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Colleagues and Alumni Offer Appreciation as Changemaker Claire Kaplan Retires

Claire Kaplan’s position with the Sexual Assault and Education Office here at the Women’s Center was established in 1991 after a student campaign demanding the addition of a full-time coordinator for this essential part of the fledgling center’s work. The students’ campaign included a candlelight vigil held for 134 hours – an hour for each sexual assault reported at UVA that year. 

Claire’s anti-violence work traces back to being recruited as a volunteer in 1980s Los Angeles during the early years of what she thought would be a career using the Masters in Screenwriting she had earned at USC. After shifting her focus to advocacy and joining the staff of the Women’s Center, Claire went on to earn her PhD in the Social Foundations of Education with a Women’s Studies focus from the Curry School of Education in 2004. As the center’s work evolved over the years, the team of graduate assistants and undergraduate interns that Claire led came to be known as the Gender Violence and Social Change Program (GVSC). Under Claire’s leadership, each year’s GVSC team has collaborated with University partners across Grounds to implement both novel and tried-and-true efforts to support survivors, raise awareness, and prevent gender-based violence in the UVA community.

"After she leaves the University, Claire's presence and impact will surely reverberate throughout Grounds and beyond Charlottesville, through the years, via the alumni and staff who were privileged to know her.”

Anthony Buenafe (Com 2008), MLP Big Brother

As we now announce that Claire is retiring at the end of this month, we are joined by colleagues across Grounds and alumni across the country expressing their esteem. In her tenure at the Women’s Center, Claire has been a passionate advocate for survivors of sexual assault and other gender-based violence, and her contributions through the years have moved UVA to be a more trauma-informed community.


Serving Survivors and Those Who Support Them

An Advanced Credentialed Victim Intervention Specialist, Claire has served as a Confidential Advocate for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. As Wynne Stuart, Associate Provost for Academic Support and Classroom Management, shares, “Claire has been a faithful advocate for students who have experienced sexual assault. She maintains a calm, reassuring, supportive demeanor while knowledgeably guiding a potentially fragile student through unfamiliar procedures and processes.” Throughout her career, Claire’s visible presence within the UVA community has encouraged survivors to access the services they need. The direct support and advocacy services that Claire has provided have made a difference for survivors at UVA. This part of Claire’s multifaceted work was particularly crucial for the well-being of survivors in the years before the center’s staff grew to include a full counseling and case management team including trauma counselors, and before related services developed in other offices at UVA. Claire’s advocacy services, in turn, increased institutional attention to issues of interpersonal violence, helping to impel change. 

Claire has also served as a valuable source of guidance for those who love and support survivors. Drawing on her training and experience supporting survivors, Claire has helped countless friends, colleagues, and family members of survivors gain the insights into trauma that they need to understand their own emotions and respond with compassion to the survivors in their lives.


Advocacy and Education 

So many of the ways that members of the UVA community learn about gender-based violence and get involved in confronting it today exist because of Claire's tireless work and many fruitful partnerships over time. Alumna Annie Forrest, now Engagement Manager of National Partnerships for The One Love Foundation, puts it this way: “Claire Kaplan is a name everyone knows within the sexual assault and violence prevention space at UVA, in the greater Charlottesville community, and far beyond – and for excellent reason. She was and is paramount in this movement gaining visibility on Grounds and in empowering students to live and be bold in their commitment to gender equity every day. In particular, I will never forget joining her and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance in Richmond to combat knee-jerk campus safety legislation in reaction to the Rolling Stone article in 2015. We felt confident speaking with legislators, knowing Claire was beside us as a fierce mover-and-shaker in this work long before any of us. I am forever grateful, as are many, for the impact she’s left on the Women’s Center, the UVA community, and all who are fortunate enough to work alongside her.” 

