When Priyanka Dinakar (COL ’19) stepped into the Georgetown University Women’s Center to meet Director Laura Kovach for the first time, she had a good feeling. She was applying for the Women Advancing Gender Equity (WAGE) fellowship, and Kovach was about to interview her.
“I didn’t even feel like it was an interview because Laura was so open about wanting to get to know me and my experiences,” Dinakar said.
Kovach stepped down as the director of the Women’s Center on Oct. 5 after more than 10 years in her role. She will begin a job at Alteristic, Inc., a nonprofit that addresses sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and other societal issues. Kovach will continue teaching in the Women’s and Gender Studies program through the end of the semester.
Karla Rondon, Women’s Center program coordinator and now the center’s only non-student staff member, will continue to oversee day-to-day programming at the center until a new director is hired. Jeanne Lord, associate vice president for student affairs and Title IX director, will serve as interim director. A statement from Lord complimented Kovach’s work at Georgetown.
“Laura has been a powerful voice on current issues impacting women, notably in conversations about sexual assault,” the statement read. “We wish Laura well in her new role at Alteristic.”
Rondon said that Lord will be involved in all of the center’s programming and will keep Title IX issues separate from her work at the center. She noted that Kovach’s departure will not interrupt the services and programming the center provides.
Kovach became director in July 2008 after working as a graduate assistant in Health Education Services. As director of the Women’s Center, Kovach continued to work closely with Health Education Services, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, and the HoyUs educational program on issues related to interpersonal violence and sexual assault. She also has taught the course Relationship Violence and Sexual Assault since fall 2013. In an email to the Voice, Kovach remembered what drew her to the center a decade ago.
“I knew the people here were wonderful, and I was excited to lead a Women’s Center,” Kovach wrote. “I can’t stress enough how amazing my colleagues are in student affairs and across campus. I’m grateful for their support and partnership.”
Kovach wrote that the creation of a sister center at the SFS Qatar campus, the Biondi Copeland Lecture Series on Women in Higher Education, and the WAGE fellowship were a few of the changes she has been most proud of during her time at Georgetown.
The WAGE fellowship provides leadership training, conference funding, and networking opportunities to women in their sophomore, junior, and senior years. Dinakar, who has been a WAGE fellow since her interview with Kovach in the spring of her sophomore year, said the program created a tight-knit community of women for her on campus. Jazmin Flores-Peña (COL ’19), another current WAGE fellow, cited Kovach’s involvement as a major part of the program’s success.
“She is committed to ensuring all WAGE fellows are powerful, fearless leaders on campus and encourages us to be bold,” Flores-Peña wrote in an email to the Voice. “I appreciated that I could go to the Women’s Center and just decompress with the other WAGE fellows.”
During her tenure, Kovach also established the VOICES retreat, an annual two-day event that brings together a diverse group of women from across campus to discuss issues of social justice and identity. To promote further discussion on these topics, the center hosts Feminist Roundtable discussions on current issues surrounding gender and activism and holds month-long programming for Women’s History Month in March and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Rondon said that Kovach’s empathy and knowledge about women’s issues made her uniquely qualified to lead the center.
“She just knows so much about women and what they need,” Rondon said. “She’s very special in that she’s not afraid to advocate for students, and she just cares so deeply about each of the students who come in.”
Kovach’s colleagues said that during her time at Georgetown she was unafraid to step in as a voice for students. Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18), who worked as a student staff member at the center for three years, met Kovach while volunteering during her freshman year.
“From the beginning, I wanted to work with her because I knew she was an incredible advocate for students,” Levy wrote in an email to the Voice. “Whatever room she was in, she always championed the needs of students and the University community, challenging fellow administrators to think critically about how the policies and programs they were developing would affect students in real time and impact the campus for years to come.”
Dinakar complimented Kovach’s ability to navigate the world of higher education administration while also building sincere relationships with students.
“I think oftentimes, it’s hard for students to connect with administrators. She’s really supportive of us kind of learning our own activist style and advocacy style,” Dinakar said. “Because she knows why she does what she does, it’s very easy for students to talk to her.”
Levy expressed a similar sentiment, recalling her experience at the center. “While I sat at the front desk of the Center for all four years of my college experience, I saw students from virtually every pocket of campus come into our space to seek Laura out —they knew she would help them through whatever they needed support around,” Levy wrote.
Rondon was unsure of when Georgetown plans to begin searching for a new director. Some, including Flores-Peña and Levy, are worried about the university’s ability
to fill the position quickly in light of the current vacancy in the Title IX office. Former Title IX Coordinator Laura Cutway left Georgetown in June, and her position has not been filled. Title IX Investigator Samantha Berner is currently serving as interim coordinator.
“I am concerned about students, staff, and faculty who rely on the Women’s Center and the Title IX office,” Levy wrote. “The absence of a Title IX Coordinator, as well as recent campus issues around sexual assault, show us that Georgetown must ensure that the next Women’s Center Director has students’ wellbeing as her primary concern and who has the breathing room to make decisions and advocate for what the community needs.”
Looking forward, Kovach’s colleagues hope for a new director who is able to carry on Kovach’s work in advocacy and activism.
“Being able to have a grasp of what happens on Georgetown’s campus, being in touch with Georgetown’s student body and getting to know students was something that Laura did really well,” Dinakar said. “The new director should be willing to make connections with students but also with other resources on campus.”
For the women on campus who Kovach has touched, it’s a bittersweet goodbye.
“I am sad to see her go,” Dinakar said. “But I’m excited because she’s excited for what’s next in her life.”