Erin Lovette-Colyer is someone you need to meet. Cheerful as can be, she has a wonderful, self-deprecating personality that puts people at ease. That alone could make her a woman of impact. But there’s more — a lot more — to know why finally, after turning down multiple nominations by students and colleagues, this passionate and determined director of the USD Women’s Center accepted her rightful place among campus leaders who’ve won a Woman of Impact Award, given annually by the center.
“I tell everyone I’m the best Women’s Center director we’ve ever had,” says Lovette-Colyer, who quickly follows with the punch line — she’s the first and only director since arriving in July 2007.
More seriously, though, is that the Women’s Center is a critically important space for a USD female student, faculty, staff or administrator to visit and engage. The fourth-floor Student Life Pavilion space, located next to the United Front Multicultural Center (UFMC), is where Lovette-Colyer and an equally caring and passionate staff of undergraduate and graduate student assistants deliver on what a woman of impact is.
“We spend a lot of time talking about what that looks like, and not just about a woman of impact, but what it looks like to have an impact on your community,” she says. “Ultimately, a big piece of what it means to be a woman of impact is to be authentic in the communities of which you are a part and inviting others to do the same. This allows me to have an impact on the lives of students and the larger community as well.”
Lovette-Colyer said the center “provides an opportunity for people to discover who they are and who they’re called to be. We provide the space for them to do it. Whether it is reflection and dialogue around personal experiences, their own narrative or story, offering a space for people to do that is unique on this campus. There are not a lot of opportunities for students, particularly women, on campus to become involved in that way and the center creates a space for that to happen.”
The center’s emphasis, she says, “is to support students in finding and using their voices. To be surrounded by students who are doing incredible work is incredibly life-giving. Their passion and commitment to learn about themselves, learn about issues, take action and address issues that impact all of us is beyond inspiring.”
Lovette-Colyer’s impact in the Women’s Center was immediate, but part of it was because she accepted the interim role as director of the UFMC. The dual role fit her experience in the areas of social justice, service-learning and leadership development. Her degrees in psychology from Seattle University and a master’s in College Student Personnel from Miami (Ohio) University and past work at Santa Clara University, University of California at Santa Cruz and Miami, gave her a great foundation.
“My background has informed the development of the center and the way in which we work,” she said. “I don’t have a background in women’s and gender studies and being able to learn alongside students has been a wonderful part of my experience. Shared learning informs the approach we take when exploring issues in the center and how we attempt to address them.”
Nominations for the Woman of Impact Award are done anonymously. Said Lovette-Colyer’s nominator: “Erin demonstrates the value of community by creating a welcoming, inclusive and collaborative space in the Women’s Center that’s accentuated by a spirit of freedom and charity and marked by protection of the rights and dignity of the individual. Erin models ethical conduct by providing a values-based education that informs the development of ethical judgment and behavior.”
Specific examples included implementation of the CARE Advocate initiative, which provides direct support for students going through the university sexual assault reporting process and a Pregnant and Parenting website, which offers support and information to this population.
The center strives to be a place where female students can talk about and raise awareness on issues addressing inequity on campus, in the workplace and beyond. Being a welcoming and inclusive space is essential to the process.
“The perception of a Women’s Center that some folks hold, and I think we’ve been socialized in how media has presented us, is that when addressing issues that are disproportionately impacting women, we call them ‘women’s issues,’ so that limits the number of people who can talk about them or address them, and there’s an idea that we’ve been taught to think about these as issues for a particular population, not collectively participate in addressing issues of justice,” Lovette-Colyer said. “That, in itself, can kind of scare some people. But there’s apathy and a lack of recognition that these are issues that potentially impact people within this community. (In the Women’s Center) there’s an opportunity to come and learn. No one is an expert in regard to the issues we focus on or address. People show up to learn, to build relationships and to find a sense of home on campus. People show up to take action and to contribute to improving our community in different ways.”
A prime example of Lovette-Colyer’s imprint is the spring Women’s Empower Leadership Retreat. Open to all female students, this event, right in the title, encourages positive development.
“I believe empowerment is the foundation of leadership. As a leader, I cannot empower others. However, I have the ability and the opportunity to foster spaces where others feel empowered. When people feel like their voices matter, I truly believe anything is possible,” she says. “The retreat is about experiencing a space of belonging and exploring our individual and shared stories as women at USD.
“Unfortunately,” she continues, students on the retreat will often say they’re not able to find other like-minded women on campus, or I don’t fit the stereotype of the ‘USD Girl.’ How do I find my place at USD?’ The opportunity to create a space for them to think and talk about that is incredibly powerful.”
— Ryan T. Blystone