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Letter to a Girl

Presented on International Women’s Day 

At the Africaide 4W Celebration of the International Day of the Girl

October 9, 2021

Letter to a Girl —

There are so many girls to write to in our big, wonderful world. It’s a world that needs our care. But today I am writing to you, the girl who has lost someone to death. Maybe it was COVID19, war or. cancer. Or may be it was some unimaginable absurd preventable thing, some big “if not for” that you are living with. Or maybe it was simply the end of a long life well-lived. 

When we lose someone we love, we always lose a particular kind of love along with that – mother love, father love, grandmother, love, grandfather love, the love of a sister, or brother or friend. Yes, love is love – but each kind is unique too.  With the loss we face the truth that a person we cared for deeply must let go of having more life – life they wanted – and we have to carry on without the particular kind of love that they gave us. Sometimes, it feels like it will never come again.

But is it really lost? I want to be honest here, so I will say yes, and also no. Yes, because you can’t see them or hold them or touch them in real time the way you used to. That is something to grieve. But also no… because they are not really gone. 

If they’re not gone, then where are they? Well, they are in you for one thing. Maybe you have their eyes, or their laugh. Or maybe you are blessed with a wonderful dream where they visit you and give you a message…. something you needed to know, or something you wanted to hear them say one more time. There are also with you in the things they taught you … to throw a ball, make a tortilla, play the piano, plant a seed. They gave you all kinds of reasons to love and forgive. And these reasons still stand. 

I hope you know you are loved and loveable just as you are. Especially when the noise of life can confuse that question.

I’m here, unknow and far away, caring somehow. Are you cold, hot, tired, lonely? Are you singing, working, laughing, hoping? I’m not sure. 

But I do believe that there is a gentle wind that connects us all. It carries birds and butterflies, and, arguably, light and hope. 

,Wherever you are I hope you feel that wind, and that it touches you with the love that you lost. I hope it touches you today, maybe even now.  Some remembrance, a sign, a gentle breeze — a warm one if you’re cold, and a cool one of you’re hot.

I hope that breeze touches you deeply, and you feel sure of the love that it carries.

With love, 


On May 28th and 29th, 2019, faith leaders, scientists and scholars from the humanities gathered at the Loka Symposium. The topic was faith and action for a flourishing planet, and we explored how we might build relationships and make change together.


From left to right: Roshi Joan Halifax, Jan Vertifeuille, Nana Firman, Juanita Cabrera Lopez, Dekila Chungyalpa, Venerable Damcho Diana Finnnegan, Lori DiPrete Brown, Musonda Mumba

I was so grateful for this meeting. There were so many conversations and confluences there for me. It was convened by UW-Madison, where I have been working and teaching for over 15 years. It was held at the Holy Wisdom Monastery where I am an Oblate — one of the places in this world where I feel at home. And it brought together faith, science and the humanities, inviting me to revisit the ideas that led me to pursue joint degrees in public health and theology at Harvard in the late 1980s!

This photo captured a very special moment – women of many traditions gathered after our morning mediation overlooking the prairie. We had prayed together, women and men from different traditions, sharing sacred texts and reading nature herself — the earth, air, water, the trees we have known… Gender justice was not formally on the agenda in this meeting, but it was on our minds. Ae we began to disperse someone said in a hushed tone (not because it was secret, but because we had just come out of shared mediation action) “a picture of the women” and this photo come together. I’d like to think we formed ourselves into some sort of tree for a moment — intertwined limbs from so many places.  Sharing the desire to offer sustenance, shelter, beauty and shade to our world. Remembering the unbelievable depth of roots, how they can hold the soil and the earth itself together. Not a new beginning, we know too much for that …. but perhaps a new season where we build on the wisdoms of the world, and learn to live in harmony with life and the earth herself in new ways.


On Saturday, June 1st, 2019 the City of Madison dedicated that wonderful new work of public art at the intersection of State Street, Library Mall and East Campus Mall. This is a heavily used crossroads, and because of the logistics of installation and signage, many of us have been walking by these new structures during the several weeks between installation and formal dedication, when they were not yet titled.

So we have been looking at the blue granite rock and wondering “What is it? Is it supposed to look like it’s floating?” And the tall lacy steel – “What is it it pointing us toward? Do you think it looks like a waterfall?” And the yellow spot. “Is it an eye? The sun? A mind on fire?” And from those who are less experienced with the abstract, “Um, I’m not sure I get it. What’s it called, anyway?”

