Choice, take #1

Humans tell stories to make sense of life. We like neat analogies.

Boy : blue :: girl : ____. If you reflexively answered “pink,” you’ve probably 1) been prepped for the SAT and 2) been socialized into an American understanding of gender differences (and if you think that analogy has always been so, that’s anachronistic.)

But the differences in the ways that masculinity and femininity are understood and socialized aren’t neatly parallel. Gendered roles impact men and women disproportionately. Women are told they can’t, men are told they shouldn’t. There’s a world of difference between “can’t” and “shouldn’t.”

I kicked off March by traveling downtown to the 10th annual Quadruplicity conference, a daylong gathering hosted by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and designed as a networking and professional development event for women of a wide variety of professions at all stages of their careers. Dean Risa Goluboff, UVA Law School’s first female dean, opened the conference. One of her key takeaways – which I wholeheartedly second! – is that women who want to pursue professional success and motherhood should choose their partner carefully.

This is advice I’ve heard—and even given myself—many times over the years. A woman who has achieved a particular level of professional success while having children often finds herself being asked what her secret is. Frankly, given the lack of structural support for parents here in the US, the answer is often an individual cobbling together of time and effort. But that’s neither pithy nor inspirational, and the impulse to fall back on the aforementioned “choose your partner wisely” is understandable, with the implication being, “choose someone who will support you, not hold you back or create more work for you.”

My family moved to Charlottesville last July and as I’ve met new people across Grounds and in the community, I’ve been asked multiple times if we moved for my husband’s job. Some are surprised when I explain that no, we moved for mine. And in fact, this is the second interstate move he’s made for me. We were very fortunate that he was in a position to be able to agree to each move once we determined it was in our family’s best interests, as I’m quite aware that not everyone can do so. But I am grateful that he would consider making it. It’s that second half that is part of the nebulous “choose wisely” advice, at least when I’m offering it.

We’ve seen declines in marriage rates and changes in the reasons people marry over the past century, with these trends intensifying in the past couple of decades. Choose your partner wisely is the subtext beneath a lot of popular advice that’s currently pitched at a particular kind of woman, namely one who’s college-educated and ambitious. As a recent Gallup poll shows, both men and women see work-life fit or integration as the greatest challenge that women face globally.

This is one of the reasons I’m so invested in our Men’s Leadership Project (MLP), which provides mentoring opportunities to UVA men and mentorship to Charlottesville area boys. Not only does a program like MLP help men develop healthier conceptualizations of masculinity for themselves, it provides them with concrete experiences to draw upon if they form their own families.

Arm & Hammer Commercial Screen Shot

Full integration of women into the public sphere requires rethinking entrenched notions of the ideal worker and the ideal caretaker. The visual holds great power to meet this challenge. I remember watching a commercial with my daughter a few years ago. Halfway through, Nora started laughing. When I asked what was funny, she said, “That’s a silly ad. Mommies don’t do laundry!” This was not the answer I expected, but then I realized she had only ever seen my husband do the laundry. She had learned that laundry is a masculine task.

By |April 7th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Women on Grounds: Nicole Ruzek

Get to know Counseling and Psychological Services Director, Nicole Ruzek!

Nicole has been with UVA since 2012 when she started as a staff CAPS psychologist and the Groups Coordinator. In 2014, she assumed the position of Assistant CAPS Director –Clinical Director and in 2016 assumed the position of CAPS Associate Director of Counseling Services. Prior to her tenure at UVA, she served as a psychologist and research coordinator at Cal Poly University from 2006-2012.

1. The work/life pathway to where you are now, was that totally planned? Organic? Some combination?
I have always been interested in psychology. However, I had originally wanted to do research and planned to pursue the traditional academic career path. Along the way I realized something was missing. I was interested in philosophical and spiritual questions that science could not always address. I wanted a more holistic understanding of how people function – one that integrated the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of what it means to be human. I was interested in how people make meaning, form healthy relationships, create an identity and connect with a sense of belonging and purpose beyond the self. As a result, I began reading philosophical and spiritual texts from a number of traditions.

Eventually I decided to pursue clinical work and found the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology to address many of my interests. In gaining clinical experience, I did a postdoc at a university counseling center and from there realized that working with college students was what I felt most passionate about. College is a time when people start to become the authors of their own story and begin making meaning through pursuing academics, forming relationships, and engaging in self-discovery. It is a terrific period of growth and change, and I feel honored every day to be able to help students navigate barriers, connect with their strengths, and become more fully aware and connected to an authentic sense of self.

