Sarah Ryan is a natural fit as director of the Women’s Center at DePauw. Her calm demeanor, comforting smile and welcoming office space make you feel right at home. It’s no wonder students seek her out for all kinds of advice.
It’s a role, she says, that she feels privileged to have.
When Ryan was an undergrad at the State University of New York at Brockport, she didn’t know toward what career path she was headed when she decided to become an English major. She was drawn to English literature “because it was a way of hearing and understanding people’s stories and their life experiences, and that’s something I really love and value,” she says.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree, Ryan completed a master’s degree in college student development at Kansas State University.
Her tenure at DePauw began in 2003 working primarily with civic education programs until 2011, when she moved into her current position.
The Women’s Center welcomes everyone, regardless of gender identity.
“We are unapologetically focused on the lives, interests and needs of women on our campus and in the world, but we invite everybody to be a part of that conversation,” Ryan says.
To feel like I have a purpose in my work and that I can live my values through my work is something that keeps me going.
The center is comfortable and inviting. “Even as a small institution, our buildings are all pretty big. So to have a single-family house as an office just creates a different feeling,” Ryan says. “And I think there’s an intimacy in our space that encourages conversation and connection.
“It’s such a relationship-driven place; that’s probably why most students come through the door,” she says. Sometimes they have seen flyer about something is going on, but more often they’ve heard about the center from a friend.
In addition to her role as director, she is an advocate for sexual assault survivors. “I help staff the hotline and answer the phone,” she says. “A lot of people will call, but more people will just come through the front door and say, ‘I need to talk to somebody.’”
Ryan says that the Me Too and Time’s Up movements and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings have empowered women to say sexual assault is not okay, and it “feels like we’re on the precipice of a new time.”
She consults with students, faculty and staff on a variety of women’s issues and organizes educational programs, including speakers, films and discussions, but always encourages students to take the lead on programming. “So much of what we do is dictated by what students’ interests and needs are,” she says.
Ryan acknowledges dealing with serious issues is challenging, but she has an “amazing” support network of colleagues, friends and family.
“I know that the work is needed,” she says. “To feel like I have a purpose in my work and that I can live my values through my work is something that keeps me going.”
She also takes care of herself, tap dancing once a week, drinking green tea and eating dark chocolate. “I know about self-care and what works for me and what doesn’t,” she says. “And it’s not always a perfect balance, but I have an incredibly supportive supervisor in Alan Hill and colleagues who I can go to when it’s difficult.”