The Women’s Center has a lot to celebrate.

More than 100 guests comprised of U.Va. students, staff, faculty, alumni and supporters gathered for an evening at the Fralin Art Museum in October to recognize the Center’s silver anniversary, along with its recent renaming to the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, or more simply “The Max,” as some speakers began affectionately calling it that night.

Lynn’s $3 million endowment is the largest gift in the Center’s 25-year history.

Yet, this night was not just a party, but also a reminder of the Center’s mission, its accomplishments and what work there is still left to do in “fostering the respect, safety, and dignity of women and girls; developing leadership and compassion through academic community engagement; building powerful partnerships for social change; and working for gender justice on Grounds and across the globe, and celebrating those who join us.”

The program of events began with a welcome from Allison Cryer DiNardo (Col ’82 and Darden ’88), a member of the Board of Visitors who was a part of the vote that approved the renaming in June.

Switching to the shorter title for the Center as “The Max” within her speech, DiNardo noted that new name of the Center “honors the spirit and generosity of a pioneering alumna.”

“The Women’s Center too has been a pioneer. I am not the only woman who has benefitted by other women who came before me, those who serve with me and those who came after me.”

Following DiNardo’s speech, Wynne Stuart, Associate Provost for Academic Support and Classroom Management, introduced founder and Director Sharon Davie. Davie spoke about how much has developed and changed since 1989.

She especially recalled memories of long-time supporter Jill T. Rinehart, who recently passed away. The first Women’s Center Advisory Board was chaired by Rinehart.

“There are so many of you here today who, like Jill, helped to create the Center. There is never one person. This includes all of the staff and faculty who have worked at the Women’s Center over these 25 years.”

Davie concluded her speech with her gratitude for Lynn’s endowment.

“If we remember Jill Rinehart with gladness, so we honor Maxine Platzer Lynn, whose spirit is with us today. Max is an amazing woman. I am so grateful to [Vice President of Development for the U.Va. Alumni Association] Wayne Cozart for introducing me to Max, and to her family.”

Cozart and U.Va. Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin are close friends of the Lynn family. To represent U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan, Cozart read a letter in her words. The President’s letter acknowledged the Center’s accomplishments and its crucial support for students.

“Over time, the Women’s Center and now the University have responded to the needs of students, and to changes in the world in which they live. Alumna Maxine Lynn was creating change at the University well before the Women’s Center existed. She was here as a pioneering undergraduate student in the Curry School of Education, graduating in 1951.”

The President’s letter also thanked Lynn for her generosity and reminded the audience of how much the University has changed since Lynn’s time as a student.

“Ms. Lynn said she ultimately wanted to underwrite an endorsement that would continue to have meaningful impact on the University. She sees the Women’s Center as having that impact.”

Two of Lynn’s children attended the event on her behalf, with her youngest speaking. The speech posed a challenge directed toward the many students in the audience.

“Who are the students? Raise your hands. OK – people – this is it, I wrote out some things I want you to do. Are you ready?” After a brief pause and glancing down on a sheet of prepared notes, she continued:

“First of all, get to work. There is a lot that needs to happen.”

She mentioned role models and specific calls to action: “Write a book or make a movie […], heal a person, heal the environment, teach someone something, anything, start a movement, do it [at U.Va.] while you’re here, and then do it again when you graduate, and when you finish your life’s professional work, do it again after you retire, when you have time. Keep choosing at every stage of your life to challenge yourselves to make the world a different and better place for men and for women.”

Her inspiring speech transitioned into the final section of the program – student stories. Two undergrad students described their experiences at the Center with such programs as Counseling Services, the Gender Violence and Social Change (GVSC) program, and the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP).

Fourth-year student, and former intern in the GVSC program, Sandra Menendez, read – with candor and eloquence – a narrative she wrote of what lead her to the Center prior to her internship.

“Four years ago, I made quite the first impression by bursting through the doors of the white building on the Corner, stating I’d just gotten a permanent protective order that morning and that I needed help. For 25 years, this building has served as a similar source of solace and empowerment to hundreds more. Our work is far from over, but I know we’ve already come an exceptional distance.”

After describing her journey from her tomboy childhood, through surviving intimate partner violence, and now emerging into young adulthood, Menendez looked out the audience and said:

“So, here’s to a room full of historically radical women: Thank you for helping me find the beauty in tri-colored Converses and mismatched eyebrows, thank you for being so selfless in all facets to which you choose to dedicate your life, thank you for fighting for women on the global scale.”

Fourth-year student, and assistant to the director for International Initiatives, Carrie Daniel stepped up as the last speaker of the night. She spoke directly to the audience about her involvement in YWLP as a Big Sister, Facilitator and Intern, which later culminated in last summer’s trip to Nairobi, Kenya where she spent four weeks working in a tuition-free school

“I was introduced into a community of women who were passionate about making a difference in the world, from the Little Sisters and Big Sisters to my group facilitator and the program staff,” Daniel recalled of the time when she joined YWLP. “These were the women who would support me in my development as a student, as a leader and as an engaged global citizen.”

The ultimate theme of the night’s program, which was also reflective of the impact of the past 25 years of the Women’s Center, was apparent in the final lines of Daniel’s speech:

“The Women’s Center and YWLP helped me realize that I am very capable of making a difference in Charlottesville and around the globe and brought meaning to my college experience, which otherwise would have felt very empty. It introduced me to a community of passionate and empathetic and inspiring women and men who I otherwise never would have met. Thank you to the Women’s Center for the transformative impact you’ve had on my life during my time at U.Va., and on countless other lives for the past 25 years.”

You’ll see Women’s Center staff, interns and guests of honor at their finest in this photo gallery.

Story by Agnes Filipowski
Photo by Peggy Harrison