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Working to make UIC a supportive place for women

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Rebecca Gordon

Rebecca Gordon: “What I’ve learned over time is that changes are not immediate, but I have seen huge changes.”

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

UIC should be a place where women feel confident and empowered.

That’s Rebecca Gordon’s goal as director of the Women’s Leadership and Resource Center.

“I want to help create a campus where women can pursue their educational and career aspirations in an equitable, supportive and safe environment,” she said. “I really love the opportunity to make a difference on campus.”

Gordon is the 2009 UIC Woman of the Year, selected by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women. She will be honored at a luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. March 2 in the Illinois Room at Student Center East.

“It’s pretty daunting, winning this type of award, because there have been a lot of really great women who have done really amazing things on campus,” she said.

Gordon, who joined UIC in 1991, has served as director of the Women’s Leadership and Resource Center (formerly the Office of Women’s Affairs) since 1994.

The center advocates policy changes, promotes equity on campus and plans women’s programming.

“It’s really important to have a safe place that feels encouraging and affirming,” Gordon said. “Having these resources can give you that kind of supportive place, and that is incredibly important.”

One of the first programs Gordon created was the Women’s Leadership Symposium, an annual conference for women that promotes career development, she said.

“In some ways things have improved, but there are still a number of challenges to overcoming barriers,” Gordon said. “Part of the reason we started the symposium was that there were many women who could sit in the same position their entire careers without anyone mentoring them or helping them advance,” she said.

“What we try to do is address the policy issue side of things and try to empower women with the tools to negotiate those barriers through education. What I’ve learned over time is that changes are not immediate, but I have seen huge changes come about.”

One of the biggest changes Gordon has guided was the expansion of an anti-violence program, the Campus Advocacy Network, in 2009. The program, for women and men, supports victims of interpersonal violence — sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and hate crimes — and promotes anti-violence education.

“Sometimes when people face an act of interpersonal violence, they don’t want to press charges but they want it to stop, or the behavior hasn’t risen to a level where it breaks the law,” Gordon said. “We outline the options available to them.”

Campus Advocacy Network programs reach about 8,000 people annually and staff members help between 50 and 75 victims of interpersonal violence pursue criminal cases each year.

The program doesn’t have an operating budget right now, Gordon said, so it seeks co-sponsorships from other departments for its educational events. It also runs on a $275,000 grant from the Office of Violence Against Women, part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gordon works with student organizations to host programs such as the annual “Vagina Monologues” production. Her office advises the student organization, Men Against Sexual Violence, which hosts anti-violence workshops and events for men.

She also oversees Daughters@Work Day, which could become a casualty of the budget cuts next year, Gordon said.

“We’re definitely doing it this year,” she said. “I’ve had staff members tell me their daughters have been waiting for years to participate in the morning program and department tours.”

Gordon received her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh but decided she wanted to expand her scope beyond individual therapy.

She later received her master’s in clinical psychology and doctorate in educational psychology and counseling from Northern Illinois University.

“I really wanted to help people on a broader level than just one-on-one in an office,” she said. “I wanted to help influence policy change.”

She’s working to influence policy as member of the Violent Crimes Advisory Commission, appointed by the state’s attorney in 2005 and 2009.

During her current term, she’s advocating for legislative changes to create a mechanism for legal redress when a crime victim’s rights are violated.

Gordon enjoys spending her spare time with her husband, David Byrd, and her daughters, Michaela, 13, and Elena, 11.

“The things I do with my family include shuttling the kids around to their activities and we especially like to travel,” Gordon said. “We like to do the kinds of things that the kids like doing, like shopping, going to movies, eating out and going to museums.”


Past UIC Woman of the Year winners

Cynthia Jameson

Veronica Arreola

Beth Richie

Claudia Morrissey

Mrinalini Rao

Hayat Onyuksel

Geula Gibori

Clara Awe

Roberta Feldman

Janet Engle

Gwendolyn Duffin

Margaret Strobel

Kate Barany

Patsy Chronis

Mary Dwyer

Alice Dan

Judith Gardiner

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