Emory Report
February 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 20


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February 19, 2007
Seven Emory women lauded as 'unsung heroines'
BY stacey jones

For many in the Emory community a highlight of the academic year is the annual Unsung Heroines banquet, an opportunity to honor women who have profoundly touched lives inside and outside the University. Seven women were lauded this year before a capacity crowd Feb. 15 in Governor's Hall at the Miller-Ward Alumni House.

When Elizabeth Sholtys ('07C) was a high school junior in Bombay, she became an activist on behalf of the street children of India -- the "rootless and roofless," as they're called. She didn't stop caring for these children once she arrived at Emory; rather, she dreamed as a freshman and put into place a scant two years later an organization dedicated to them called the Ashraya Initiative for Children. Not only did she reach out to Emory students in her quest to provide "hope," "trust," "shelter" and "protection" to these children -- the Hindu meanings of the word ashraya -- she reached across the world to students in Canada, Austria, Japan, the United Kingdom, and India itself for help. She's now raising money on behalf of the home she founded for homeless children in Pune, India, and her now worldwide initiative.

Ph.D. candidate Gillian Wickwire ('11G) attributes much of her drive for social justice to her late father, whose death left her feeling "even more compelled to live a life full of meaning and action," she has said. She's working hard to make him proud. Known as a collaborative student and scholar, Wickwire's undergraduate students praise the mentoring she readily provides and her colleagues appreciate the supportive and productive community she's helped build among graduate students, faculty and staff in the Department of Women's Studies. Wickwire also volunteers with the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center and the Feminist Women's Health Center. In the past year, she has been greatly involved in the efforts to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina through the Red Cross and by raising funds and organizing informational and training events for those in need. She is, said her nominator, "someone who consciously chooses to live a life dedicated to the principles of equality and justice on a daily basis," a commitment rooted in her personal and academic lives.

Should the "meek" ultimately inherit the earth, Sam Marie Engle ('90C) will stand front and center as one with a quiet voice who has made a big impact. As senior associate director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships, Engle's work with the Kenneth Cole Fellows has come to be seen as a model for the type of engaged student-scholar Emory hopes to send forth into the world. Yet she made her greatest impact this past fall when she agreed to speak publicly at the Take Back the Night rally about the sexual assault she endured some ten years ago, where her "willingness to risk public scrutiny demonstrated her courage and altruism," said one of her nominators. Inspired by Engle's exhortation to them to "break the silence" surrounding sexual violence toward women, several students came forward to share their own stories and, "in doing so," said Engle's nominator, "began to take back not just the night but the rest of their lives."

The Rev. Cynthia Vaughan , a chaplain at Emory University hospital and an instructor-in-training in clinical pastoral education, said that "making this society better for women includes helping to make men better themselves." That includes the five young male interns currently under her charge, "whom she challenges to ... relate to women in a whole, healthy way." She mentors a group of young women too, ministerial candidates at Atlanta's Central United Methodist Church, honestly relating to them the challenges and opportunities that exist for women in the still male-dominated world of institutionalized religion. A two-time survivor of breast cancer, Vaughan volunteers with the support group Reach to Recovery. Said her nominator, "Cynthia is always seeking to understand and remedy the impact of illness, difficulties and unjust treatment upon the lives of others."

School of Nursing faculty member Linda Grabbe ('86N) has spent six years as a family nurse practitioner at Community Advanced Practice Nurses, a free clinic for indigent, homeless and uninsured women and children. But she's also spent much time around the world, volunteering as a Peace Corps medical officer in Kazakhastan, and as a nurse practitioner in the Ivory Coast, serving female sex workers at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-supported health clinic in its largest city, Abidjan. She managed to do all of this while raising a family now comprised of four teenagers and volunteering on their behalf at school and for Stop It Now!, part of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia. Grabbe, says her nominator, manages to include health education in all patient encounters, but in doing so learns herself about their lives and translates this knowledge into helping others still.

Juliann Daffin ('60C) first came to Emory as a transfer student her junior year, soon after the college officially opened its doors to women, and left several decades later as the associate vice president for campus life and mentor to the hundreds of women students who passed through Emory during her tenure here. These students readily acknowledged her role in inspiring and supporting them. Said one, "She has made me more confident, increasingly self-aware, and better equipped to succeed." Daffin also worked on behalf of women staff at Emory as an active member of the Emory Women's Caucus (the predecessor of the President's Commission on the Status of Women), a group which tackled such issues as equitable retirement benefits for women. She now brings her many talents to Emeritus College, where her wonderful "voice" continues to inspire and advocate.

Isa Williams ('95G) left a lucrative career in banking to enroll in Emory's newly minted Ph.D. program in women's studies and became one of its first two graduates. Now an associate professor of women's studies at Agnes Scott College, she was the first director of its Atlanta Semester, an experiential program based on women, leadership and social change, now a nationally recognized model of student learning. Although a rigorous academic taskmaster, Williams' students know that she cares deeply about them and their development. Said one, "Dr. Williams is always there to guide us but left the discovery up to us." Williams now works with immigrant women in the Atlanta metro area and is a recognized expert on the intersection between immigrant women and social justice.