Women's Resource Center at Tech Has New Director, Aug. 26, 2008

Barbara Bonnekessen By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Aug. 26, 2008 – After seven years of steady leadership from professors Sue and Doug Dunston, the Women’s Resource Center is having a changing of the guard. New humanities professor Barbara Bonnekessen said she hopes to continue growing the center’s mission of providing an outlet for both academic students and events.

The annual “Meet the Women Faculty Lunch” will be from noon to 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the Tripp Room at the Skeen Library.

“This is a great way to get to know the faculty,” Bonnekessen said. “We get to meet students that we might not have in classes.”

Bonnekessen, a cultural anthropologist, hopes to start a monthly series of “brown bags,” or luncheon discussions centered on specific topics. She expects that the Brown Bag series will start with a session introducing the Women’s Center – and Women’s Studies – to the general campus community. Subsequent Brown Bag events will examine sexual harassment, affirmative action, the Family Medical Leave Act, embracing diversity and gender varieties, which Bonnekessen said she will bill as “the sexy side of Tech.”

Women’s Studies is a field that is much more than gender issues. Bonnekessen said the field is akin to cultural anthropology, but centers on the concept of looking at issues through the lenses of a woman.

According to Bonnekessen, “Women’s Studies started in English and history departments. Now it’s very multidisciplinary.”

Bonnekessen says she has received a warm welcome from fellow faculty, from administrators and from students at New Mexico Tech. She has found that her classes in women’s studies fill up quickly – and have plenty of male students enrolled.

“Tech is a great place to explore global diversity and discover that, ‘Yes, we can play well together’,” she said. “Most new students are already familiar with American diversity, but not necessarily global diversity. That’s important for engineers because they are likely to work in another country, maybe for a transnational corporation. At Tech you can meet a diverse group of people over lunch in the cafeteria.”

She has a variety of goals for the Center. One long-range goal would be to have a physical space for the Center.

“That’s No. 1 on our wish list,” she said. “To have a space where students can hang out – a space to connect – plus have events.”

New Mexico Tech’s student body is about one-third women, yet Bonnekessen feels like the campus is diverse and inclusive.

“There may be people who think women should be at Tech to fill the dating pool, but not very many people,” Bonnekessen said. “Students assure me that they find Tech to be a very humane space.”

A short-term goal for the Center is to build more interaction with the Socorro community and the public school district.

“Frequently, our students have little contact with the community,” she said. “There are a lot of things our students can do in the community and there’s a lot the community can teach us. I’d like to strengthen those ties.”

Sue Dunston said she is pleased to hand over the reins to Bonnekessen. She said she is excited to have another full-time faculty member who is interested in being the director of the center.

“It’s hard to let go, but it’s time,” Sue Dunston said. “We’ve developed a network and a support system for women. I think there’s more of an open environment; people have a point person to go to with problems. Barbara brings a rich background in women's studies to the specific issues of women in science and engineering, and the Tech community will surely benefit from her leadership as director.”

“The Center was a response to women appearing at my door, saying, ‘I have a problem’,” she said. “So we created this avenue to talk about what it’s like to be a female in science and engineering.”

The website “Connexions” is at www.nmt.edu/~women.

– NMT –