A picture of the standalone Women's Center building in spring 2015. Photo by Cherish Stewart from file.

Grow where you are planted: how the Women’s Center is tackling relocation

March 20, 2019

Despite her office being the first official casualty of N.C. Central University’s campus master plan, Women’s Center director Dr. Nichole Lewis is taking its relocation in stride.

Lewis has been a member of the NCCU family since February 2015, filling the directorial position that had been open for almost a year. Prior to arriving at Central, her career focused predominantly on human resources and event planning.

“The Women’s Center had a brand on campus that was limited in that it was the place that you go [to] if you’ve been harmed,” Lewis explained. “My charge was to rebrand the Women’s Center and expand our offerings so that people on campus — but particularly other women who hadn’t previously participated in our programming — would have an understanding and level of freedom to engage with the center outside of our sexual assault work.

Dr. Nichole R. Lewis, director of the NCCU Women’s Center. Photo courtesy of NCCU.

“I’m not a ‘start-it-from-the-ground’ person, but if there’s something that exists, I can certainly provide and grow and build up.”

Lewis says that she was told over a year ago that the Women’s Center would be relocated to the new student center when the internal design process began.

“I was at the table,” she said. “I reviewed drafts and scales and blueprints around what our space would look like. At one point, the space we’d all agreed [the center] would have shifted around the building and I was able to negotiate back to what we’d previously agreed on.”

Other specialized centers around campus, including their male counterpart in the Men’s Achievement Center and Career and Professional Development Services, will also be moved into the new building. However, those offices haven’t had to move just yet.

“In late summer, as the meetings began moving forward, we were told ‘hey, as we begin to ready the ground for the new student center, the Women’s Center might be going down,'” Lewis said. “I knew that around the end of August.”

At the time, Lewis says conversations about the center’s relocation dried up because the space wasn’t slated to be a “Phase I project,” like the “wellness center” denoted in the 2007 original master plan outline. (The new student center was considered to be “Phase II” at the time.)

“The conversations that I was having with my own direct leadership team implied that we would be making our move in the spring,” Lewis said. “November was when we were informed ‘hey… actually, some other things got moved back instead.'”

The commuter parking lot behind the Alfonso Elder Student Union, as previously reported, will not be affected until after the end of the 2018-19 academic year. The talks to begin construction preparations on the lot during spring break ultimately fell through to avoid traffic issues.

“Because the timeline for the commuter lot changed, our geography shifted,” Lewis said. “And any time you have de-construction or demolition, you try to do it in a time when you can mitigate possible injury and liability.”

Demolition of the former Women’s Center, and George Street apartment buildings began on Jan. 29. “Old” Chidley was slated to begin its own demolition process this month following environmental cleanup of the worksite.

“Central was to have it [demolished] over winter break,” Lewis clarified. “With those three buildings, inclusive of George Street apartments having been a living space, and with those buildings being old, you have to be especially aware of setbacks.”

NCCU’s Office of Community Engagement (formerly the Academic Community Service Learning Program) moved out of their Campus Drive building in spring 2018 due to structural issues. They are now located on the third floor of the Nursing Building. No one lived in the George Street apartments, which were built in 1956, after winter break.

“We really worked out of the last house on the block, if you will,” Lewis said with a laugh. “I personally wanted there to be a wrecking ball [at demolition], but I guess I watch too many movies.”

Currently, the Women’s Center is nestled inside of Eagle Landing Residence Hall, across from the first-floor multipurpose room.

One of the priorities Dr. Lewis had for the temporary center was that it allowed room to gather.

“Now that we’re in this space, the TV is on all the time, there’s always music going — there’s always vibrancy,” she explained. “It’s almost like [the TV show] ‘Cheers’: you can see a familiar face, but every now and then, you’ll meet a new face as well.”

New faces seem to be flowing in more frequently at the new location as well, much to Dr. Lewis’s delight.

“It seems like more people are coming in here regularly,” she said. “What is a challenge, though, for those students and my colleagues who don’t have access to the building, is getting through the gates. But Residential Life and University Police have been great, alongside work study students in the center who have access and can let people in while they’re here.”

However, the sense of what the Women’s Center is transcends location.

Lewis considers the center to be “a space where people come and develop who they are, who they can be, and they begin to build a network amongst themselves and amongst other people.”

“The Women’s Center really is a place where you come to get exposed to things you otherwise may not have considered, but also in a space — in a generation where we live on our phones, we’re connected to people, we have virtual friends that we have never met in our lives — where we can laugh, we can cry, or just chat and work among other living, breathing people,” she said. “This is where you can network and meet that group of women that you can network with that you’ll need later.”

Other campus buildings set to be demolished according to the 2017 Master Plan include the alumni house at the corner of Cecil and Fayetteville Streets, Martha Street graduate apartments, McDougald House, the Dr. James W. Younge Tennis Courts, and McDougald-McLendon Arena.

The Women’s Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of special programming outside of listed hours. Students or faculty unable to enter the building are encouraged to call (919) 530-6811 for assistance.

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