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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Conn College kicks off Women’s History Month with revamped women’s center

    People applaud student Manuela Monsalve, second from left, after Justin Mendillo, director of Gender and Sexuality programs, talked about how hard she worked helping to set up the F.R.E.E Center (Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment) during the opening Friday, March 1, 2024, in Smith House at Connecticut College in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Justin Mendillo, director of Gender and Sexuality programs, cuts the ribbon during the F.R.E.E Center (Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment) opening Friday, March 1, 2024, in Smith House at Connecticut College in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People gather before the F.R.E.E Center (Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment) opening ceremony Friday, March 1, 2024, in Smith House at Connecticut College in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Free stickers on a table during the F.R.E.E Center (Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment) opening Friday, March 1, 2024, in Smith House at Connecticut College in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Justin Mendillo, director of Gender and Sexuality programs speaks during the F.R.E.E Center (Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment) opening Friday, March 1, 2024, in Smith House at Connecticut College in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― With collegiate spaces for women and minority groups facing immense financial and political struggles nationwide, the reopening of Connecticut College’s women's center seeks to challenge that reality.

    On Friday morning, two dozen Conn College faculty, staff and students celebrated the reopening of the college’s newly branded Feminist, Resources, Education and Empowerment (F.R.E.E) Center.

    The programming included a keynote address from Kate Rushin, a renowned Black poet, and professor of English and poet-in-residence at Conn College.

    “It is essential to continue to acknowledge the work that countless women have done to bring about positive change that benefits all of us in a multitude of ways in our communities and in our society,” said Rushin.

    This F.R.E.E Center aims to provide more resources to women on campus. The revamp also includes an expansive new space in the former Smith Dining Hall. The large windows provide a more open and inviting ambiance compared to the former center’s location in the building’s basement.

    Justin Mendillo, the college’s director of gender and sexuality programs, raised $30,000 from the college to revitalize the center. He says the results have already begun empowering students throughout campus.

    When Mendillo first began working at the college, as little as four students attended the women’s center programming. Now, with the revitalized program, that number has exponentially increased.

    “We're getting up into the 30s and 40s for higher amounts, which puts us into a category of having some of the more attended programs on campus,” Mendillo said.

    The expansion of women’s programming at the college will include a more feminist model that addresses policy and current developments impacting women and other marginalized identities.

    The shift comes as women’s rights have become a pressing topic in politics. In 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the nationwide protection of abortion rights. Most recently the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that fertilized eggs are now considered a person.

    Mendillo sees the center’s revamping as an important pushback against restrictive policies on women and LGBT groups.

    “We have to prove our value and we have to prove that we're something that is needed and necessary,” Mendillo said.

    Leila Merhi, a junior at the college, said she has anticipated the center’s reopening. She believes the F.R.E.E center will bolster the college’s gender and sexuality programming in new ways.

    “It's cool to see that the center is finally reopening with a well-thought-out name that represents the community. Feminist Resources, Education and Empowerment is inclusive and encapsulates the overall purpose of the center beyond just an inviting study or hangout space,” Merhi said.

    t.wright@theday.com

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