From the classroom to the copy machine and the student marches to the movie theaters, Claire has been a constant presence sharing her expertise wherever it could be useful. From creating the first pamphlet, “Handbook for Survivors: A Guide to Surviving Sexual Assault” in the early 1990s to rewriting the resources for survivors and their allies now available on the WC website, Claire has contributed to the Women’s Center’s educational outreach at every stage of the center's work for nearly three decades. Claire has taught courses for the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, including the popular course “Gender Violence and Social Justice” that she co-taught with Cartie Lominack, the Director of SHE, and other courses for WGS in the College and the Education Leadership, Foundations and Policy (EDLF) department in the Curry School. She has mentored her GVSC interns in their work to create and deliver educational programming across Grounds, like tabling on the Lawn for Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) and offering presentations, like “How to Help a Friend” and “Rape Culture,” to inform their peers.  The programming and trainings that Claire and her team have developed promote a trauma-informed campus community and facilitate healing from trauma for all who need it. 

Working in partnership with local colleagues from SARA (the Sexual Assault Resource Agency) and SHE (Shelter for Help in Emergency), Claire brought the Clothesline Project to UVA in 1993 as a chapter of the National Clothesline Project. The Clothesline Project provides survivors of gender-based violence an anonymous, public forum for sharing a message about their experiences, displayed the way laundry historically has been on display: on a clothesline. Claire also served on the committee that developed the Red Flag Campaign in 2006, a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance), and she instituted UVA’s observances of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Claire has long served as a resource for UVA’s Take Back the Night (TBTN) student organization, shaping UVA’s observance of TBTN through her creation of the Day of Healing and the Vigil, both of which complement the traditional March and Survivor Speak-out.


Collaboration and Innovation 

In 2007, Claire worked with Chris Wilcox Elliott (then a grad student and now a colleague) to found the Men’s Leadership Project (MLP), through which UVA undergraduate men mentor local middle school boys. Anthony Buenafe, an alumnus from the first MLP cohort, reflects on the impact on him: “Claire Kaplan leaves a tremendous impact on the countless students she guided throughout many years at the University. Personally, I last crossed paths with Claire in 2008, but the memory remains clear as day -- I see her sitting at a conference table, addressing the first cohort of the Men's Leadership Project, and challenging our small group to stretch farther in our awareness of gender-based violence. Claire's lessons stuck with us, shaping us into more capable stewards of healthy masculinities. After she leaves the University, Claire's presence and impact will surely reverberate throughout Grounds and beyond Charlottesville, through the years, via the alumni and staff who were privileged to know her.”

Claire and a former intern, Julianne Koch Price, created the curriculum for the Survivor Support Network (SSN), a training for faculty and staff members that introduces participants to a trauma-informed approach to supporting those on Grounds, especially students, who have experienced sexual assault. Designed after the LGBTQ safe space program, the SSN workshops train attendees to listen to survivors with compassion, respond appropriately, and assist them in contacting support services. Today hundreds of faculty and staff members who have taken the SSN training since its founding form a web of support across Grounds, easing the path to healing for students and colleagues who are survivors of violence. Under Claire’s guidance, interns also developed a student version of the SSN, which they began offering in the fall of 2017.

In 2017, Claire collaborated with longtime Alumni Association staff member Cindy Garver to develop and offer bystander training for the Charlottesville community. Having been a champion for the adoption of this tool across Grounds to confront gender-based violence as it arises, Claire was quick to see how bystander intervention could be effective for the wider community in confronting sexism and racism.


Leadership and Service

Through her many years of working with students, Claire has had a life-changing impact on them, both in their personal and professional lives. We hear regularly from alumni whose time with Claire as students has stayed very much with them over the years. On the occasion of the Women’s Center’s 25th anniversary, a former student expressed her gratitude for Claire’s support: “In sharp contrast to the reaction of my biological family, the Women’s Center, particularly Dr. Claire Kaplan, who continues to be very supportive of me via social media up to the present day, was unbelievably supportive of my gender transition. I remain very thankful to them for their support of me during this critical time in my life.” Another alumna now working as a nurse practitioner has shared how her background as an intern on the Gender Violence and Social Change team helps her to build trust with vulnerable patients and to serve as a resource for her primary care provider colleagues. 

