by Meredith Dault
July 11, 2011
Though she now thinks of it as a home away from home, graduate student Jillian Burford Grinnell can remember the first day she stopped in at the Ban Righ Centre. Though she'd been at Queen's for a year straight out of high school, she had been away from higher education for a decade raising her three children. But when she was laid off from her job as a legal secretary, Burford-Grinnell knew it was time for her to pursue her dream of finishing her undergraduate degree, and then to one day head to law school. Before she'd been registered as student, she headed for the small brick house on Bader Lane. "I walked in and said 'here I am, I'm terrified'."
She knew she had come to the right place. The Ban Righ (pronounced 'Ban Ree') Centre is an on-campus resource centre for women that is particularly geared to supporting those who have been away from formal education for some time. "RIght now, well over half of the students using the centre are graduate and professional students," explains Barbara Schlafer, the director of the Ban Righ Foundation who works out of an office on the second floor. "It's women who are returning to education after an interruption of study, or maybe starting university for the first time when older than mainstream students. They range from women who might have had a child coming out of high school, topeople getting off 'low-paying jobs' or off of social assistance. They are also women who may be having to retrain for work after martial breakdowns."
As well as providing comfortable spaces for relaxing and regrouping, the Ban Righ Centre has rooms available for quiet study and napping. Women meet regularly in the kitchen to make coffee or catch up over a bowl of soup at lunch (the soup is provided without charge every day). There are rooms for meetings and group study, a modest computer lab and a lending a library. A lunch time speaker series helps build community and provides a venue for alternative education.
For Burford-Grinnell, 35, her daily visits to the Ban Righ gave her the confidence and courage to continue with her studies, even when things seemed impossible. “I can’t say enough...I’ve laughed, I’ve cried,” she says, tears springing up at the corners of her eyes as she talks. “At times I thought things were insurmountable, but I met people here who were facing, or had faced, the same obstacles.” She says it was through contacts she made at the Centre that she was even able to get the support she needed for two of her children who have learning disabilities. Burford-Grinnell, who also suffers from migraines, has also frequently used the centre for a quick, restorative nap between classes.
“You can come here as you are,” says Schlafer, who has been involved with the centre for more than thirty years, “however you are feeling, elated or scared.” (“Or anxious or depressed,” adds Burford-Grinnell, the two sharing a small laugh). “The idea is to be able to be the whole person you are, and not always having to put your best student foot forward,” says Schlafer.
As Schlafer explains, the seeds for the Ban Righ Centre were first planted in the late 1800s, as the number of female students enrolling at Queen’s began to grow. “They had been living in houses on the periphery of campus,” she explains, “but a group of professors’ wives and a budding (female) alumnae association decided that women should have the experience of residential living.” They approached the university trustees and asked that if they could raise half the money to build a women’s residence, would the university match it. “As the story is told, not believing they could raise the money, the trustees agreed” Schlafer laughs. (see All That it Stands For on the History page for the whole story).
Though the fundraising effort had to be put on-hold during WWI, Ban Righ Hall, the university’s first all-female residence, opened in 1925. Newly empowered, the organizing committee opted to run the building themselves and to channel any surplus money back into building more residences for women. When the university wanted to amalgamate the men’s and women’s residence systems in the mid-1970s, the women agreed on the condition that their surplus money went into a continuing education program for women. And with that, the Ban Righ Centre, which opened on Queen’s Crescent, now Bader Lane, in 1974, was born.
Since then, the Ban Righ Centre has given out over a million dollars in bursaries to student. “The annual total now is over $100,000” says Schlafer, explaining that nearly all of the bursary funding today comes from endowments. An annual spring awards ceremony allows students to be publicly acknowledged and promotes mingling between students and donors.
At the end of the day, Schlafer says the Ban Righ Centre is a place where women can come to feel at home. “We provide personal resources and financial resources, and a small community within the larger Queen’s community. And as the university continues to grow, that is more and more necessary,” she says warmly. “This is a place where you can come in and let go of being hypervigilant. It’s your personal space on campus...your home.”
“There’s no place like it,” says Burford-Grinnell, who is currently wrapping up a Master’s degree in Gender Studies, and serving as the President of the Society for Graduate and Professional Students. “You are accepted for who you are. “Without it, I never would have finished my undergrad degree. I might not have actually jumped in. I know I would never have continued to persevere toward my ultimate goal of going to law school,” she says, before announcing, with a smile, that she’s headed there in the fall. “I would probably be working at a minimum wage job, still stressing about how it was all going to come together.”
For more information about the Ban Righ Centre, visit http://banrighcentre.queensu.ca/default.asp, or drop by 32 Bader Lane, between Stirling Hall and the Ban Righ Hall residence.