It’s called “BOTH/AND- TOLERANCE/INNOVATION,” and at the dedication I had the chance to meet the artists David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr. The space is designed to echo the confluences and crossings that have happened in this spot for over a century. People have gone back and forth — to the the library, the State Capitol, adjacent places of worship, the Memorial Union, the University Club, the Historical Society, and more recently, the Chazen Museum. Just imagine what the flow of people would look like from the sky!


To help you to “get it” and find your own meaning in the space, the plaque provides the followings guidance:

“Between knowing and believing, Both/And is an acceptance of seemingly disparate thoughts coming together — it is the presence of action and reaction to ways of understanding.”

One of the artists tells me that the rock and fluid steel beams mimic what happens when a stream is disrupted by stone, there is a bubbling up, and turbulence, but a new balance is restored again downstream. The other explained that the yellow color and lighting is indeed intended to recall the sun to us, with all the other meanings welcome, of course. In fact, the work was sited with the fall (September 23) and spring (March 20) equinoxes in mind — so that the sun can shine through the sculpture and create a special beam of light at those times.

We are encouraged to contemplate the rock, the steel, and perhaps especially the space in between them from all these perspectives. I did this on the morning after the sculpture was installed, classes had ended and it was quiet. Walking from Memorial Union, the steel and rock looked like they had always been there. The steel beams lined up and came alive — they could be UW graduates in caps and gowns, a choir singing outside the church, or a group of concerned members of our community, gathering in formation to march down State Street to the Capitol.


As I got closer the imagined people fell away and the more natural images came to the fore. The Steel elements seemed like a waterfall now, and the rock seemed to be in a pool of water.

Moving closer, after taking a few pictures, the massive structure becomes human again. I see a hand —  steel fingers and a blue granite opposable thumb reach toward the sky. In prayer? Offering friendship? Ready to make something new and good and true? Over the years I hope it will mean all of these things….

Perhaps, rather than different parts of one hand, the steel and stone can represent two very different people coming together. One is tall shiny and reaching, with flashes of color. The other is grounded and beautifully dark with glowing shades of red and blue. They are huddled toward each other and it seems like they are looking down. Perhaps they are two children on a playground marveling at a frog. It doesn’t have to be complicated…. Or perhaps they are two wise and different people trying together to understand the puzzles of history, to accept the gift of confluences, to create the future.


I hope this reflection helps readers to begin to answer the question “What is it?”

The other question is “What will it become?”

Of course that depends on us — the people of this city, this university and around the world – it depends on how we choose to pass through this space in the decades to come. Based on past crossings and confluences I am guessing that we will meet up at “the Rock” for a thousand different reasons. We will sit on the benches to read or rest. We will discuss the weather, current events, the stories of our lives. We will profess love to each other, and we will watch for beams of light, as has been done in different ways on this Ho Chunk land where Madison sits, for centuries. We’ll take selfies here, and inevitably BOTH/AND will become a site of interest on the college tour. Some new thing that we do not know will happen here. And BOTH/AND will become that new thing too.

What is it? What will it become?

You tell me.

….Or better yet, let’s meet at the Rock and and figure it out together with Both/And -Tolerance and Innovation. We’ll share belief and knowledge, history, and so many crossings. Beauty. Perspective. And we’ll make something new.


Lori DiPrete Brown

June 2, 2019

Earlier this week “The Monarch” was unveiled in the Hamel Browsing Library at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union, placed there to honor the 150th anniversary of women receiving degrees from UW-Madison. What this living, woven being of metal and air will signify for us will be revealed overtime. This weekend as the Class of 2019 graduates, let the meaning making begin!

THE MONARCH. Artist: Victoria Reed. Gift of the UW-Madison Class of 2019

For me, the Monarch evokes strength, fragility, openness, and the readiness to fly. I sense the hard fought and unapologetic embrace of one’s own beauty, uniqueness, scars. I imagine resilience in the face of strong winds on what seems to be an impossibly long journey. I am reminded of how exhilarating and scary it can be to leave the places that you love. And the blessed possibility of return.

Perhaps this sculpture is speaking to me, or perhaps this incredible beauty is what I have seen in my students over the years.

Meanwhile, for all, and especially for the 2019 graduates, here is a closer look at “The Monarch.”  I hope you have a chance to sit close for a while, consider the strength, marvel at the openness, see the possibilities, and contemplate flight.


