Peer educator looks beyond
Health advocacy is next step for Alyssa
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
| As a peer health educator, Alyssa Lederer has been a catalyst
in talks on alcohol abuse, eating disorders, managing stress
and sexual health.
By Elizabeth Kiem
Alyssa Lederer has spent most of her undergraduate life talking to fellow
students about health. A peer health educator for three years, her
role in these discussions
is generally that of the talker. But for a year-long project investigating
sexual health and wellness in sororities on Grounds, Lederer was happy
breaks a lot of stereotypes,” said Lederer of the conclusions
of her senior thesis. “U.Va. sorority women practice very healthy behavior,
especially in terms of [providing] a supportive environment. Being in a community
of women is excellent for gynecological health.”
Moreover, said Lederer, the participants were enthusiastic about the project.
She recalled her surprise when a woman who had responded to her survey
anonymously approached Lederer to thank her.
are really seeking some type of forum to talk about these issues. … I
think that providing that has been very beneficial to them,” she said.
Lederer is comfortable providing a forum for virtually any health-related
topic. As a peer health educator, she has fashioned informational events
alcohol abuse, eating disorders, stress management and sexual health.
She served as the outreach coordinator for the Office of Health Promotion
the student intern for the social norms marketing project, coordinated
by Jennifer Bauerle. She said that her experience in working with so
groups on Grounds spurred her to create the Health Unity Council to help
coordinate health awareness events, and that working with students allowed
her to be “sort
of the glue” for the social norms marketing effort which informs U.Va.’s
strategy to reduce excessive and binge drinking.
“She’s our own personal whirlwind,” said Bauerle, who is also
Lederer’s thesis adviser. “She has been phenomenal in our office.”
Lederer’s path to public health advocacy began as a senior in high school,
when she joined the local AIDS organization in Williamsburg. Her interest in
HIV/AIDS awareness continued at U.Va., where she became director of the “Promoting
[HIV] Negativity” organization and developed a taste for activism.
“It’s one thing to either educate or receive education,” she said. “The
next step is to start the advocacy approach — not only do you need to have
this knowledge, but you need to do something with it. You need to challenge other
people; you need to mobilize for change.”
After a summer internship at a Washington-based organization called
Youth First in 2002, Lederer became a vocal advocate of comprehensive
young people. She said that opposition to a frank discussion
of contraception, sexual
pressure from partners and safe sex is harmful and dependent
sex education is about options and embracing everyone,” she
She suggested that American society is in denial about the
sexual exposure it offers young children: “[Sex] is all over the media, pop culture, the lingo.
It’s all around young people, but we’re not willing to talk about
the way it affects us personally.” She said that even elementary school
age kids are ready to discuss sex in a direct manner, even if it meant “not
going into detail.”
While student health work dominates her active agenda, Lederer
also pursues an ambitious academic regime. She has developed
her own double-major,
combining interdisciplinary Studies in Health and Society
with a major in Studies
and Gender. She also completed a minor in Jewish Studies.
courses have given me an opportunity to really explore these issues,
them into academic interests, and even into professional goals.”
Eventually, Lederer hopes to enroll in New York University’s program in
nonprofit management and public policy, but first she wants to apply her credentials
in the workforce. With just a week left in her undergraduate career, Lederer
said she was looking forward to a quick breather, before accepting a position
with one of the many organizations interested in her talents.
day she will probably run one of the most incredible nonprofit organizations
in the country – whether it’s HIV or women’s issues,” Bauerle
predicted. “She’s going to be someone to watch and someone who’s
going to knock our socks off.”