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Evind is the driving force behind Sylvania’s support structure for women
Photos and Story by Kate Chester
The Women’s Resource Center at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus has a mission statement with powerful goals: Support the academic achievement of women, increase access to education for women and encourage women’s leadership.
The mission also reflects on the center’s founder, Deborah Evind, who retired this past fall due to health reasons.
Since its 1995 launch, the center has been pivotal in advancing women’s educational equity and social justice not only at the college, but in the community. Under Evind’s guidance, the center’s services have expanded to include counseling, advising, mentoring, advocacy and personalized assistance for women entering college. The center sponsors lectures, exhibits and special events. Its annual production of The Vagina Monologues has raised more than $100,000 for the Women’s Resource Center and local non-profits that address domestic and sexual violence.
“Many of the students we serve are among the college’s most vulnerable,” Evind said. “They often arrive when they still have one foot someplace else – divorce, job loss, escaping domestic violence, recovery from addiction – and may need extra support. This is a part of what we provide at the WRC.”
The center also offers students a framework to analyze and process what they’re learning in the classroom.
“Courses exploring history, literature, psychology and other fields from an intersectional, multicultural women’s perspective, became institutionalized in the early 1990s,” Evind said. “The WRC offers an opportunity for students to reflect on what they’re learning in class and put it into action.”
Gina Watkins is one of many success stories. A student advocate for the center when she was at PCC in 1998-99, Watkins transferred to Portland State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in community development, followed by a master’s degree in social work. She now lives in Denver and runs a private practice as a licensed clinical social worker.
“What I witnessed was Deborah’s amazing ability to just be with people; to make them feel important,” said Watkins. “There was so much going on at the WRC – people coming in and out, confused and lost, buried in their own stuff. Yet Deborah had this calmness and sense of humor as she managed it all, and people could connect with her. It made a huge impression on me.”
Such commitment was noted by the National Women’s Center Committee of the National Women’s Studies Association in November 2010 when the organization chose Evind as the first recipient of its Founders Award.
“I can’t think of a better candidate to receive this national honor,” said Sylvania Campus President Linda Gerber. “Deborah has been, and continues to be, a force of energy, enthusiasm and ‘can do’ spirit for the college.”
Thanks to Evind’s leadership, the center’s standout programs include:
• The Illumination Project – A nationally recognized student leadership and education program designed to foster a climate of equity, compassion, justice and respect for all using social justice theater.
• Transitions Program – A tuition-free college success program for single parents, displaced homemakers and other students in transition.
• Women’s Leadership Program – A yearlong women’s leadership training for student advocates and mentors who work in the Women’s Resource Center and Transitions Program.
PCC has a tradition of hosting retirement parties for long-time faculty and staff. When complications from stage 4 breast cancer forced Evind to retire, she opted to forgo a party and instead create an endowed student scholarship – The Deborah Evind Women’s Leadership Award.
The scholarship is offered through the PCC Foundation, which is fund-raising to meet a money goal by March 31 to earn $320,000 in matching funds from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. Proceeds raised from the Evind scholarship by this deadline will count toward this historic goal and if achieved will mean hundreds of additional scholarships every year for PCC students.
For the Evind scholarship, an inaugural gala lunch took place March 5 at the Tiffany Center to raise funds. The scholarship will recognize a female student who has participated in a Sylvania Women’s Resource Center program or has benefitted from one of its services. In addition, the student will be somebody who has demonstrated leadership through paid or volunteer work that positively affects women. The scholarship helps to meet the costs of tuition, fees, books and educational supplies.
“For the last 16 years my work has been deeply connected to my personal values,” said Evind. “It’s allowed me to focus on the well-being of human beings, to build community and fulfilling relationships, and work to create long-term, positive social change.
“My hope for this scholarship is that it will encourage women at Sylvania to continue the work they started at the WRC as they move out into the world, with a strong commitment to service, social justice and ethical behavior,” she said.