Palko POV: Wordless
I stare at the reminder on my calendar: draft due to Leigh Ann, and the only words that come to mind are “I have no more words.” It’s time to write my next column. But it’s also time to pause and absorb the fact that we are six months into living remotely in an effort to contain a global pandemic, and over 200,000 of my fellow citizens have died in those six months.
It has been a long six months.
There is a very good reason I feel like I have no more words – an intertwined set of very good reasons, actually.
In this time, in addition to continuing to provide our services remotely, the staff of the Women’s Center engaged this summer in reflecting on the values that guide our work. We shared those values with our interns at their orientation several weeks ago, and I will write more about them in the upcoming months. For now, I want to highlight the second of our three core values:
Community Care and Wellness
Nurturing a well environment that supports and cares for our community starts with committing to self-attunement and self-preservation through radical self-care practices. Living out this value supports resilience, builds self-compassion, and cultivates trust to foster a sense of safety and belonging for our community members.
I want to underscore the the crucial nature of self-care and community care. When we face challenges like those that we have faced in the past six months, we must care for ourselves to restore the sources we draw upon to face those very challenges. Those of us who engage in social justice work must care for ourselves in order to have the energy and capacity to continue the work.
Others have said this better and more persuasively than me, so I will let them speak for themselves. Dr. Aisha Ahmad, a professor of international security, shares her perspective on the “6-month wall,” explaining how the 6-month mark in any sustained crisis can impact you.
In this NPR story on activist burnout, Christianna Silva notes the importance of self-care and community care to the success of social change movements.
“Because, activists and experts agree, if the well-being of people in the movement isn't prioritized, the movement has a smaller chance of thriving: The success of one is dependent on the success of the other.”
And Tricia Hersey, Bishop of the Nap Ministry, reminds her followers on a daily basis – except for when she is taking a needed sabbatical – of the power of rest, the necessity for, the human right to it.
“I am sick of rushing and the obsession with opening back up and getting back to normal. I never want to see normal or the way it was again. It is time for a new way. Rest and slowing down will be the foundation for this liberated future that many are screaming about online via memes, in the streets during the uprisings for Black Lives and in our hearts. We are not well. We are exhausted and disgusted.”
On March 12, the last day that the Women’s Center staff worked in the Corner Building, a young woman went to work at her job, as an EMT in Louisville. At the end of her shift, she went home and fell asleep. A knockless arrest raid, looking for her ex-boyfriend, ended in predictable – but no less tragic – violence. As we mourn the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life, we are called to recognize the police violence that disproportionately takes the lives of people of color. 13.4% of the US population is African American; 23.4% of those killed by police in 2019 were African American. The detail that police were seeking her ex-boyfriend reminds us of the varied ways that interpersonal and/or domestic violence impacts women and threatens their safety.
Contemplating these intersecting traumas, I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s words from her essay “A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer” (1988):
"Overextending myself is not stretching myself. I had to accept how difficult it is to monitor the difference. Necessary for me as cutting down on sugar. Crucial. Physically. Psychically. Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
This month, we also say goodbye to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dedicated her entire career to the goal of having “not only the Constitution but also society itself understand men and women as equal,” as Linda Greenhouse notes in assessing her legacy. RBG had the imagination to create a world that would ensure equity of opportunities for all. She understood that disadvantaging women also harms men, and that it is in everyone’s best interest to increase opportunities for all. I’ll remind us all of just one example here from her days of practicing law: Social Security benefits for widowers. In 1973, Ginsburg represented Stephen C. Wiesenfeld in his fight to receive widower’s benefits after his wife died in childbirth to assist him in raising their surviving son. Until then, only women could claim “mother’s insurance benefits” if their spouse died while their children were still minors. The loss of RBG is great for those of us who champion gender equality.
These months have been heavy.
There is another, more joyful reason, I am nearly out of words: my interns and I have been ensconced in a writing project to chronicle the history of women’s education at UVA as we celebrate milestone moments on the journey to full co-education this year. Now that this phase of our effort is complete, I'm pleased to share the results with you in the form of our new History of Women at UVA Tour, available through the University's Walking on Grounds app. I invite you to take in this history remotely by using the app for a virtual tour, or let the app guide you to seeing familiar places in new ways by using it for a self-guided walking tour when you are on Grounds.
And I hope you will stay tuned for other projects to come in future phases. Our (re)present contest is calling on UVA students and alumni to generate the images, notes, words and other creations needed to fully (re)present the wide range of students we find at the Women’s Center and across Grounds today. I'll share the screen with a stellar panel of long-serving women faculty members next month when Lifetime Learning presents A Force for Change: A Century of Women Faculty at UVA. And we will bring you more ways to relish the wisdom and can-do spirit of UVA women in the months to come.
In the meantime, be well and take care of yourself and your community.