Rachel Most Loves Her Mom, and That’s Good Enough for Me

October 18, 2017
Rachel Most speaking at the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award Reception. There are lightening bolts drawn around her head, and "Rachel Most" is written in yellow font.
Photo taken by Peggy Harrison. 

Dean Rachel Most’s job and accomplishments affect my everyday life at the University. Despite that, I had little idea who she was, until I saw her at the Women’s Center Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award reception.

This year, Rachel Most, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs and Professor of Archaeology, is the 22nd recipient of the Elizabeth Zintl award, which recognizes one woman’s lasting impact on the core academic enterprise of the University.

The reception held in Dean Most’s honor at the Harrison Special Collections Auditorium seemed very appropriate for the occasion- the University community gathering in a special place to praise and thank this high-achieving woman who has helped the University in an unparalleled way. Several faculty spoke about her consistent hard work on behalf of undergraduates, and the Z Society noted in a letter of commendation, “For 23 years, you have prioritized student learning and the student experience, never losing sight of the core academic mission of the University in all the programming and innovation that you have pursued to better support their interests and needs.” I was struck by the extreme respect and trust Most continues to earn from her colleagues.

As a second year, I am still watching and studying what it means to be a “woman leader.” Can you be strong but emotional, too? Relatable and open? Are you really able to just be yourself, and to present yourself honestly as a full person, not just some image of confidence and success?

Even as I write this piece, I find myself struggling with whether to say “Rachel” or “Dean Most,” because there’s the “Dean Most” you hear about, larger-than-life in her contributions to the University, and then there’s the “Rachel” I saw and heard at the reception- a humble, warm, person. While I respectfully acknowledge the formality of her position as a Dean, I came away from the reception feeling empathy and closeness with “Rachel.”

After such grand and generous introductions for Dean Most, I hadn’t expected Rachel to emerge as a woman who is vulnerable and open, but the first thing Dean Most/Rachel did was ask for a box of tissues, because she knew she would get teary. She then spoke of her tendency to deflect praise- a feeling I’d imagine many women can relate to. She told us:

Abby Palko presenting Rachel Most with flowers at the reception.“When I saw Abby [Palko, Women’s Center Director] walking down the hall to my office I assumed that she had come to talk with me about a student. When she told me that I was being honored with the Zintl award, I couldn’t process the information; I was really shocked. I remember tearing up and telling her that I had no words and she said, ‘Well, hopefully by September you will have some.’”

Rachel (yes, Rachel) proceeded to deliver a moving speech and I was touched by her emphasis on being human above anything else.

Centering her remarks around the strong women in her life, Rachel began by describing her working mother, who multitasked seemingly everywhere at once. This made me smile and think of my own mom- again playing on my empathy. Rachel told the story of the many women and men who helped her push into the field of archaeology, despite a culture of sexism, and who cleared a path for her into academic administration.

So thank you Women’s Center, and Elizabeth Zintl, and thank you, Dean Rachel Most, for helping me see what women’s leadership looks like: like a dean, a mother, a daughter, an archeologist, a mentor, an outstanding woman. Like a real, genuine human being. Who loves her Mom. And who inspires through strength AND a box of tissues.

As Rachel concluded:

“As women, we have come a long way, we could not have attended UVA 40 years ago, but there is still much work to be done and much room for improvement. This is one of the many reasons why this award is very special and why events like this one are so important.

We need to recognize one another, support each other, hold one another up and push each other forward. I am inspired by the women who have won this award before me and as I said at the start, so honored to be amongst them. I would not be who I am, nor where I am, without them – and a few males along the way as well.”

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