Sharon Davie talks about how the U.Va. Women's Center has expanded
Sharon Davie has been
there since the beginning, directing the University's Women's
Center since its doors opened 10 years ago. She has seen the center
go from recommendation to reality, when it was established as
a result of a task force appointed in 1986 by then-President Robert
M. O'Neil to study the status of women on Grounds. She has nurtured
its growth, in the early days planning the Women Artists and Scholars
series, coordinating a much-needed information and referral service,
and publishing Iris: A Journal About Women, among other programs,
with a dedicated band of helpers.
has expanded from occupying two offices in Minor Hall to its present
1,800 square feet in the Corner building. With three full-time
and 35 part-time employees, plus several groups of volunteers,
the center is quickly outgrowing that space.
As one way
of marking the center's 10th year anniversary, Inside UVA talked
to Davie about what the Women's Center does best and how it is
preparing women to become tomorrow's leaders.
What is the center's mission today?
The mission statement is "the University of Virginia Women's
Center embraces all women -- enlightening, supporting and celebrating
them as shapers of the world." It was created about five
years ago, right in the middle of the center's history, since
we're 10 years old now.
The original mission focused on institutional change. I think
it's interesting that the current mission focuses on the active
agency of women -- "shapers of the world," women having
an impact beyond the personal sphere. There's a sense also of
the Women's Center itself as an activist agent.
Education: Ph.D. and M.A. in English, University
of Virginia, 1972 and 1969, respectively; B.A in English,
Dickinson College, 1968
Jobs/Accomplishments: Director of Womenıs Studies, University
of Virginia, 1980-1989; Instructor, U.Va. English department,
1976-1989; Consultant and instructor at Darden, 1992-1995;
American Council on Education fellow, Rutgers, 1995-1996;
Bryn Mawr Summer Institute in Higher Education, 1988; Woman
of Achievement, Women Faculty and Professional Association,
Daughter, Jesse Ellen Davie-Kessler, 15, attends Charlottesville
High School, plays soccer and plays viola in the Chamber
Orchestra. "She is part of a group of girls and boys
at CHS who took it on themselves to organize the first-ever
month-long celebration of Womenıs History Month."
Relaxation: Reading murder mysteries, singing in
a gospel choir, writing, sitting meditation, traveling,
walking in the mountains and fields.
Reading: Deep South by Nevada Barr; Drinking: A Love
Story, by Caroline Knapp; Writing Down the Bones, Natalie
Goldberg; Night Falls Fast, Kay Jamison; and poetry by Derek
Walcott, Sharon Olds and Mary Oliver.
I Did Last Summer: "I was a fellow at Vallecitos
Mountain Refuge in northern New Mexico -- magical -- no
electricity, no phones, outhouses, yurts, bells to wake
by, time to write and climb mountains, the wildflowers an
explosion of color, old lodges. The oldest Ponderosa pine
in New Mexico (the Buddha Tree) lives there. Twenty people
considered 'social or environmental activists' are chosen
from around the country for two sessions each summer."
Book: The Handbook for University and College Womenıs
Centers, edited by Davie. Fall 2000. Greenwood Press. A
"road map and travel guide" of best practices
and effective responses to different issues by 18 authors
from a range of schools, community college to Ivy league.
put the current mission statement on everything that we do. It's
on the calendar, it's on the newsletter, and we're reminded over
and over that joy is part of our jobs -- "celebrating,"
putting our faces to the sun and helping other people do that.
I think that is a real change. I don't know if it's part of a
natural evolution of where we are as women or where we are as
a women's center and as an institution.
I do not mean that there aren't problems. One of the things that
many women's centers do, and this is certainly one of those, is
to be here to bind the wounds on the one hand and to save the
world on the other hand -- "supporting and enlightening.²
But there's this third piece, to understand what women have done,
are doing. The Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award celebration of
Sharon Hostler [last month] is a great example of that. Here's
this incredible woman who has given so much and achieved so much
-- why not take the time to acknowledge that?
What do you like about the job of directing the Women's Center?
What motivates you, excites and challenges you?
I love working in a job where I care about what I'm doing. I believe
in it. I have a passion for it. It matters to me personally and
professionally, the kinds of issues that are addressed by the
Women's Center. I feel privileged to be able to work with people
at the University and within this community. People are so giving
here, and I think it's because of that vision that we can work
together to make a better place and to make ourselves better.
It's extraordinary, seeing how many people are willing to give
of their time and their energy and their creativity to the Women's
Center, to the students, to the community, to the projects, to
working on change.
The other thing I love is that the kinds of things I do are so
diverse. They might range from being in a group that's looking
at the interior and exterior environments at the University and
their relationship to diversity [for the Charting Diversity study].
