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Student Spotlight: Catherine Toro

Get to know YWLP intern, Catherine Toro! Year: 3rd Major: Psychology and African American Studies, (AAS undeclared) Hometown: Baltimore, MD

1. Why are you passionate about your program at the Women's Center?

I didn't really know what mentorship meant until I came to college. My first year here I went out of my way to become friends with people who inspired me, but also people I could relate to and go to for advice. In myself, I quickly saw how having role models so close to you, mentors that could relate to what I knew and where I came from, empowered me inside and outside the classroom. The Young Women Leadership Program (YWLP) does exactly that, matching young girls with UVA women so as to affirm their own ability and value, to empower.

2. What made you choose UVA over other schools you applied to?

Honestly, I chose UVa because I thought it was a great school academically and at the time I thought I wanted to be a doctor (lol). Although I am no longer pre-med, I have grown a lot at this university and have learned to appreciate the space that I occupy here.

3. What has surprised you about UVA?

When I first came here, part of me was afraid of the Southern culture, something I hadn't really encountered before. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to speak Spanish or find people of color in my classes. I know that might seem extreme but I was coming from a very diverse area in Baltimore and I had no idea what to expect from Charlottesville. So, what surprised me is how quickly I was able to find a community that I identified with at UVA. As soon as I got here I was welcomed into the IRC and joined LSA and met such a diverse group of people that I had never anticipated would exist at UVA. And these communities made me feel like I could genuinely call this place home.

4. What's something you know you do differently than most people?

I drink a lot of coffee, especially in the evenings. My parents are both from places where coffee is just a big part of the culture. My mom is from Ethiopia and when we went to visit family, I was part of a coffee ceremony for the first time. My aunt burned some incense and we watched as she carefully prepared the coffee and poured us some in these really small cups. Hands down, the best coffee I've ever had. And with my dad's family in Puerto Rico, we drink coffee with every meal. Especially after dinner. I don't really know why, but it just what we do. My friends think it's weird that I drink coffee at night, even if I don't have to stay up late. I just really like coffee and it reminds me of my family.

5. If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

My mom's father was an ambassador for the Ethiopian government under the reign of Haile Selassie. But, in the 70s riots started and a coup detat overthrew the government, and killed Selassie. After the government was overthrown, various civilian groups were scrambling for control. The Ethiopian military quickly took control and established this power with intimidation and murder. Members of the resistance and members of the old government were being assassinated in what is called Qey Shibir (Red Terror). My mom and her siblings were sent to go to school in India and my grandpa and grandma sought political refugee in the United States. My grandfather died before I was born, but hearing about all the things he did and places he saw as an ambassador, and learning about the failed government he had worked under, I think it would be so cool to just sit with him and ask him about all the things he saw and did. I would have so many questions and I feel like he would be a great story teller. And he would probably love coffee as much as I do.  

Interested in working with students like Catherine at the Women's Center? Application deadlines for 2017-18 are coming up! For information about our internship programs, click here. For information about our mentoring programs, click here.


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