Even in years far quieter than this one, a LOT happens at the Women’s Center over the course of 12 months. We see tirelessness manifest in our own staff - from Genevieve Brackins’ quick work expanding the Men’s Leadership Project to 7th grade boys at Jack Jouett Middle School this fall to Nora Arkin’s completion of her methodical research showing the effectiveness of the Body Project in reducing risk factors for disordered eating and exercise among UVA women.
We hear from colleagues in our enduring partnerships across Grounds like Winx Lawrence, a member of the Curry School faculty and co-founder of the Young Women Leaders Program. As YWLP reached its 20th anniversary, we were touched by Winx’s earnest reflection that “It offers so much to both the college women and middle school girls. I hope it can continue for another 20 years.”
We treasure words of gratitude from members of the Charlottesville community served by our programs like Keyri Lopez-Godoy who was a YWLP little sister during her middle school years. Keyri recently told UVA Today, “I will always be thankful to the Young Women Leaders Program for the sister they paired me with, and for the investment they made in me to see that I had the potential to be a leader.” And what an investment it proved to be. Keyri’s pursuit of a career in teaching elementary students is moving forward thanks in part to the Emily Couric Leadership Scholarship she was awarded in recognition of her commitment to service during her years at Albemarle High School. As a student at Eastern Mennonite University, her ongoing leadership includes service on the Student Government Association’s Sanctuary Committee, which worked with EMU to establish the school’s first official documentation outlining the rights of international and undocumented students and the institution’s commitments to their safety.
Alumni are always a source of perspective and this year the most high-profile of our Distinguished Alumnae made multiple visits to Grounds and to Charlottesville. Katie Couric covered the events of August 11-12 and introduced the College’s first class of women at the Bicentennial Celebration to a roar of applause from the crowd. Val Ackerman was honored with the Charlottesville community’s annual Emily Couric Leadership Award. The University dedicated a building formerly named for a eugenicist to Dr. Vivian Pinn. At the Women’s Global Leadership Forum, Senator Shelley Moore Capito gave the opening keynote and Alex Arriaga interviewed Hon. Atifete Jahjaga, former President of Kosovo. Yet, we found humility to be a theme among the alumni with whom we worked most closely this year.
Anthony Buenafe, a 2008 alum and member of the first cohort of our Men’s Leadership Project, asked “Am I a better man because of UVA?” in his piece for our blog earlier this year. In April (a time that feels much longer ago than eight months), when we recognized Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, as our 2017 Distinguished Alumna, she called for a spirit of inclusion by sharing her observations about the common hopes behind the choices people everywhere make every day in the face of challenges beyond most of our imagining.
But in the end we always learn the most, and get the greatest inspiration, from our students. This is how students - from volunteers to interns to junior members of the Women's Center staff - saw 2017. And we’re grateful for the opportunity to see it through their eyes.
HEAR WHAT OUR STUDENTS HAD TO SAY THIS YEAR
It's a given that the students who get involved at the Women's Center are interested in social justice. We know we'll see their advocacy skills grow, both here and after they graduate. But the fall semester ended on an unexpected note when our own long-serving faculty member, Claire Kaplan, received a letter from the Z Society. In it, the Z Society observes that “It is only for those willing to foster, and at times demand, a culture of inclusion that we may begin to recognize our past sins and move toward a more welcoming and loving University.” These bearers of UVA tradition made sure Claire knows that “as a defender and promoter of justice for all, your presence at this University is deeply treasured."
The letter ends by saying, "You have inspired great joy in the journey of countless students and community members; the Z Society hopes that their esteem and praise is, in turn, a reward and source of joy for the woman they regard so highly.” Claire was, of course, unable to affirm this directly so we'll say it here instead. Knowing that students have found joy in their journey to become engaged citizens in communities across Virginia, the U.S. and the world is a beautiful gift to her - and to all of us here at the Women's Center.