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Catching up with Women's Center Alumni, Sandra Menendez

Where are they now?

We're catching up with Women's Center alumnae to see where life took them after their time here.

Sandra Mendez

Read the latest and greatest from Sandra Menendez!

When did you attend U.Va.? What did you study?

I graduated from the University of Virginia in May of 2015; therefore, I am still working through the ups-and-downs of year one in “real adulthood.” I majored in English Literature and owe so much to the novels, poems, artists, performers, cups of coffee, professors, and classmates who taught me how to be a better human being.

What work did you do with the Women’s Center?

Throughout my college career, I served on a lot of “Survivor Support Network” training panels and dedicated my time to co-chairing both the “How to Date a Survivor” panel and rally with Take Back the Night. In my third year of college, I was the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Services intern (now Gender Violence and Social Change Program). In my fourth year, I served as a make-shift liaison with the Dean of Students office as an advocate for relationship violence awareness and worked with donors to secure funding. Staying true to my English roots, I published a lot of pieces in the Cavalier Daily about empathy, survivor strength, and recovery.

I also dabbled a little bit with the Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns team as an active member in HOPE (Hoos Open to Preventing Eating Disorders), helped with Celebrate Every Body Week as a Peer Health Educator at Student Health, and promoted body positivity in my fitness classes as a Zumba instructor at the AFC.

What are you doing now?

Currently, I work in the advocacy division of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Washington, D.C. I am on the American Indian/Alaska Native Women’s Health team and work with Ob-Gyns, Certified Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners, and other women’s healthcare physicians/advocates to bring quality health care to women at Indian hospitals, Tribal clinics, and urban health centers. My job really runs the gamut—one day, I will be using grant funding to create a scholarship program for nurses to receive free LARC (long acting reversible contraception—think IUDs or Nexplanon) insertion training and the next day, I’ll be on a plane to Barrow, Alaska doing a hospital site visit with doctors who want to help remote/rural areas gain access to appropriate resources.

AND I DO THIS WITH AN ENGLISH DEGREE!

What was your very first job and what’s something you learned from it?

Since I am still a “baby” in the working world, my first job was technically at age 14. I was an assistant in my sister’s friend’s mother’s frame shop and duked it out on the daily with very particular artists who would find a speck of dust behind the glass frame of their artwork. I learned that I am a klutz with an X-acto knife and, I guess, “patience.”

But, if I may be so bold, my first job out of college was actually teaching 2nd grade. I lasted 7 weeks. I think there’s a lot of pressure on graduates to find a job early and settle into that sense of security. I chose teaching because I didn’t know what I was looking for, and I “failed” at it…big time. So, I guess I learned that it’s really okay to do two very scary things: 1) Graduate without a job. It’s going to be okay; the adventure you seek might not be available until September (at least my dream, aka current, job wasn’t) and 2) Jump out of the plane and trust that your parachute will open. It’s what my dad told my mom when she decided to become an author. I jumped out of the plane and quit my teaching job, my parachute opened a week later when I was offered my current position, and the float-ride down gave me so much clarity—for the first time in 7 weeks, I could see the world and it looked beautiful again.

What’s something you learned in school/college that turned out to be useful later, in some way you didn’t expect?

I became very comfortable with an unbalanced lifestyle in college—I had too much on my plate and always tried to be Superwoman with a side of straight As and an extra helping of meetings. I had a wonderful time at U.Va., but I was always trying to chase “perfect.”

Because I normalized busy, unlearning that lifestyle has been the greatest gift of transitioning to the real world. Because I could not know it before, I have truly learned the meaning of self-care and reveled in those quiet moments…and, most importantly, I’m hushing that inner self-bully who is always pulling my hair to be perfect.

What was your favorite memory from working with the Women’s Center?

I think this is a difficult question because the Women’s Center has (and has always) felt like home to me—and it’s nearly impossible to ask someone to choose their favorite memory of home. This I know for sure: I was beyond blessed and lucky to have each of those women (staff, interns, and volunteers) come into my life. I have a wealth of fond memories, mentorships, and laughs with each of them. I still consider myself deeply indebted to the Women’s Center staff.

What do you miss most about Charlottesville?

I am an avid runner, so I miss those fall runs through bright orange and red crunchy leaves. I miss Mark Lorenzoni finding me a perfect pair of shoes at Ragged Mountain. I miss the 18 races happening every weekend. I run on the National Mall here in D.C., and sprinting up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial sometimes brings me back to conquering the O’Hill climb.

Looking back, what advice would you give your former, intern-self?

There are two sentiments that I used to live by, but have since edited:

Always say “yes” and figure it out later.
EDIT: Say “yes” frequently and spend some reflective time figuring things out.
When opportunities present themselves in this internship (and in your college life), commit yourself to the things that give you purpose and that you are passionate about. Rely on your support system of friends/family/mentors/other interns to help delegate responsibilities.

If you are kind and you work hard, everything will be okay in the end.
EDIT: “If you are kind and you work hard, you will find that you were always and are always worthy.”
Sometimes this internship/college can be really trying. Sometimes, no matter how kind you are or how hard you work, violence against women will occur in a place that you love. Social change is a commitment and there is a reason so many have dubbed it “the struggle.” There will be tough days and heartbreak but it’s okay because you are kind and a hard worker and you hold your head up high. You do this and it’s okay because you have been and are now--just so worthy.

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