A Map for Whatever Path I End Up Forging
Taylor Lamb with Iris writer, Devin Garcia (left) and Iris Editor, Mary Esselman (right)
Each year in May, the Women’s Center gathers its graduating interns to thank them for the impact they’ve had on the UVA community. As they look back on their experiences working with the center, they offer some terrific insights that we at Iris want to share with you.
As a young Black woman, whose ancestors built this University, and who wouldn’t have even been able to attend 50 years ago, this place doesn’t always feel like home. Some students grow up dreaming about attending this school because their mom and dad got married at the chapel, or their grandfather lived on the lawn, or their aunt was Valedictorian, etc… Whatever their inspiration, they could see themselves among the hordes of well-groomed students wearing Lily Pulitzer studying on the Lawn. I was not one of them. To be honest, I didn’t even want to go to UVA. I was coerced into applying, and it was not my first choice. In fact, I only attended because they gave me money I couldn’t refuse. Despite not being my dream school, I resolved that I would try to make the best of it.
And because of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, I actually did.
I remember being a first year reading the Rolling Stone article in Newcomb Dining Hall. It was terrible. Sure, it turned out to be false, but that doesn’t really matter because what was scarier than the article itself was the way my fellow students and even some faculty members were responding. The opinions they expressed reminded me that not everyone is an ally in the fight for women’s equality. That was when I knew that I had to be very intentional about seeking out a space that truly cared about women and girls.
The WGS department was great but I already had a major and a minor, so I couldn’t really immerse myself there. For the first two years of school, I got by with some feminist clubs, but they had their issues too. That wasn’t enough. Finally, during my second year, I discovered the women’s center internship program. And it all clicked.
I’m not going to bore you by reading out every facet of the women’s center mission, but I will tell you that it was a nineteen year old Taylor’s dream. A space dedicated to fostering dignity for women and girls? Working for gender justice here and globally? Actual programs to institute social change? It was hard to imagine a UVA institution was dedicated to doing anything like that. However, I knew it was something I had to be a part of.
I applied to not one, not two, but four internship programs at the Women’s Center. I had a first choice for sure, but I believed so deeply in the mission and knew I could do fulfilling work in any of the programs, and I wanted to be a part of that in whatever way I could.
Luckily, I did get my first choice. I was appointed to Iris Magazine, where I got to be a writing intern and then subsequently, the editor this past year. And Iris was the most amazing platform. Suddenly, instead of relegating my thoughts about misogyny to long twitter rants and threads that maybe no one would read, I was actually encouraged to write about them. Literally, my editor even told me we could make a column for my tweets, and I’ll be honest, it took a lot to resist that. It was new and exciting to be involved in a platform that was dedicated to producing provocative pieces for thinking young women. And we got to talk about everything. I got a whole Black Column where I got to talk about everything from Beyoncé to racial stereotypes imposed on me. As an editor, my interns wrote amazing pieces about the stigmatization of periods, makeup and whether wearing it is “feminist”, the necessity of schools being feminized, and so much more. It was a completely unique experience to be able to have a platform like this that encouraged us to talk about these things, things that we were chided for talking about in other places. It was liberating.
And although I was busy with my own internship program in Iris, I got to see all the amazing work being done everywhere else. The Young Women’s Leadership Program and Men’s Leadership Project are mentoring young children and helping them grow as people in safe, healthy, ways, which is an amazing thing to see. The Body Positive team is slowly but surely building a body positive community that will spread throughout Grounds, and then outside of it. The Women’s Center itself has had a plethora of speakers from a variety of backgrounds, and it was awe-inspiring to hear about their paths. These speakers helped us realize the possible impact we could make in the future, to make the world a better place for women and girls. And the Women’s Center has more programs, trainings, and projects that I can list, that make an important impact at UVA and beyond.
Also, I have to say… student self-governance is cool or whatever, but it was kind of great to have like… real adults around? I mean okay, we’re graduating tomorrow so maybe we are considered “real adults” now. But there are so many things at UVA that we as students are entrusted to handle on our own and that certainly teaches us a lot of great skills but sometimes, you need more. It was great to have supervisors who became mentors. They guided us, challenged us, encouraged us, supported us… I know I am so much better for the guidance I received from my supervisor, and couldn’t be more grateful for the mentorship she’s provided me over the past two years. I’m sure all of you can say the same.
And although the Women’s Center would never be overtly political, it was certainly a relief to walk into a building and know we were all on the right side of history. And I don’t necessarily mean endorsing or not endorsing a candidate, but I mean I felt safe knowing everyone in the room believed in the radical notion that women are people too. Unfortunately, the Women’s Center is one of the very few spaces on Grounds where I know that to be true.
As we graduate, we are surely all going on vastly different paths. I doubt most of us are going on to work at Women’s Centers, although that is amazing if you are. But I know that I am going to take everything the Women’s Center has given me into my future, and I am sure my fellow students will do the same. The skills, the values, all of it will be my map for whatever path I end up forging. I will always know that it’s possible for an institution, even when tied to a University such as Thomas Jefferson’s, to make great change. I will seek out other institutions like it, and if they’re not there, I’ll help create them. There is no excuse to settle for anything less, and the Women’s Center taught me I don’t have to.
Thank you to the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, and congratulations to my fellow graduates.