2. What most excites you about your work at UVA?
I am excited to be leading CAPS at a time when Student Health is growing and developing new ways to provide high-quality integrated care. I think there is tremendous opportunity to help students address health concerns from a holistic, integrated perspective. We have already implemented this model with our Eating Disorder Consultation and Treatment Team. So far it has proven quite successful and has been of great benefit to students, their families, and the greater UVA community. As we move forward I hope to continue to find new ways for CAPS to interface with other departments in Student Health as well as other areas of the UVA community in order to provide care that addresses student needs in a connected, coordinated way. This ties in deeply with my philosophy that all aspects of our lives are connected and wellbeing is most possible when we take a whole-person perspective.

By |April 6th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

We know you’re up for the challenge.

We never shy away from a challenge and we know you don’t either.
Here’s a challenge we can meet together.

Your support for the Women’s Center always goes a long way thanks to the time our students invest to extend our work far beyond what the Center’s staff could ever hope to achieve alone. With the combined person power of 17 staff members and 108 interns, Big Sisters, Big Brothers, and facilitators this year, each and every infusion of support makes a BIG difference in what our programs can do.

For #GivingToHoosDay, your support will extend even farther thanks to Laura Burrows, a 1978 alumna of the College, who has offered the Women’s Center a matching challenge of $10,000. Your gift in any amount you choose for #GivingToHoosDay will help us meet this challenge with a strong showing of the UVA community’s commitment to our work to this generous matching donor.



Together we can provide the resources and opportunities students need to develop the skills to advocate for themselves, their communities at UVA, and for the communities in which they will live and work throughout their lives.

By |April 5th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Staff Spotlight: Sarah Steele

Sarah Steele holds the keys to the Women’s Center’s heart – and its doors and filing cabinets and every administrative undertaking. The first face you see when you walk in the Center (or at least that’s when Sarah’s receptionist desk faced the front door at the Corner location, before we had to move for an office overhaul), Sarah is the essence of calm, caring friendliness and impeccable professionalism. What’s more, she’s wicked smart and could run circles ‘round us in Russian and other subjects. She also has something in common with Elizabeth Taylor (but you have to read more to find out). We give you our very own Grace Slick, Sarah.


1. Tell us about your path to UVA, to where you are now and the work you’re currently doing for the Women’s Center.

After applying to a few schools and getting into some of them, I chose UVA because it was the only school that offered to pay my tuition. Well, I use the word “chose” loosely because the decision was basically made when my dad saw the scholarship offer and said, “That’s where you should go. It’s a great school, too.” After completing undergrad with a degree in Russian and Linguistics, I stayed on for grad school to continue my studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures because they offered me a fellowship (again, finances were a motivator).

After grad school and a few years living in Moscow teaching English, I lost my once diehard desire to become a professor of Russian and decided to work in education in a different way.

Back in Charlottesville, I woke up one morning to a hand-written note from my roommate shoved under my bedroom door with some scribble on it about a receptionist position at the UVA Women’s Center. It said something about “30 hours a week,” and I immediately thought, “That means no benefits” and almost didn’t call. (Side note: I’m apparently whimsical enough to take off to Russia for a couple years and spend my entire twenties “finding myself,” but practical enough to narrow my job search to include jobs with health insurance.) However, I did call that morning and am so glad I did.

My position at the Women’s Center has expanded far beyond receptionist, and I have learned so much that has prepared me for whatever my future holds. I work as an assistant to our Director, Abby Palko; hone my interpersonal skills as office coordinator and front desk manager; and even supervise the Legal Clinic interns. No matter what I’m doing, I’m usually helping someone, which is what I’ve always wanted to do, even if I didn’t always know how specifically during my long and winding path here.


2. Who would you most like to meet (living or dead) for coffee?
Richard Simmons! He’s such a positive and accepting person – a true role model for anyone who’s ever doubted what they can achieve.

By |March 27th, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|

Student Spotlight: Carrie Bohmer

Get to know Gender Violence & Social Change intern, Carrie Bohmer!

Year: 4th
Major: Psychology and Women, Gender, and , Sexuality
Hometown: Richmond, VA

1. Why are you passionate about your program at the Women’s Center?
​​I think that gender based violence is 100% preventable and so it’s really important for me to try to end it. Too many people are hurt by it and I wanna be a part of fixing this. I want to be a sexual assault therapist after college and so I think also working in prevention and awareness will help me to have a well-rounded understanding of the field and topic of sexual assault.

2. What made you choose UVA over other schools you applied to?
​​I loved the traditions that it practices and the feel of sophistication that it expels. It epitomizes what a college should feel like to me and I absolutely love it, despite any flaws it may have.

3. What has surprised you about UVA?
​​The lack of diversity really surprised me when I first came here. My high school was very diverse and interesting and I definitely took that mixing of cultures and backgrounds for granted and UVA is definitely lacking in that department.

