Goshen Student Women’s Association, commonly referred to as GSWA, has been a staple on Goshen College campus for as long as anyone can remember.
In October 1984, an article on the popular club published in the Record described it as “a resource group for women on campus by offering support to women and advocating women’s issues.”
33 years later, this description still rings true, albeit some minor shifts in the club’s direction.
The current leaders of GSWA are seniors Jenae Longenecker and Riley Mills and sophomores Corrie Osborne and Emily Hilton-Nickel.
There is a common interest among the leadership in reviving the energy of the women and non-binary students on campus and using GSWA as a place to provide the current campus population with what they need.
“In the last couple of years it has had an especially activist-y flavor, though that’s always been a piece of the reputation,” said Longenecker. “This year we’re hoping to make it [a] little bit more accessible to people of a variety of political persuasions. Our goal is to be supportive of each other as women regardless of background or political opinion, to be more of a place for discussion. We don’t assume everyone is onboard with a radical left-leaning agenda.”
As with any long-standing organization, GSWA has had times of quick growth and vitality, as well as times where it remained a bit more stagnant.
While annual events such as the ever-popular Chocolate House, an informal talent showcase, continue to be well-attended, membership and overall attendance has been waning in recent years.
“This year, we wanted to start things off with a blank slate,” says Mills. “Campus is constantly changing, so it seemed like the best approach moving forward was to ask our members what traditions they enjoy and really care about, and what things we could alter or focus more on. Our club is here to serve women and non-binary folk from all walks of life, and so our goal is to bring awareness to the passions of our members- whatever they may be- to the best of our ability.”
With each new year of leadership there is a slightly new vision and energy brought forward. However, there is also a strong respect for those who came before, inspiring current leaders and members.
A tradition of acceptance and support has built up and transcended the constant turnover of incoming and departing students.
“I joined GSWA my freshman year because of the examples of older women on campus that I was really excited to get to know,” says Longenecker. “GSWA legends like Dominique Chew, Eva Lapp, Elizabeth Franks-North and Prashansa Dickson shaped my understanding of what supportive, creative communities of women could look like.”
Now, this understanding continues to be passed on, and members continue to learn from one another.
“This semester alone I have seen so many new faces and I am connecting with people who I otherwise wouldn’t have much an opportunity to do so with,” says Mills. “We connect through our differences and through our similarities, and we celebrate the good while also pointing out the many flaws that face our gender. It’s incredibly powerful to be surrounded by so many incredible people at once and I think we have the ability to really do some really amazing things together.”
With this new energy, the year is off to a strong start. The first major event was a weekend camping trip to Merry Lea, which only contained a few horror movie moments.
“Myself and the other senior girls… decided to go for a short walk on one of the paths,” says Mills. “We were joined by Ann Hostetler, and as the sky grew dark we began to wonder if we should turn around. We came to the consensus that we should keep walking, because the path would probably loop around. We were so very wrong. Pitch black [outside] and standing near the property of the seemingly sole residential house for miles, Ann whipped out her phone and began trying to locate where we were. We walked on until we came to a county road where we hid from passing motorcycles and large trucks. We caved and called for help and were eventually rescued, but “Cabin in the Woods” vibes were strong that night for sure.”
While upcoming events will probably be less spooky, you’ll never know unless you see for yourself.
“We welcome new folks to our meetings,” says Longenecker. “Please just be in touch with one of the leaders to get on the email list. One of GSWA’s goals in the recent past has been to be more inclusive of non-binary people. That means making our events open to women and non-binary people and doing our best to use inclusive language. Two of our biggest events are Sexual Violence Awareness Week (coming up in November) and Healthy Bodies Week in the spring. These weeks offer a variety of opportunities for women, non-binary people and sometimes male allies.”
The club and its leaders recognize the careful, precarious balance between work and play, and the place for both.
“Some of GSWA’s work is about self-care, especially in the midst of advocacy about accepting our bodies and sexual violence awareness,” says Longenecker. “We need our collage nights and camping trips to keep us energized for the work we do, addressing systems of oppression and countering them as best we can.”