4W stands for Women and Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World and it is UW-Madison’s higher education initiative for gender equity and wellbeing. Our mission is to make like better for women, and, in so doing, make the world better for all.  Our projects focus on women from historically marginalized groups in low-resource settings in Wisconsin and around the world.

Are we that group that is working to improve health care in Kenya? Yes! Working with artisans in Ecuador, Mexico, Nepal, and Kenya? Yes! Supporting women in science? Girls education? Gender and environment? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes, we welcome both men and women and people of all identities to work with us….

The “better for all” phrase of our mission opens a door to a broad range of issues and to the possibility of a full and truly holistic feminist praxis – including all people, all species, all places, and our planet. Grounded in human rights principles, 4W works toward equal rights for women and girls as an end in itself, while acknowledging the life-sustaining role that they play in the continuity of families, communities, civil society, local and global economies, and the earth.

Simply put, 4W works to understand, reimagine, and leverage the unique role of higher-education for global change.

When you hear about the breadth of our programs – health care, micro-enterprise, addressing sex trafficking at home and abroad, collective translation of Latin American poetry, financial literacy, you might wonder how we choose them. How do they fit together? Will we do anything???

Well, we’d like to think we can do anything, but we don’t….

4W projects must meet three criteria: 1) they address a compelling need; 2) there is a UW leader and community partner who want to work together and 3) and there is potential for scalability and significant impact. We provide strategic expertise and financial support in the start-up phase –which might take 1 to 3 years- and then we work to sustain the program with appropriate scale and funding, and a fitting institutional home. We’d like to think that, in this way, we are transforming our world, and transforming our university, at the same time.

We have also established a small grants program with support from the Wisconsin Women’s Philanthropy Council-with two faculty awards and 4 graduate student awards per year, and an internship program, with about 10 internships. These activities offer professional and intellectual growth, increased social impact, and job skills for our faculty and graduates. We hope to double the grant awards and number of awards in the coming years.

4W also hosts a robust series of events throughout the year. We have active 4W circles of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. In addition to co-hosting the 4W summit and Gender and Women Studies Conference, we also host an International Women’s Day event, and a range of research to practice fora. We are proud that a UNESCO Chair on Gender Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace was awarded to UW-Madison!

During recent months members of the 4W leadership circle have been reflecting on the work to date and looking toward the future, asking ourselves what is next…. We want to do more, we want to do better, we want to be more inclusive and diverse, and we want to work with an intensity that matches the challenges that are before us. We want to focus on voice and leadership.  Together, we’ll revisit important questions: What is feminist leadership? How can we practice it? How can we practice it better? And how can we practice it everywhere?

While there are many working definitions of feminist leadership, I’d like to recall the one offered by Gerda Lerner, a pioneer in women’s history from the University of Wisconsin. Lerner described feminist leadership as “…something that replaces and surpasses you, that has a life of its own because there are many people who will be drawn into it and who will give leadership to it … The point is that wherever we are as women, wherever we are situated in our lives, we can advance a feminist agenda if we stop thinking about how to be leaders and think rather about how to be doers.” (Lerner, 1995).

Many societal institutions are failing women right now, in fact, failing everyone. Leveraging the power of higher education for a better future, is powerful and possible and important. The 4W effort is unique at this time, but my hope is that this transformative work will become central and ordinary– business as usual – so that universities become safe places for everyone to learn, teach, grow and thrive. I’d like to see higher education lead, charting the course for real institutional change, so that other institutions can follow the example, and make life better for women, and make the world better for all.

—Lori DiPrete Brown, April 2019

Director, UW-Madison 4W Initiative

Lori DiPrete Brown

Today I am honored to be invited to comment on “Transforming Leadership in Global Health” at the CUGH pre-conference session offered by Women in Global Health. I am looking forward to meeting new people and seeing old friends! It is a great way to get ready for International Women’s Day. I’ve been given two questions to think about- so I thought I would think out loud a bit here on my blog in preparation for the session.

“What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out?”

It’s hard to pick just one – there are so many practical things to be done! Learn to drive a stick? Learn to change a tire? Learn to speak three languages? Take a self-defense class? Always carry chocolate? Maybe you should buy that quick dry underwear and have the courage to travel with just two pairs… I have not yet done all of these things, and practicality is not my strongest suit. I am more of a dreamer with practical friends…. but maybe I can narrow things down to two essential, if not always practical, pieces of advice.

First, always pack a book.

