A look at an Iris alumna: A student-athlete’s experience at the Women’s Center

Story by: Emily Lloyd, Class of 2014

Emily Lloyd graduationI have been a U.Va. alumna for all of three months now, and to say that I miss the University and everyone I met there is a gigantic understatement. However, life must go on, and I am excited to say that I am about to start a journey that would have never been possible without U.Va. and without the Women’s Center.

Starting this September, I am moving to New Hampshire to work as an AmeriCorps legal advocate at a domestic violence shelter in Nashua. It is a job that sounds to me like my dream job some days, yet absolutely terrifying others. I have no idea what to expect when I get up there, but I like that. I am tired of a schedule consumed with classes, studying, writing papers and swimming. I am ready to finally put my knowledge to use in a way I believe will further not only the Women’s Center’s mission of creating change but also my own personal mission to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence. Looking back on my work with the Women’s Center, and with Iris in particular, I am now realizing how vast an impact this organization had on my collegiate life as well as my life after graduation.

As a collegiate athlete, I had a very different experience at the Women’s Center than most interns and employees. Coming into college, my job seemed simple: pass classes and focus on swimming. However, I soon realized that a life revolving around athletics was not all it was made out to be. Swimming is a stressful sport, both physically and emotionally, and I desperately needed an outlet. So, I buried myself in my schoolwork and found comfort in my major, Women Gender and Sexuality. As I furthered my passion for advocacy through my studies, I discovered opportunities, in addition to athletics, that U.Va. has to offer.

Working at the Women’s Center under the Iris staff as well as participating in the Young Women Leaders Program was one of the best decisions I ever made and truly helped me discover myself in college. The Center helped me realize that there is so much more to life than swimming, and I needed that. I still loved swimming, and I loved incorporating athletics into my work with Iris. I was able to plan Iris’ “Bad A** Women in Sports” event last fall, as well as write articles about my team and other U.Va. athletes, and I even convinced some of my little sisters in YWLP to come to one of my swim meets! I will always be thankful to my coworkers and supervisors for allowing me to connect my two worlds.

When comparing the swimming world to my work at the Women’s Center, I realized how small of a role swimming would play in my future and how I truly wanted to dedicate my future to advocacy. Any collegiate sport, especially at a division 1 level, is intense. To some people, swimming is a job. But when I compare the nerves I had before a big race, it will be nothing compared to those I will have upon meeting my first sexual violence survivor in the upcoming months.

Working at the Center gave me the opportunity to meet new people with stories so different from my own, and it really opened my eyes to what’s truly important in life and how incredibly lucky I have been to have a support system of family, friends, teammates and coaches that a lot of people lack. The Women’s Center and Iris played a huge role in why I chose to work for AmeriCorps in sexual and domestic violence advocacy. It will always be a defining piece to my college years and I am excited to use my experience there in the future!

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The story behind ‘Pretty in Pink’ —Interview with Mary Nilan


Breast Cancer 2

Photo courtesy of Mary Nilan
U.Va. fourth-year student Mary Nilan poses with mother, Mary Ann Wasil, founder of the Get In Touch Foundation at a brunch in California.

Fourth year UVa religious studies major Mary Nilan was in middle school when her mother, Mary Ann Wasil, was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Interestingly enough, Mary Ann essentially ignored a negative mammogram and a radiologist’s advice during the process of her diagnosis until a surgeon diagnosed her with stage two breast cancer.

Mary Ann’s efforts to pursue the issue so aggressively seems odd, but to her and to her family, it seemed second-nature because of how comfortable she was with her own body. Since then, Mary Ann has made it her mission to teach not only her two daughters but also girls all over the world about the importance of breast health and breast self-exams beginning at a young age.

At the end of all her treatments, Mary Ann Wasil sat down with family friends to figure out some way to educate girls and women about the importance of breast self-exams. After talking to the local school nurses in their hometown of Milford, Conn., Mary Ann realized that no such education program existed and decided to start a non-profit organization called the “Get In Touch Foundation.”

Mary describes her mother’s teachings about breast exams as a way to make girls feel comfortable with their bodies, to understand “what feels normal and what doesn’t” and to “get into really good habits at a young age.” Though Mary has lived with her mother’s diagnosis and teachings since middle school, she still acknowledges that there is always more to learn about your body.

Three years ago, her mother found that the cancer came back and is metastatic, meaning that it will be in her body forever. Mary said that this experience taught her that breast tissue extended farther into the shoulder than she thought and that being aware of all parts of your body is an important element of self-exams. She also stated that because of the foundation and the amount of time and energy her family has spent dedicated to education about breast cancer and breast health, she realized that “being able to talk about it is a blessing and being able to create a dialogue with people my own age is awesome.”

For the Get In Touch Foundation, the primary method of fundraising is the “Pretty In Pink Brunches.” The first brunch was held in their hometown of Milford, and since then has branched out all over the country. A few weeks ago, Mary went out to Los Angeles, Calif. to be a part of the first brunch there.

At the end of March, Charlottesville hosted its second annual Pretty In Pink Brunch,  honoring Janet Herman, a professor in the Environmental Science Department at U.Va. who has been very active in breast cancer awareness before and after her diagnosis.

Mary and her older sister, Betsy, who graduated from UVa in 2013, are both founding board members of the Get In Touch Foundation. Mary spoke a lot about how inspirational her mother is to her, but the feeling is clearly mutual.

As Mary Ann puts it, “Their fingerprints are all over its creation and its success…When you educate a girl, you educate the world. My daughters are the embodiment of this simple, yet powerful phrase, and I could not be more proud.”

By Emily Lloyd

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Student-athlete celebrates championship win

Emily 200 medley relay finish version 2

Photo courtesy of Emily Lloyd
Emily finishes off her last season as a U.Va. swimmer with winning the ACC Championship for the fourth time.

This past weekend, I competed at my fourth ACC Championship meet as a fourth year captain of the UVa swim team. I won my fourth team championship in four years and am now part of a dynasty that has won seven straight. In my entire time as a UVa swimmer I can count on one hand the number of meets I have ever lost. When framed in this way, winning seems easy. There is nothing further from the truth.

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Top 5 female athletic performances of 2014 Winter Olympics

As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi conclude, Iris wants to acknowledge the incredible feats of female athletes at these Games. Here are the top 5 performances we took away from the past two weeks:

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Student session at sexual assault conference creates opportunity for discussion

As a fourth year student at UVa with a strong interest in sexual assault prevention and education on Grounds, I was eager to attend multiple events at the Dialogue at UVa: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students. A two-day conference with noteworthy speakers from across the country, the goals of this seminar were “to foster intellectual debate” and to focus on “how we might together begin to change the culture that fuels sexual misconduct,” according to President Sullivan on the conference website (http://www.virginia.edu/sexualmisconductdialogue/).

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