Attorney Spotlight: Brittani Lemonds

UVA students have the opportunity to learn about the legal process by working closely with local attorneys in our Legal Clinic. The commitment from our local attorneys and student interns has allowed our clinic to grow and meet a greater need in the community. Since 2013, we have added a summer legal clinic and increased the frequency of our clinics from once a month, to twice a month, allowing us to meet the needs of more clients all year long. While you can get to know our hard-working interns through our student spotlight series, we want to shine light on the dedicated attorneys who donate their time to our legal clinic.


Get to know Brittani Lemonds of MichieHamlett Attorneys at Law!

A recent graduate from the University of Richmond School of Law, Brittani now works at MichieHamlett Attorneys at Law in Charlottesville and has been a gracious volunteer at the Women’s Center’s Free Legal Clinic since the summer of 2016.

What was your concentration in law school and why does that interest you today?

I didn’t have a specific concentration at the beginning, which I think is the best way to approach law school.  However, once I started getting acquainted with the class offerings and tried a few things out, I ultimately focused my course work on classes specifically dealing with domestic relations, children and the law, and collaborative law.  My interest in this practice area really started during my second year of law school when I took “Family Law” with Professor Meredith Harbach.  Professor Harbach is a real powerhouse of a woman and served as an invaluable mentor to me throughout law school.  I think I felt drawn to family law because of the inherently personalized nature of the practice.

Currently, an area of the law that I find particularly interesting deals with the legal regulation of reproductive medicine.  Most of my research during the third year of law school focused on Assisted Reproductive Technology (or “ART”).  ART encompasses an industry in which modern advances in reproductive technology are constantly creating new ways for couples and individuals to achieve pregnancy and birth.  While much of ART is currently based in contract law, it intersects with family law in a way that is particularly relevant with the changing legal landscape of marriage equality and reproductive freedom.  It probably goes without saying, but I feel like it is an exciting and important time to be practicing family law.  Like many other areas of the law, reproductive technology is evolving at a much faster pace than the legal framework that supports it.  Similar to general family law practice, I find the personalized nature of ART particularly appealing.  ART is an ever-changing area of the law that I soon hope to incorporate into my domestic practice.

Staff Spotlight: Sarah Jenkins

As Mentoring Coordinator for the Women’s Center Young Women Leaders Program, Sarah Jenkins has helped shaped the professional and personal lives of women in the UVA, Charlottesville, and around the world. She’s funny and stylish and quick and curious. And she owes it all (not really ALL) to the impact of – which musical artist? To find out, read more about our wonderful Sarah Jenkins:

Tell us about your path to UVA, to where you are now and the work you’re currently doing for the Women’s Center.
I was born and raised in Florida, and from a relatively young age I was interested in feminism and women’s issues. I went to UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad where I majored in Women’s and Gender Studies. I graduated in 2008, at the beginning of the recession, so meaningful work was scarce. I worked some odd jobs for a few years but finally decided I wanted to go back to school. I got my masters in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Almost immediately after that I was offered the position of Program Coordinator at the Ohio University Women’s Center, where I worked for three years before joining UVA’s WC last May as the YWLP Mentoring Coordinator.

Whose work (musical, artistic, professional, or personal) inspires you to work harder or think differently?
OK, many authors, including Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Henry Giroux. During this time of uncertainty, many comedians are helping me feeling grounded. The Daily Show, Steven Colbert, and Samantha Bee make me laugh and keep me from hiding in a pillow fort all day.

Student Spotlight: Meghan Grumbling-McKenna

Get to know Gender Violence & Social Change intern, Meghan Grumbling-McKenna!

Year: 3rd
Major: American Government and Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Hometown: Smithfield, Virginia

1. Why are you passionate about your program at the Women’s Center?
For years, I have been fighting against sexual and gender-based violence. Last year, I was an intern for the Women’s Center Legal Clinic, and it was incredibly moving to see the impact these free clinics had within the Charlottesville community. However I wanted to engage more with the community and fight for an issue for which I care deeply. So I applied to the Gender Violence and Social Justice in hopes that I could work to eliminate, or at least decrease, sexual violence in the Charlottesville community. Sexual violence is such a pervasive issue, and has never been more relevant. I want to fight back against the notion that grabbing women by their genitals is harmless, or that it is simply locker room talk. Now, more than ever, the work of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center is imperative to ensuring the safety of marginalized people.

2. What made you choose UVA over other schools you applied to?
I chose UVA because of the rigorous academics, financial aid offered to me, and the opportunities attending UVA would afford me. However, I continue to attend UVA because of the level of activism I see on grounds, and the wonderful people I have met who are fighting for justice every day. I am proud to attend a university surrounded by people who are so passionate about social justice.

3. What has surprised you about UVA?
I have been pleasantly surprised to find so many people at UVA with whom I can relate, and who passionate about creating sustainable change. I have found so many organizations and groups that are constantly working to make the University and the world a better place, and that’s incredibly heartwarming to me.