And by that I mean make time for, brake for, reading and the arts. It is important to stay curious, take the perspective of others, keep learning, and hold space for the passions of your youth. In some ways that raw young being will always be your most authentic self. Remember her. This reading is a way to honor the roads you didn’t take — maybe that of a poet, or a painter or a comedian. (I know I have a rockstar inside, and yes, I let her out now and then…). The openness that results from this practice will enable you to let wonderful things happen in life and work

Everyone feels alone at times — on a team, during field work, forty-thousand feet in the air…. and women leaders are no exception. We feel alone, divided, overwhelmed, not up to the task. We carry an extra stone or two, and most of the water. Books can be friends who love you in these difficult moments. You can lose yourself in one, or find yourself in one, or write one yourself.

Second, always be yourself.

And continue to become yourself. Be brutally honest with yourself about who you are and who you are not. Be critical about your work, and use feminist approaches to help with that – develop embodied, dialogic, subversive and truth-telling practices. Smile and laugh and sing when you want — and please be stern and scowl freely too! And then try to be very gentle with yourself — I’ll even use the word tender — and go about the business of getting the work done. That’s what leadership is. Knowing what the work is, and getting it done. Be warned — if you are pleasing everyone you might not be doing very much…. you may have lost your edge, or you may be sacrificing the difficult truths in a way that is at odds with what transformative leadership should mean. Try to cultivate humility, persistence and hope along with some fierceness or fearlessness in yourself. It will be necessary and essential if we are going to create justice for women, foster human thriving, and ensure the survival of our earth herself.

“How would you catalyze change to create a better future?”

There are so many ways to make change. I don’t think there is one right way. Rather the future depends on everyone doing what they can, from where they are, and as who they are. While all the time cultivating trust in the world, despite the odds.

For me right now, leveraging the power of higher education for a better future feels powerful and possible and important. We have started doing this in a gender-informed way at the University of Wisconsin through a campus-wide, local to global, women and wellbeing initiative that we call 4W – Women and Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World. Our mission is to make life better for women and make the world better for all. We focus on developing leaders, and we work to bring research to practice and practice to scale. It is a great model that can be implemented at Universities of any size. I think we are unique right now, but my dream is that this would become a very ordinary kind of program -business as usual – so that universities become safe places for women and everyone to grow and thrive and lead. I’d like to see Universities lead here, so that the many societal institutions that are failing women right now, in fact, failing everyone, can follow the example, and change, and make life better for all.


“Little Library” Shorewood Hills, WI

I love libraries in every way and I wish we did reality shows and documentaries about them — go to cities or small towns anywhere and you can find your people. Readers and seekers and escapists and children.

People being frugal — checking out instead of buying, people using the free computers to look up their ancestors or to try to find a job.

Librarians who happen to have seen a documentary about that question you have…. and children being read to. And, with all the ands and buts of needing to create more belonging and inclusion everywhere — libraries come closest to “everyone is welcome” than almost every public institution.

And the free speech is palpable — the books that do not agree with each other sit beside each other on the shelves so respectfully — all honoring what a library IS.

I have cried in libraries because of all this.

So don’t prompt me about libraries when I have so much to do today. Don’t get me started…. Gotta go but gonna sing in the car now… about libraries…..


Reflections on #metoo


Many women in my life are sharing stories in personal conversations and on social media, about experiences of sexual assault. So I want to respond to those women here.

I am learning, or rather re-learning with renewed force, that Institutions like family, church, school, workplaces, neighbourhoods, and sports teams are simultaneously places where you experience love and safety, and where you experience these harms, mostly kept secret for so many reasons.

I am trying to believe that the vast majority of healthy males (80% or more?) enjoy and prefer consensual and mutual satisfying sex and would not be violent even if drunk. It’s not in them.

This reality (or what I hope is true) is obscured when a very harmful minority (could be as high as 20%- but I hope it is less) are capable of being sexually violent for sport – as a performance for each other. As a way of having fun at the expense of women.

This violent minority belong to every faith and no faith, every political party and no party, every race and no race, and they are alumni of every school we have loved (including my own Yale, Harvard, and UW-Madison) and no school at all.

While many do it as they struggle with addiction, others do it stone cold sober…. and laugh about it the next morning.

Some feel entitled, some live in denial, and others carry the memories of what they have done with shame – and maybe a never again.

Then there is a larger group – the majority of males who remain silent when they see harassment (from jokes to cruel remarks) or hear verbal disrespect and violent threats. By majority I mean not a vast majority -my estimate is that they are a simple mathematical majority – the 51%.