"Claire's impact on the UVA and Charlottesville community cannot be overstated. Her name is gold in the violence prevention world - I and everyone I know has always and will continue to look to her as a leader in making real change at UVA and beyond. It has been a pleasure to be one of the many people she's touched and I know the whole community is better off because of her work here." 

Emily Lloyd (Col 2014), Engagement Manager with One Love

In addition to serving on national boards in her field, including the national Take Back the Night organization and the Leadership Council of CAPPA, Campus Advocates and Prevention Professionals Association, Claire has also tirelessly advocated for the LGBTQ community at UVA. She was a founding member of UVA Pride, and served as co-chair one year. She has served on the UVA LGBT Committee since its formation as a subcommittee of the University’s Diversity Council. In November 2015, the Serpentine Society recognized Claire for her contributions to the University’s LGBTQ community in awarding her the prestigious Bernard D. Mayes Award for excellence in public service to the LGBTQ community.

In 2017, the Z society recognized Claire’s many contributions to UVA, citing the joy with which she approaches her work. They celebrate the changes her work inspires: “You have consistently inspired students to engage in sexual assault prevention and advocacy. Your work at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center has touched the lives of countless survivors and indispensably aided in the effort to eradicate sexual assault from this University. Through your involvement with the Men’s Leadership project, you have allowed for the existence of male role models that exhibit healthy masculinity and positive gender norms.”

In her time at the Women’s Center, Claire raised over $170,000 in grants from community foundations like Bama Works and federal agencies to support her program’s work. Most memorably, after the Rolling Stone article, the Seven Society pledged support to the Gender Violence and Social Change team, noting the “numerous messages from students and alumni who highlighted the important role in the University community of the Women’s Center” that they received. In their announcement of the gift, they expressed the hope that it would “not only further their good work, but will more broadly encourage the kind of action and attention necessary to realize the empathy and understanding that must lie at the heart of this place.”


With Gratitude and Shared Commitment

Please join us in celebrating Claire and thanking her for her work on all of these fronts (and stay tuned for plans to celebrate Claire when in-person gatherings can be scheduled). And please join us, too, in following Claire’s example of commitment to the social change needed to make UVA welcoming to all - about which we’ll say more soon. Thanks to Claire, we can all do our part because, as the founding director of the Women’s Center, Sharon Davie, said this week, “Claire Kaplan is an intrepid pioneer. She helped to make the University a better place. And I am personally grateful for her friendship and her example of courage. From the first moment that Claire came to work at the Women’s Center, her advocacy for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence was extraordinary. She realized immediately that change can only come through people working together in diverse, ever-expanding community. So she began building that community, inviting others to imagine, to act, to lead. Because perhaps the most striking thing about Claire is this: not only does she believe deeply that change is possible, she helps you to believe it too.”


Submitted by Lili Powell (not verified) on

Dear Claire,

Your work with the Women’s Center and U.Va. has been nothing short of transformational. A woman and warrior ahead of your time, for sure. Thank you for your many gifts to all of us. May you enjoy your retirement with your wife and daughter. Whatever you do, I know you will continue to live a rich life.

With gratitude, Lili

Submitted by Nomi Dave (not verified) on

Congratulations on your retirement, Claire! We will miss you greatly. It's been my privilege to get to know you and to work with you on a couple of projects. I've been inspired by your work and your insights. Thank you for everything you've done!

Submitted by Julie Lynn (not verified) on

Dear Claire,
My entire family is wishing you much joy on your next set of adventures. The Women's Center -- and the University as a whole -- are so fortunate to have had you within our fold! And the ripple effect upon everyone you have touched is beyond measure. So many lives changed is a great legacy, indeed.
Many thanks and all best wishes,
Julie Lynn

Submitted by Michael Smith (not verified) on

Dear Claire,
As usual you are leading the way, as I am still laboring in the university vineyard. I and all our students will miss your witness, your expertise, and your unshakeable commitment to social justice and equality.
But I hope we'll continue to see you at community events. Sending love, Michael

Submitted by Sara Cary (not verified) on

Dear Clair,

I am so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished for our community. You are a shining example of what one person can do in making the world a better place. It’s my privilege to know you.

Most sincerely, Sara Cary

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