CONTACT: Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945;
Fabienne McPhail, former program associate for the Black Community Services Center, has been appointed director of the Women's Center effective Aug. 1.
"I'll be making a transition out of the classroom, but I really love working with students," McPhail said on her first day on the job. "My intention is to support academic excellence at our center."
A former lecturer in women's studies and black studies at San Francisco State University and former assistant professor at the California Institute for Integral Studies, McPhail has taught courses about the politics of reproduction, feminist thought, the history and literature of African American women, and women and violence. Building on the partnership that already exists between the Women's Center and the Program in Feminist Studies, she says she'd like to establish similar ties with other groups on campus.
"The Women's Center can't exist in isolation, and we're going to be working in collaboration with other centers and student organizations," McPhail said. "I'd like to institute the concept of dialogue, especially around personal and political power in women's lives."
For the past 25 years, the Women's Center has been run by student volunteers under the supervision of a graduate student coordinator. McPhail is the first director appointed by the university, and she will be on campus every afternoon, working in a 50 percent position.
"They've run it mainly as a collective, and this year we're going to be making a transition," McPhail said. "We're going to need to discuss together what it means to have an administrator and how I can support their concerns and represent them to the administration."
At last spring's Herstory celebration, sponsored by the Women's Center, McPhail participated on a panel that discussed the evolution of African American women's consciousness. She says two comments she heard that day will be in her thoughts as she considers future programming for the center.
"An African American student who was about to graduate stood up and said she hadn't made a close friendship with another woman during her time at Stanford," McPhail said. "Then a European American woman stood up and said she'd had essentially the same experience.
"We were all blown away by those two remarks, and we talked a lot about the importance of recognizing people right next to you and connecting with them, instead of imagining there's some big sisterhood machine out there."
As the mother of a 10-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter, McPhail says she has some firsthand appreciation of the kinds of questions entering freshmen are bringing to campus today.
"The thing that sold me on this position was that students I talked to were asking the same sorts of questions that I was asking myself 15 or 16 years ago," she said. "Questioning is still a big part of adult development, a big part of how we grow into our selves and into our own humanity."
As she looks down the road a few years, McPhail says she'd like to build on the "incredible amount of work" that already has been accomplished by student volunteers at the Women's Center.
"My long-term ambition is to develop a national leadership institute, with an emphasis on women's and children's issues, that would involve both men and women."
By Diane Manuel