So that leaves a bunch of men – could be 49%? – who might just feel strongly enough about respecting women and all people – as beings entitled to bodily safety in their daily activities. And they think that we have the right to be as sexually active as we want on our own terms and always consenting.

Are they are willing to put politics aside and simply say “I believe all women deserve respect.”

“I believe all women deserve respect.”

I and many others need to hear expression this basic core value at this time.

Having escaped physical violence myself and recognizing my relative privilege I don’t often speak about, or let myself count, the number of times I have been threatened with violence. But this week I have been on the edge of making that list….The near misses, times I was naive but protected by someone, times I have made a clever escape. The stress related to the constant low grade vigilance that is part of the job of being a woman. The many times I just stayed home.

Anyway, and for the record:

I believe Anita Hill. (Always did!)
I believe Chrissy Ford.
I believe Debbie Ramirez.

…… And most importantly – today and every day – I believe the women from all the places and stages of my life who have told me their stories. At a kitchen table, in the back of a car, right after it happened, or years later. Or maybe there was just a simple “me too” on Facebook.

To all of you — you are beautiful and worthy of love and respect.

To all of you — you are beautiful and worthy of love and respect. The shame and blame belong elsewhere – with the perpetrator and with all who contribute to the culture of disrespect that made him feel entitled, that made him laugh at you, and that made him, and those around him, think that sexual violence is an acceptable normal and unavoidable part of becoming a man.


Convened by the School of Human Ecology, the Global Health Institute, the Department of gender and Women’s Studies, the UW-Madison has established the campus-wide 4W initiative, which aims to make life better for women and make the world better for all. Faculty-led action research at UW-Madison will result in measurable benefits in the communities where we serve as a partner for change. The program will focus on women’s health, leadership and wellbeing in private sector, government and civil society.


To achieve measurable improvements in women’s health, wellbeing, equality and empowerment, and, in so doing, to positively impact the quality of life for families and communities.


To establish UW-Madison as a convener, catalyst and leader in advancing wellbeing and full participation of women in society. The 4W Initiative will support action research, train leaders, and provide a global platform for exchange related to research, policy and practice.


  • UW-Madison graduates from a broad range of fields will be prepared to serves as leaders in education, research and practice related to women and global wellbeing.
  • A variety of 4W programs will be realized within a holistic framework that emphasizes basic needs and human rights, thriving throughout the life cycle, leadership and empowerment, and the development of strong communities based on principles of eco-justice. These programs will develop and document best practices, and contribute to the spread of these practices through partnerships and outreach education.
  • The 4W platform for exchange will include an Annual Summit, policy forums, a website, and interactive digital engagement that will establish UW-Madison as a convener, catalyst and leader in relation to timely topics and major challenges related to women and well-being.


To date, this new program has successfully launched initiatives in: 1) health care, family planning and mental health, 2) working to end human trafficking, 3) micro-enterprise, 4) women and agriculture, 5) relationships and equality, and 6) engaging with the arts for wellbeing.

I am so proud to be leading this initiative! To learn more about 4W please visit and follow us on twitter @4WMadison. I would love to hear your thoughts about women and well being. Feel free to comment below.

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Love the intention here — However, based on 3 kids/3 years of breastfeeding experience in all kinds of places I am gonna suggest a few tweaks … Let’s put a diaper on that child. Also, you might want to lose the ultra suede — that is good for one wear and then it will be ruined by drops of breast milk or runny mustard colored ….

About the necklace — the child, very appropriately, is going to find that to be of visual and tactile interest and they are going to want to pull on it … Let’s swap that out for an attractive burp cloth. Note to new moms: it is okay if your hair is not combed.

Note to new moms: it is okay if your hair is not combed.

If you look carefully you’ll see that the baby has a hairdo? That can be done easily with vaseline I think — but definitely optional. Also sit on a comfortable chair if you can — be ready to look your baby in the eye and maybe sing a little.

Though I don’t recommend the pose in this photo, I want to reassure you that it is possible to empty the top rack of the dishwasher while breastfeeding if necessary.

Finally, and just so you know…if you look this hot when breastfeeding at home in the presence of your partner you are going to end up with another multitasking challenge on your hands…not a bad thing, but just make sure you are using contraception that allows for spontaneity so that you can space out the births in your beautiful growing family….

Breastfeeding is sacred. Amen.