November 11, 2011 — Sharon Davie, founder and director of the University of Virginia's Women's Center, received the National Women's Studies Association's 2011 Founders Award at the association's annual national conference Nov. 10-13 at Emory University in Atlanta.
Dona Yarbrough, director of Emory's Women's Center, presented the award. Davie said that held a special meaning for her because Yarbrough "got her start" at the U.Va. Women's Center. While a graduate student in English, she directed a program called "Hues: Women of Color," in which faculty mentored graduate students and graduate students mentored undergrads.
Founders Award nominees are women's center directors who established their institution's centers 20 or more years ago. The award is among the highest honors the NWSA Women's Center Committee gives to an individual.
The award recognizes a director who was responsible for implementing a sustainable vision and providing a supportive environment; creating a safe space for women to grow as individuals and leaders; modeling feminist principles; and serving as a change agent for gender equity and social justice issues through programs, teaching or mentoring, advocacy work or influencing institutional policies.
At U.Va., Davie was a pioneer, founding the Women's Studies program – now Studies in Women and Gender – in 1980, just 10 years after full co-education was implemented, as well as creating the women's center, which opened in 1989.
At the center, Davie laid the groundwork for a suite of core programs, often collaborating with other groups at U.Va., serving undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and local residents. They include the Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program in which undergraduate women work with at-risk middle school girls and graduate students oversee the undergrads; Sexual and Domestic Violence Services, including the Men's Leadership Project; Counseling Services, which includes the Eating Disorders Education Initiative; the publication Iris: A Magazine for Thinking Young Women; and the Diversity and Advocacy Program.
The center's mission includes advocating diversity and gender equity in education and the importance of women's studies, leadership and activism from the local to international scale. Its programs have evolved to emphasize how to create change in oneself, one's community and the world by providing programs and services that promote and further gender equity. Almost 40 students become interns or volunteers each year.
"Sharon Davie is one of the most dedicated, effective and civically engaged scholars with whom I have interacted," wrote Jennifer Merritt, director of mentoring and diversity at the Women's Center, in nominating Davie. "I have been truly inspired by her example of leadership, academic achievement and service to the greater local, national and global communities. Her professional brilliance, scholastic acumen and unique sensitivity to others have been profoundly evident in her teaching and research endeavors at U.Va, as well as in her service to the people of Kenya and El Salvador."
Davie won a Fulbright Senior Specialist grant for 2006-2011, which enabled her to be a visiting scholar at the new African Women's Studies Center at the University of Nairobi in 2010. She has also taken students to El Salvador several times and with photographer Peggy Harrison, Davie created a traveling exhibit with interviews to tell a compelling story of the courage of Salvadoran women and their communities.
She edited and wrote significant parts of the only full-length book on women's centers: "University and College Women's Centers: A Journey Towards Equity," revised in 2009.
In 1992, the dean of the Darden School of Business requested that Davie join the faculty as a consultant on gender climate issues at the school for three years, even as she continued to direct the women's center.
Davie, who received her B.A. in English from Dickinson College and her master's and Ph.D. degrees in English from U.Va., was an American Council on Education fellow-in-residence at Rutgers University for the 1995-96 academic year.
She is currently completing coach certification from the International Federation of Coaches, with a specialization on working with leaders and those in the midst of life transitions.