Or it might be someone walking in who wants to talk about being
in a relationship that's abusive and how she can get help. Those
are about different kinds of change, but they are both part of
Who are the Women's Center's constituents? Have the students changed
over time? How do you reach out to them?
One of the important things that has happened over the years,
and this has definitely been a result of collaborating with many
people on Grounds, is that the students who are involved with
the center are more diverse ethnically, racially, in terms of
class, in sexual orientation, and in terms of ability, and that's
part of what the Women's Center stands for. It's an integral part
of any kind of impact that the center could have on U.Va. for
"Each of the close to 450 campus-based women's centers
in the U.S. has developed in a way that matches the culture
of the institution in which they're housed. The first women's
center, at the University of Minnesota, was started in 1948.
A lot of centers developed in the early '70s. That was a
real flowering time for women's centers -- it coincided
with the dissemination of women's studies programs and some
of that new knowledge, whether it was women's history or
literature, that women didn't necessarily get in school.
A lot of self-teaching was going on. Here, given that women
were admitted fully as undergraduates in 1970, it's not
surprising that the women's studies program started in '79
and then the Women's Center in '89. There are centers that
are younger than we are, and we get asked for help by centers
that are just starting."
center also has a student advisory committee, made up of students
from lots of different cultural groups and different interest
groups on Grounds, that advises the center in very active ways,
and that's been a positive, helpful thing.
of that group came a program that we co-sponsored with Hereford
College last year called "the Politics of Beauty" that
we held at Hereford, and it was incredible. It was a series of
eight programs, but each was quite different. There was a panel
of U.Va. students and faculty that looked at African American
standards of beauty. There was a panel on male beauty and what
of the ways that the constituency has changed is that Counseling
Services is seeing about half and half students and community
members now, also an ethnically and racially diverse group, primarily
women. We currently have a male counseling services coordinator,
and that has allowed some men to feel comfortable coming in, often
on relationship issues. The age range [of clients] is much wider
than at the beginning.
What were the initial goals of the Women's Center and have they
A: Education was always an important part of the mission. From
the beginning there was a vital need to take some of the new discussions
about women and gender happening inside the classroom and find
ways to integrate them into people's lives outside the classroom.
was also a goal of assisting individuals to grow. Sometimes that
would be people who were in pain. Sometimes it would be people
ready to soar. The information and referral [service] and advocacy
and support got built in very early.
One of the things that's a more recent development over the last
few years is the emphasis on leadership development for girls
and women of all ages. If you look at the senior leadership of
the University, we don't have a critical mass of women or people
of color there. What is still needed at all levels is to help
each other to become the fullest people we can be, to have our
own voices, to be a leader in the sphere that we choose to be
a leader in. Leadership development has become a part of the Women's
Center, with mentoring being part of that.
2000: Shapers of the World
University celebrates three milestones for women this year:
30 years of full coeducation, the 20th year of the Women's
Studies Program (now called Studies in Women and Gender),
and the Women's Center's 10th anniversary. The center has
coordinated a year-long series of events to celebrate these
achievements in conjunction with all 10 U.Va. schools and
many other programs.
2000: Shapers of the World" features lectures and workshops
offered by galvanizing women and activities focusing on
creativity, leadership and mentoring. Several "Leadership
Luncheons" bring together students with professional
women in a range of fields. Speakers include Linda Chavez-Thompson,
vice president of the AFL-CIO, on March 27, and on April
3, David Sadker and Phyllis Lerner on "Failing at Fairness:
How Colleges Shortchange Women and Men." Two exhibits
in April, co-sponsored with the Bayly Art Museum, will feature
paintings by Trisha Orr and poems by Gregory Orr, and Pati
Hill's "Wall Papers."
10th anniversary year will culminate with a conference and
benefit dinner on Nov. 2 to honor former recipients of the
Women's Center's Distinguished Alumna Award. Established
in 1991, the award honors a female U.Va. graduate who has
demonstrated excellence, leadership and extraordinary commitment
to her field, and who has used her talents as a positive
force for change. The conference will bring back the award
recipients to discuss current issues facing women.
example would be the Young Women Leaders Program, which is about
four years old and is co-sponsored with the Curry School of Education.
Middle school girls are mentored by U.Va. undergraduate women,
who themselves work with graduate students, and the graduate students
work with faculty advisers. Another part of it is a community
service project that they do with their mentors.
work with the community has grown in other ways as well. An important
part of this has been the strong support of the Women's Center
Council, which includes community members along with people from
also working more closely with some of the graduate and professional
schools. In collaboration with the School of Medicine and the
School of Nursing, for instance, we set up mentoring activities
for undergraduate women to get together with medical students
and for the nursing students to be able to encounter leaders,
sometimes from their field and sometimes not, in order to expand
their own knowledge on some of the issues that are important in
is so decentralized and the culture of the schools are so different
that I think as the Women's Center has grown, it has become clear
that it's necessary to tailor some of the work we do to different
Are there other programs that are key to the center's objectives?
