space that’s thinking about gender more complexly and thinking about how gender intersects with other markers of identity,” said Felicia Salinas-Moniz, director of the center, in an interview with The Herald.
The center opened on Sept. 8, 1975 after Pembroke College merged with the University in 1971, Salinas-Moniz said in a March 16 presentation for the Brown Women’s Network. The center formed from a draft proposal — by the Women of Brown United, a University women’s liberation group, and a working group on the Status of Women at Brown — recommending a center which was named after Sarah Elizabeth Doyle, a woman who was central to the founding of Pembroke College.
The center was originally located at 185 Meeting St. and was moved in 2001 to its current location at 26 Benevolent St., Salinas-Moniz added in her presentation. She mentioned that the center has always been located in historic homes which has added to the overall warmth of the space.
“I’ve always heard that (the center has a) cozy, warm environment” from alumni and others who enter the space, she told The Herald. “My hope is that we can continue to foster that sense that students feel like … this is their space.”
Lydia DeFusto ’22, a librarian and archivist for the Sarah Doyle Center, wrote in an email to The Herald that the center is a space for students to “study, relax and be in community.” She added that other students have often said that the center is a home for them, a feeling she shares.
Salinas-Moniz has worked at the center for nine years and was named director on Jan. 19, The Herald previously reported. She said that the center has gone through many iterations, and during her time there she has seen a growth in the diversity of its staff and a continued emphasis on intersectionality.
According to Salinas-Moniz, one way that the center has become more inclusive is through its name change in 2018 from the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center to the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender.
“This is not just a space for cis women,” she told The Herald, adding that this intersectional approach was not appropriately represented in its former name, prompting them to change the center’s title.
Audrey Buhain ’22, a librarian and archivist at the Sarah Doyle Center, said that “everything (the center) aspires to do … is through the practice of feminism.”
Next year, the center will also collaborate with the University’s LGBTQ Center with the creation of Women, Gender and Sexuality Peer Counselors, The Herald previously reported.
Salinas-Moniz added that the new position would give the center a larger “cohort of students” to help reimagine the center’s future.
“We are really growing with the students every year (and) as students' interests and needs change, we shift and change with those as well,” she said.
Salinas-Moniz said that the center has also been the site of activism in the Providence community. In the 1970s, the center hosted meetings that culminated in the creation of Sojourner House, an organization that supports survivors of interpersonal violence, she said.
She added that in the 1990s, the center was also the site of meetings that eventually evolved into Youth Pride RI, a local nonprofit organization advocating for LGBTQ youth.
“This center has birthed lots of beautiful, beautiful organizations and collaborations … and it’s been a nurturing space to help seed ideas,” she said.
Currently, the center has a partnership with Sophia Academy, an all-girls school in Providence, said Salinas-Moniz. She explained that this partnership is responsible for a tutoring program between students at Sophia Academy and students from the University.
The center has also brought the students of Sophia Academy to campus through talks with people like Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures,” and groups like Radical Monarchs, an organization comprised of girls of color who advocate for social justice. Looking toward the future, Salinas-Moniz said that she hopes to collaborate with Sophia Academy again.
There are also events and programming hosted by the Sarah Doyle Center for Women’s History Month, including a virtual panel on March 3 with the Auntie Sewing Squad, a mutual aid group which sewed masks in the wake of the pandemic, and a virtual poetry reading by Natalie Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, on March 7.
“At the heart of our programming is understanding that our events do make a difference, even in how (we) warmly receive people and how much we listen to people,” Buhain said, adding that this was just as important as the content of the events themselves.
Salinas-Moniz said that many of its events have a strong student leadership component. “We have student staff … help us plan events from idea to implementation,” she said.
Salinas-Moniz added that student staff also helped with the installation currently at the center’s gallery, defined as a “feminist creative arts and exhibition space” on the center’s website. The current exhibition is a yarn mural of pompoms made by the center and other University community members for Women’s History Month. According to the Sarah Doyle Center Gallery’s website, the gallery hosts exhibitions that are connected to their stated mission to “engage the campus community through a feminist praxis of activism and academics.”
“The gallery has been present since the center’s founding, so it’s actually a historic part of the center and has gone through various iterations,” Salinas-Moniz said.
Buhain said that the center hosts a lot of crafting workshops due to the gendered labor of the textile industry. The center looks “at the labor that goes behind gendered art, that often goes overlooked, very seriously,” she added. Other than the mural, the center has hosted earring-making workshops, a crafting circle and a zine making workshop.
Another important space within the Sarah Doyle Center is its library, which houses over 4,000 volumes on topics such as women and gender, DeFusto wrote.
Within this collection, the center has a range of materials including academic texts, poetry, zines and a children’s book collection titled “Stories for Free Children”.
Buhain said that while not many people use physical books now, there is a deep history within the center’s library that predates its move to the new location in 2001. She added that since some of the books have been donated by members of the Providence community, the library is also a record of the relationship between the center and the city.
“By looking through the library you can see what was important to people at a particular time,” she said. The collection is like a “roadmap of feminist organizing and the expansion of what feminism includes on this campus,” she added.
The center’s library catalog is separate from University libraries which makes it an additional resource on women and gender studies for students, wrote DeFusto. She added that they also have books that the University library system does not.
The center hosted a “Library on Wheels” on March 18, where books from the center’s library were brought to the Main Green so that students could browse through them, DeFusto wrote.
For Salinas-Moniz, she wants students to look to the center as both a community and a support system around issues pertaining to gender.
When you see issues around the world “impacting women in a detrimental way,” she said, spaces, such as the center, are crucial to discussing these issues.
Buhain considers the mentorship opportunities at the center “really special.”
“You can just feel that (the center) is invested in you becoming someone who will move around the world respecting yourself and respecting the work that other people do,” she said.
Kaitlyn Torres is a University News section editor covering the diversity beat. In her free time, Kaitlyn enjoys listening to The Arctic Monkeys and going on archaeological digs.