White brick walls surround the office with gray, multi-colored carpet — the perfect type of material to drag your shoes on as you walk.
Overhead shelves made out of glossy wood engulf the desk that is placed on the right side of the room — the only standing fixture across from a bookshelf on the left. Various awards cover the white brick, along with pictures, buttons, trinkets and random papers, which accumulated over almost 10 years of working at the Women’s Center.
But, after departing in early October of last year, Stephanie Erdice left Shippensburg University without a Women’s Center director. The decision came at the end of the semester to hire Arielle Catron, a Temple graduate who has an organic, modern sense of feminism, advocacy and a fresh outlook on human rights’ issues.
“I don’t know what it is, but there’s just never been an alternative path for me,” Catron said.
Born and raised in the small town of Camden, New Jersey, Catron’s passion for women’s rights stem from her mother and grandmother — two women who embraced activism and standing up for what you believe. Catron’s first memory of empowerment comes from a celebration of the 19th Amendment, her mother and grandmother leading the way.
“We looked like we were holding the Statue of Liberty torch, and we all gathered and tried to link [together] so that there was like a link across the country,” Catron said. “You have all these women celebrating the 19th Amendment — I think I was only seven. So, that was a really formative and really impressionable moment for me to appreciate the history of activism and everything that went into the fight for women’s suffrage.”
Helping people was always on her mind, along with women’s suffrage and equality.
“When I was in fourth grade, a natural disaster happened, and I was so incensed that no one was doing anything. So I started raising money to send to disaster relief, and ever since then I’ve been annoying people about doing things [to help],” she said.
She said her fight carried on throughout high school, and she was later accepted into Temple University with the intentions of pursuing a communication/journalism degree. But, after taking a women’s writing course, she realized it wasn’t the path she wanted to take. She quickly changed her major to women’s and gender studies and began working with The Queer Student Union, to fight for women’s rights, the LGBT community and minorities.
After graduation, Catron took a two-year break from school and began working with the Women’s Law Project, but realized she wanted to pursue her passion for advocacy work and helping others. After re-applying, she was accepted into Temple’s graduate program for social work and began in 2013. Along with working at Women’s Law Project, William Way LGBT Community Center and Widener University, she worked on side projects, including an awareness project on smoking cessation.
“She really jump-started this whole program of funding for [creating] a center for smoking cessation and smoking cessation training for people. So that was really cool to see,” Mary McMullen, Catron’s wife, explained. “There was a partnership with the city — it had a minor role and she really took that role and expanded it by getting more funding for it. It was supposed to be a side project, but she made it into her main project. She got the support of the Board of Health, and really expanded it to at least 10 times what it was.”
Working on the smoking cessation program kickstarted a new path — Catron wanted to work with students. After working at Widener University, she missed having the interaction with students and making an impact on campus. While visiting SU during her job interview, she felt welcomed, accepted and eager to begin a new chapter as the Women’s Center Director.
Along with starting a Women’s Center advisory board, Catron has been working on creating more inclusive and equal events, and believes she needs the help of those around her to make decisions for the Women’s Center to continue its mission — equality, empowerment and ending violence.
“In the short time I’ve known her, Arielle has been very welcoming,” said Katrina Howard, the Women’s Center office manager. “I want students to still know that they can come to the Women’s Center and they can go, and they can talk to Arielle and be comfortable in doing so.”
Catron also realized during her visit that there is weekly bingo at the local firehouse in Shippensburg. She’s an avid lover of the game and was excited to attend over spring break.
“My favorite thing about Shippensburg, besides Marty the Robot, is bingo,” she said.
Now, the office is slowly coming together — square frames of famous feminists placed strategically over the white brick, placing the overhead shelves on the left side of the room, allowing more space and sunlight in. Tiny plant pots cover the windowsill — a cliché, yet appropriate symbol of new beginnings. The bookshelf still stands in the same place, filled with feminist, political and women’s history books, along with an award for planning an event for the LGBT community during her time in Philadelphia.
Grabbing the award, she looked at it and said, “I can’t do anything else while people are being treated unfairly, need an advocate, need a support system or need — I can’t not work on issues that are important while they are unsolved.”