Hannah Graham Lives on Through Global Health Award

December 15, 2017
A photo of Hannah Graham and her father.

As a society, we love to follow the trail of a murder case or missing persons case with close attention as the media sensationalizes the events (some more than others). However, when such a horrific mystery happens so close to home, the feelings change. Hannah Graham’s murder is and was painful because she was one of us, a student who had her whole life ahead of her. The idea of Hannah’s potential impact is what drives the Hannah Graham Memorial Award, an award that the Graham family created to honor their daughter and her interests in social justice and sustainable change. The award is closely tied to global health and involves fieldwork through research or service work.

Last year for one of my classes, I read a book called Half the Sky that talked about women’s global public health and other issues. These include prostitution, rape, maternal mortality, and lack of education- all violent acts. The stories of what happens in the lives of these women all over the world, from our own neighborhoods to across oceans, are repulsive. This violence is more prevalent against certain women, like transgender women, but its presence spans identities and geographical locations. When women die because of violence at such staggering rates, it has to be a global health concern.

The Hannah Graham Memorial Award addresses international health and development concerns and/or violence against women, but really the two are interconnected. The fact that we have to even address women’s health concerns at all shows that there is neglect there, and neglect in itself is an act of institutionalized violence. Structural violence, using Johan Galtung’s conflict triangle theory, is one of the two forms of violence that largely lie under the surface. However, it leads to inequality in the lives of its victims and to direct violence, such as verbal or physical abuse. Direct violence is what we think of when we discuss such issues, but it is harmful to ignore the interconnectedness of the systemic inferior quality of women’s lives and the rates of physical violence against them.

By completing work and research around health and development in global communities, recipients of the Hannah Graham Memorial Award strive to improve women’s quality of life. Another aspect of the award is sustainability, where the recipients are expected to create a lasting impact in their chosen area. The idea of sustainable change is important--all too often privileged individuals start work in communities and then leave when their aid mission is over, creating gaps and holes that end up hurting more than helping. Without intending it, short-term projects can exacerbate the issue at hand. Sustainability is key, and ending violence against women around the world is no exception.

Last year’s recipients included Nadjad Nikabou-Salifou, Golda Houndoh, and Jessica Amick. Nikabou-Salifou and Houndoh (also a big sister with the Young Women Leaders Program) returned to their native country of Togo to research different health care challenges within a local hospital, while Amick traveled to Rwanda to complete work surrounding mortality as a result of C-sections. These three women reflect the ambitious goals of every student, but they also are the latest to join a group that has the very special distinction to honor Hannah’s legacy.

In regard to seeing that legacy on Grounds, Amick said that she see’s Hannah’s impact in the focus on bystander intervention through programs such as Green Dot. This conversation connects her work abroad and life here in Charlottesville as well, as Amick’s experience made her more aware of the residents beyond the UVA community who do not have access to many resources. When we move beyond the obvious differences between Charlottesville and countries abroad, we can see that they are more similar than we think.

Hannah’s murder opened many people’s eyes to the dangers of being a woman in today’s world. Beyond her death, it also sparked a conversation as to how we prevent such violence here and around the world. Hannah will always be a part of the UVA community, and we are lucky that the Graham family has decided to continue to support her peers and her life interests. With their help, the work of the recipients, and Hannah’s legacy, hopefully we will come closer to ending institutionalized and direct violence against women all over the world.


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