Another one that's new and fits into this kind of mentoring/leadership
mode is the First Year Resource Center, which is very collaborative.
I think that's the key piece of the value of the Women's Center
-- as a bridge builder or a collaborator. Nothing at the Women's
Center is going to be very successful if we do it off in a little
corner just by ourselves, but if we're able to bring different
units and resources and perspectives together, then something
really wonderful can occur and that's often what happens.
First Year Resource Center is one of those examples: the Women's
Center took the lead on it and manages it, but we do it in collaboration
with the Office of Residence Life, the Office of African-American
Affairs, and the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education. The
program is quite different than anything I would've imagined when
it started. It is essentially its own little center in Cauthen
House, a first-year dormitory, that works specifically with first-year
students and first-year issues. The folks who take the lead on
creating what happens are upper-class students.
Women and men?
Women and men. The Women's Center is intended to help create an
institution and a community that's a better place for all of us,
which means that it's for women and men. There are programs within
the Center that are specifically aimed at women, because the organizing
principle underneath the idea of having a women's center is that
historically in higher education women have been treated as less.
Women have not been given equal opportunity. That's certainly
true here at the University of Virginia, and there is a need for
a focus on women and specific issues that have to do with women
or with gender, but there's also a way in which women and men
on many issues can and must work together.
program that got started early on [and has expanded] is Counseling
Services. The Women's Center has now become a yearly training
site for four to five master's level interns and a doctoral student
who is practicing supervisory skills. There are support groups
-- for sexual assault survivors, for instance, or for women with
eating disorders or concerns about eating. There's a dissertation
support group this semester, as well as groups for adult children
of alcoholics and caregivers for the elderly.
addition to individual counseling sessions and the workshops,
we also have a traveling workshop series. For instance, recently
the center did a workshop on body image at one of the sororities
at their request. It was in an atmosphere where there could be
a level of trust, so that more difficult, self-revealing kinds
of issues and questions could arise.
Iris [the journal published by the center and Studies in Women
and Gender] has developed an internship program over the last
two years. Eileen Boris, (the current Iris editor,) has been a
breath of fresh air and has brought wonderful ideas and energy
to the magazine. The publishing internship program has 10 to 12
undergraduate interns every semester who get course credit. They
take a seminar on feminist publishing and study issues that have
an impact on women or issues of gender. They also create this
magazine from A to Z, from editing to working with artists to
figuring out how to get ads.
Do you have a vision for the next 20 years, that being one time
frame the University is using to enhance programs, to improve
The Women's Center Council and staff had a retreat in January
looking at the University's Virginia 2020 initiatives, in science
and technology, public service and outreach, international education,
and the performing and fine arts, and how we envision the center
aligning with, supporting or leading in those areas. Some of the
things that I think were exciting intertwine the activist and
the academic in more powerful ways. That's what I wish would happen
in 20 years at the University of Virginia Women's Center.
the conclusion of the book I'm editing on women's centers, [I'm
finding] some exciting directions. One of those has to do with
women and the Internet. You have places like iVillage, AOL's Women's
Connection Online or the Feminist Majority Foundation Online,
that [have] resources or communities for women. How do we link
into them for our own constituency here? How do we take what we
do really well and put it out there using the Internet so that
it reaches many people?
second piece is the notion of understanding ourselves as a global
community. Learning about women's centers and women's networks
in other countries is amazing, because of the differences and
the similarities. The women's center in Zagreb, Croatia, for example,
has been connecting women who come from different ethnic and religious
backgrounds in an incredibly war-torn, nationalistic part of the
world. It started from their response to women who were sexual
assault survivors. It's inspirational to look at some of the courageous
steps that women [there] are taking and what they're doing in
a context where they're seen as unpatriotic by many people.
It seems to me likely that [the Women's Center will make] some
international connections that will be very fruitful, a two-way
Why are women's centers needed today?
The fact that we have more than 50 percent women as students doesn't
mean that women students aren't still dealing with issues that
this society is dealing with -- sexual assault, issues of body
image and eating disorders, issues related to career development
and work environment. If anything, we're more aware of them now
than we were 10 years ago. I think there's a commitment as an
institution, as a community, as a people and as a nation to recognizing
that women can move into leadership positions at every level.
That's where we need to work right now.