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Promoting Student Well-being: Fall 2020 Update

The Women’s Center has long been known as a welcoming place for students seeking counseling or a place to gain experience in advocating for justice and equity. In recent years, our Counseling and Wellness Services Team has grown to include new staff members and has extended the resources offered to better serve the variety of needs of a diverse range of UVA students. Building on these changes, two members of the center's Counseling and Wellness Services Team will increase their involvement with the advocacy side of the center's work this year by leading teams of interns selected for the center's year-long internship program for the 2020-2021 year.  

Aisha Saeed and Latoria White are taking on new roles with the center's Body Positive and Gender Violence & Social Change teams this year. The varied experience that they each bring to their roles will enhance both the Counseling and Wellness Services side of the center's work and the Engaged Scholarship side which is home to the center's internship program as well as the center's community mentoring programs, YWLP and MLP. 

University funding and donor funding have come together to make our expanded Counseling and Wellness Services Team possible. We are grateful for these investments in our work. UVA administration in its various forms, joined by faculty members across Grounds, understands that investment to be well-placed. Supporting student well-being helps ensure that their time at UVA is as rewarding as it can be.  

Latoria White Leading Center's Gender Violence & Social Change Team

Latoria White, our Counseling Care Manager, will be guiding the work of the six interns on the center's Gender Violence & Social Change team as they develop and implement educational programming about gender-based violence, as well as providing confidential care management services for survivors of gender-based violence. Claire Kaplan, who retired recently, provided support services to survivors and mentored student advocates working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence throughout her nearly three decades at the Women's Center. With Claire's retirement, Women's Center Director, Abby Palko, weighed options for how the center can best continue the progress made on this front since Claire's arrival as the first staff member to join the budding center under founding director Sharon Davie in 1991. Abby saw the programming, outreach, and advocacy that the Women’s Center brings to the mosaic of prevention and response efforts at UVA as a way to further leverage Latoria’s professional background and interests. 

This is an especially noteworthy year for the ever-changing landscape in which the center's Gender Violence & Social Change team carries out its work. UVA and other universities are updating their policies to comply with new federal Title IX regulations. As the fall semester begins, faculty, staff, and students across Grounds are becoming informed about the revised policies and procedures announced by UVA’s Title IX office earlier this month. Meanwhile, Latoria’s work here is also informed in the broader sense by her years of experience managing care and advocating for survivors at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and the Sexual Assault Resource Agency and in her role here since joining our staff at the Women’s Center in 2015. 

In addition to the gender violence programming, outreach, and advocacy that Latoria is now spearheading, Claire also taught the popular course, Gender Violence and Social Justice, and has agreed to continue doing so as an adjunct faculty member with the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality this fall.

Aisha Saeed Leading Center's Body Positive Team

Aisha Saeed, one of our Counseling & Wellness Team’s three Trauma Counselors, joined the team in 2019, bringing experience working with teens, families, and young adults from diverse backgrounds. Aisha’s language fluency has also enabled the center to offer counseling in French, Urdu, and Hindi.

The center’s Body Positive team will continue to offer sessions of the Body Project, an evidence-based eating disorders prevention program and a cornerstone of our efforts to promote body positivity at UVA. Long-time Body Positive Coordinator, Amy Chestnutt, helped ensure that a number of Women’s Center staff members and students were prepared to offer the Body Project before she moved from the Charlottesville area in 2019. The Body Project’s effectiveness with college students is well-documented including the research conducted by Nora Arkin here at the Women’s Center a few years ago. 

Aisha will lead a team of four Body Positive interns including two who are new to the team this year and two returning interns. Across the team, members are eager to build upon past years’ work to develop robust programming that covers the full range of appearance ideal concerns faced by students of all identities. Working with Aisha, interns on the center’s Body Positive team will also gain insights into how body image in our digital age can be impacted by or a risk factor for various forms of gender-based violence. Aisha’s training and experience counseling young people who have experienced or witnessed sexual assault or abuse, domestic violence, or sex trafficking will serve the team well in bringing members of the UVA community nuanced programming that is impactful in important intertwined and sensitive areas of the cultures in which they live.

Connecting Across Communities

Staff members at the Women’s Center are engaged with inclusive outreach efforts and dialogue across a variety of organizations to ensure that services and programming are culturally sensitive and relevant to a diverse range of students. Latoria and Aisha are both involved with the Central Virginia Clinicians of Color Network. Given her role as the center’s Counseling Care Manager, Latoria also engages with a wide range of groups focused on particular concerns including food insecurity, healthy sexuality, the challenges of case management in higher education, and the needs of students, faculty and staff of color. These engagements have long served to keep our whole staff informed about key issues in the university community. Extending these perspectives to the students enrolled in our internship program through Latoria and Aisha’s work will strengthen the planning and implementation of essential programming carried out by all nine of the intern teams led by members of our staff. 

As Latoria and Aisha’s work grows in new ways this year, the special expertise they each bring will extend through their interns to all of the students that the center reaches through programming offered by the Gender Violence & Social Change and Body Positive teams. Their work in the related realms of gender violence and body image will help to ensure that the center moves forward in ways that are aligned with its core values. The Women’s Center and many other organizations focused on gender issues have seen both progress and the need for greater efforts to achieve the inclusive excellence we seek. We are pleased to have team members like Latoria and Aisha lend their knowledge and experience as we navigate the challenges and opportunities for women’s centers in higher education in 2020 and beyond. Honoring and learning from the intersecting identities of all those we aim to reach and being a truly inclusive center is our goal and we are fortunate to have Latoria and Aisha with us on the journey. 

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