A Space of Intersections: Campus-Based Women's Centers and the Third Space Between Public and Private Spheres

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The purpose of this study was to explore the cultural dimensions of the UC San Diego Women's Center and to understand how actual users engage in the space. Experience suggests that users of the Women's Center value the affective work of the organization, while university demands dictate the need to produce quantifiable measures of success. Therefore, the Center was examined through the theoretical frameworks of public sphere, private sphere and third space to understand how private sphere activities intersect with and/or compete with public sphere actions. A single exploratory case study was designed with four participants who engaged in computer-assisted journaling. Two focus groups were conducted with student interns and participants of a weekly discussion program and an assessment survey was administered to general users of the Women's Center. Data revealed the importance of safe space, community, resources and the physical setting within the private sphere domain. Specifically, access to resources and comfort in the physical setting contributed to feelings of safety and belonging for participants in the study. Within the public sphere realm, themes of social justice and dialogue emerged, while the hybrid nature of the Center revealed the intersection between the public and the private as experienced by the users. A third space framework was used to understand this interplay between public and private sphere work within campus-based Women's Centers, such as at the intersections of safe space and social justice. In bringing together the elements of safety, belonging, and social justice, the UC San Diego Women's Center creates an environment that promotes the wellness of the community of activists who frequent the space, as well as the positive well-being of all its users. The Women's Center expands Davie's (2002) concept of a delicate balance between "binding wounds" and "changing the world," creating a space in which the act of healing wounds facilitates the work of changing the world. In this way a new third space is created which rejects the dualism of the public/private divide and enacts innovative forms of feminism and activism.


UMI No. 3355482