Article by Abby Palko

It’s great to be on Grounds! As we enter the final stretch of summer until classes start, I am closing out my first month as the Director of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, and each day I am continually impressed by the scope of our programming and services. I have quickly come to appreciate the energy and action driving the three verbs of our motto: Imagine. Act. Lead.

During a lunch meeting to welcome a new colleague to Grounds, we introduced ourselves to her by sharing our roles at the Women’s Center. When it was my turn, I summed it up in one word: meetings!

So far, I’ve had the chance to meet individually with my staff members, getting to know them more personally and developing a stronger sense of their individual contributions to the Women’s Center. We’ve had an all-staff meeting and a senior staff meeting, where I’ve delved into the workings of the Center. I’ve held transitional meetings with the various program directors. I’m coming to much more deeply appreciate the multi-faceted mission of the Women’s Center, two strengths that are mutually reinforcing: we offer services focused on strengthening your wellness (including counseling services to address issues that students are likely to run into at this life stage and support for implementing self-care practices) and programming that both inculcates leadership skills in the students who participate as interns as well as aims to bring about the cultural change that would diminish the trauma that can damage our personal wellness. And at my request, everyone’s assigned me outside reading – it’s like I’m back in college again!

Speaking of starting college, I had the opportunity to visit one of the Resource Fairs, where I watched the incoming first years taking in all of the opportunities and resources available to them. It’s been a couple of years since I was a freshman (ok, more than a couple), but I remember well that expansive feeling of options that is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying (also my sentiment about Ferris wheels). As I start my first academic year on Grounds, I invite all of you who are new to UVA to explore the community with me. But remember to pace yourself – you don’t have to try everything the first week, and finding time to build relationships and practice self-care (along with attending classes) will be a crucial part of crafting a rewarding four years on Grounds.

IMG_0298The great variety of options to explore on Grounds are mirrored in the very different conversations I’ve already had with partners across Grounds, including the Center for Global Health, who described their great initiatives; the offices working on sexual assault prevention; the Mandela Fellows of YALI, who welcomed me at their roundtable discussion about trauma stewardship in their work to sustain women’s leadership in Africa; the LGBT Center and their work to provide safe space training.

We live in a moment when gender continues to be a fraught topic. In a future post, I’ll share my vision of a women’s center’s role in the contemporary university with you. For now, I’ll offer this (spoiler alert): it’s crucial!

On a personal note, my family and I have really enjoyed exploring the wide variety of restaurant options in Charlottesville. We managed to time our arrival nicely, with Restaurant Week last week, and after growing up bagel-less in the Midwest, our daughter has enthusiastically embraced Bodo’s.

All joking aside, that one word I’d use to sum up my job (meetings. meetings. meetings…) is the perfect word to explain the Women’s Center and its role on Grounds: I’m meeting so many different people, hearing about their hopes and aspirations, their needs and concerns, and thinking about our programming and how we can speak to those issues or mentor students in taking on leadership opportunities to address them. Life is relational, and the Women’s Center is at its core relational, making it a fantastic fit for any student on Grounds who wants to gain the personal knowledge and interpersonal skills to imagine, act, and lead.