Alum Spotlight: Kiana Williams

Former Women’s Center (Iris) intern Kiana Williams graduated in 2015 with a double-major in anthropology and women, gender, and sexuality, with a minor in film studies. For the past two years she has worked with the Virginia College Advising Corps, and this fall she begins a doctoral program in Cultural Anthropology, with a focus on “how neocolonialism influences Filipina identity, especially in context to popular culture, conceptions of beauty, and performativity.” We are so grateful to have worked with Kiana, and can’t wait to see her scholarly work evolve – and change the world for the better.

Tell us about how your cultural background has shaped your academic and professional work:
As a second-generation immigrant from the Philippines, I did not begin to seriously explore my cultural heritage until I transferred to the University of Virginia. I began to notice how much race and class impacted my daily experiences, which propelled me to get more involved in organizations that let me explore these issues. I became a facilitator for the Women’s Asian American Leadership Initiative and a member of the Organization of Young Filipino Americans. While writing for Iris Magazine, I also served as a literary editor for Inkstone Magazine, a student-run publication that focuses on the narratives of Asian American students. My undergraduate research largely focused on issues facing Asian and Asian Americans, and my interest in building on this research at a doctoral level came about quite naturally. The complexities that surround the Philippines as an independent nation in the face of globalization, paired with the tumultuous political climate both there and in America, has propelled me to take action in the best way I know how: forming human connections with others, then translating these experiences into research, in efforts to provide a catalyst for important, much-needed discussions.

I plan to utilize my PhD in Cultural Anthropology to teach and continue conducting research in the Philippines. I very much enjoy the nature of college classroom settings, wherein difficult conversations are broken down by participants from all very different walks of life. More importantly, I wish to increase visibility of women of color in academia. During my undergraduate career, I only had three professors of color, none of which were women. I wish to be a mode of support for other minority college students, especially those who are low-income and first-generation like myself, while simultaneously producing new knowledges concerning the lived experiences of Filipina women.

Tell us about the professional path that’s brought you where you are – completely planned, surprisingly organic or somewhere in between?
My very first internship was through the Women’s Center with Iris Magazine. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do! I had just transferred from New York University, and the majority of my credits transferred in as Anthropology courses, a field I knew absolutely nothing about. Since I was already close to enough credits for a minor, I decided to try it out. My positive experiences at the Women’s Center – especially the creative environment and our ability to interview faculty and members of my community –  had a tremendous influence on the rest of my academic career.

By |March 2nd, 2017|Blog|0 Comments|
  • Festival of the Book 2017
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    Festival Brings 5 Days of Author Events and Many Months of Must-Reads

Festival Brings 5 Days of Author Events and Many Months of Must-Reads

The Virginia Festival of the Book is quintessentially Charlottesvillian in the embarrassment of educational and cultural riches it consistently brings us each year. It fits right in with the bustling local food and beverage scene, the stunning beauty of our natural and built environments, and our ample opportunities to take in elite athletics and vibrant arts offerings. But we’re pleased to point out that this celebration of the written word is one blessing we can extend to you wherever you are.


Our picks for this year’s festival are here in date order for you locals along with our insistence that you make time to soak up the abundant insights and inspirations these authors and moderator will be serving up in person. And we’re equally excited to share the heart of the festival – its books – with all of you regardless of where in the country or world your favorite comfy chair is situated. With the festival’s tradition of convening more than 400 authors and moderators for over 250 programs, the options can be overwhelming so our staff has crafted a short list of some of the events we find most intriguing this year.


Happy listening and reading! And special thanks to Abby Palko, Wynne Stuart, Mary Esselman, Claire Kaplan and Alison Kuhn for their contributions to our list.


Wednesday, March 22

Frances Curtis Barnhart (The Beauty of Impermanence) and Beatrix Ost (More than Everything and The Philosopher’s Style) share the stories of their lives and their art.


Authors Marie Benedict (The Other Einstein), Carrie Brown (The Stargazer’s Sister), and Stephen O’Connor (Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings) share their novels featuring characters with intimate connections to historic figures.


Our own Abby Palko has in past years taught a course called Jane’s Heirs, in which students read Jane Eyre and a variety of 20th and 21st century adaptations. She describes Patricia Park’s Re Jane as a very smart, modern retelling of Brontë’s novel transposed to the contemporary U.S. with a lesbian protagonist. At this event, Park and rare book curator Barbara Heritage will discuss the enduring influence of Charlotte Brontë’s nineteenth-century novel. The discussion will be held in the Dome Room of the renovated Rotunda, and will conclude with a book signing and an opportunity to examine and handle some of the rare artifacts displayed in the accompanying exhibition, “Shaping Eyre: Charlotte Brontë’s Classic Novel in 200 Objects.”


Hugh Byrne (The Here-and-Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and for All) and Emily Esfahani Smith (The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters) offer powerful practices for incorporating mindfulness and meaning into our lives.