Assessing women’s need for an on-campus masseusse

In March, the Pope Center’s Melissa Suarez wrote about the controversy over a proposed Women’s Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. A student group, the Conservative Leadership Group, was charging secrecy on the part of the Women’s Issues Task Force because, they said, task force members stopped answering their inquiries for The Anchor, the CLG’s publication, once members found out that The Anchor was published by a conservative group. Task force members said they were merely at the beginning stages of a needs assessment and couldn’t answer their questions.

Part of that needs assessment has been completed now. Susan Bullers conducted a “Women’s Center Feasibility Study” poll for the Office of the Provost that asked certain students — women and men — to “Please blacken in the bubble corresponding to all services, programs and resources that you would like to see offered in such a center” (emphasis in original). Here are the programs and services presented to the students:

Information and programs

• Anger Management
• Body Image
• Car Repair
• Contraception Options & STDs
• Defense Training
• Eating Disorders/Nutrition
• Financial Management
• Home Repair
• Massage & Relaxation
• Parenting
• Poetry Reading
• Sexual Harassment
• Sexual Violence
• Substance Abuse
• Take Back the Night March
• Time Management
• White Ribbon Campaign (Men Against Sexual Violence)
• Women’s & Men’s Health Concerns
• Women’s History Month


• Book Club
• Brown-bag discussions
• Community Outreach
• Mentoring
• Movie night
• Networks (graduate & professional; women of color; Bisexual/Lesbian/Transgender; sorority; women in sports; women with disabilities; parenting)
• Newsletter
• Outdoor activities
• Referral to other offices, groups, services on campus and in the community
• Retreats
• Support Groups

It’s hard to see how this is either a “needs assessment” or a “feasibility” study. The survey appears to assess wants, and as for feasibility, the survey appears to assume the future existence of the center (not only is it assumed in the survey question itself, but notice there is no bubble saying something to the effect of “No, I do not think such a center would be feasible”).

Nevertheless, the responses were revealing. “Massage and Relaxation” was surprisingly not the most popular option; it came in second to “Defense Training” (which either points out a need for more campus security or underscores the importance for students to relax). Also surprising was that the most frequent want for men was “Eating Disorders/Nutrition,” which was the third most frequent want for women (although a greater percentage, 60 percent, of women circled that want in than the percentage, 54 percent, of men). The top 10 wants for women included some things that didn’t make men’s top 10 wants, such as “Body Image,” “Support Groups,” and “Mentoring,” while men were more interested in “Anger Management,” “Car Repair,” and “Substance Abuse.”

Not receiving much support from the students, men or women, were typical women’s-center, symbolism-over-substance fare, such as “Take Back the Night March,” “White Ribbon Campaign,” and “Women’s History Month.” Respondents supported the center’s addressing more individual wants than political grandstanding.

Bullers’ analysis concludes with taking note of the “overlap” in the programs that interested both men and women (in addition to the ones already mentioned, “Women’s and Men’s Health Concerns,” “Contraception Options and STDs,” Outdoor Adventures,” and “Sexual Violence”) and stating, “In summary, there appears to be support for many of the services, programs, and information that could be offered by a Women’s Center at UNCW.”

Notwithstanding that a student’s filling in a black box is not what could be termed a reliable measure of that student’s future participation in a program, the summary is a non sequitur. It does not follow that if men and women share the same wants (“needs” or what have you), then those wants should be addressed in something called a “Women’s Center.” It appears that doing so would be committing the same kind of political grandstanding that the students rejected, according to the poll. Whatever wants that the poll found for the university to address, if the university should address them, seem to be wants that should be addressed in a student center (e.g., UNCW’s University Union, Burney Student Support Center or Warwick Center), since they are wants shared by students of both genders.