The UVA Issue: Grounds for change

A look back at the biggest moments of the last year and their effects on the university community

By Eze Amos

With a turbulent start to the school year, the University of Virginia undoubtedly looks a little different than it did last spring. Although outgoing President Teresa Sullivan and the UVA administration were criticized for not doing more to protect members of the university community from last summer’s white supremacist torch-lit march, the events of August 11 and 12 have served as a catalyst for some policy changes, including requiring non-UVA-affiliated speakers to register before being allowed on Grounds.

Already in existence at UVA were several groups that serve as safe spaces for students, including the Sustained Dialogue Club and the expanding Brody Jewish Center. But Jefferson’s tenet that learning never stops has perhaps never been more clear, as the university continues to identify solutions for issues as they arise, such as constructing new student housing on Grounds to offset the number of students flooding the local market.

Some Lawn residents we spoke with, who saw their school make national headlines repeatedly in the last four years, say their time spent at UVA is impactful on many levels. The good that came out of tragic events, they say, includes meaningful conversations centered on creating change and an unbreakable bond. “[The events] taught me the value of student leadership and made me believe in the healing power of a community that comes together,” says fourth-year Maeve Curtin.


Change makers: UVA administration adopts new policies after August events

By Gracie Kreth

Non-University of Virginia-affiliated speakers wishing to engage in public speaking or distribution of literature on University of Virginia property must make reservations with the university beforehand.

This new policy, announced via a May 3 email from outgoing university President Teresa Sullivan, is just one of several recommendations from the Deans Working Group, which Sullivan formed to evaluate the university’s response to the violent white supremacist rallies of August 11 and 12. Composed of 17 members, the group ranges in experience, from deans across undergraduate and graduate schools, to a student member and representatives from key university stakeholders. The organization, formed on August 18, met weekly to work on a list of suggestions for the university, which it released September 11.

“We set out to respond to the events of August 11 on three levels: safety and security; recommitting to our values of diversity, equity and belonging for every member of our community; and mobilizing the intellectual resources of our university community to address the issues raised by the events,” says Risa Goluboff, chair of the group and dean of the university’s law school, in an email. “We have made substantial progress on all three goals.”

In terms of safety and security, the group identified three areas for improvement. The report says the university administration failed to seek out more accurate information about the white supremacists’ planned march, did not previously have sufficient policies established and did not adequately enforce existing policies relevant to the protest.

Furthermore, the university has been criticized for being woefully unprepared, even after having received information of the march in advance of August 11. The Chronicle of Higher Education and the city-commissioned report from former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy reveal communication within the university administration that show its underestimation of the gravity of the march, and the University Police Department’s failure to act quickly enough. These criticisms have followed Sullivan throughout the year, most recently in the form of a rally at her farewell picnic on Grounds.

 

On Friday, August 11, hundreds of white nationalists marched with tiki torches from UVA's Nameless Field to the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda, where they used pepper spray and their torches as weapons on waiting protesters. Photo by Zach D. Roberts/Nurphoto Via Zuma Press

The conclusion of the group’s report outlines three key policy suggestions the university should implement: a reclassification of the Lawn as a facility, an enforcement of the open flame policies and a stricter policy for speech on Grounds, all of which the university has adopted in some manner.

In September, the Board of Visitors reclassified the Lawn as a facility, based on the first suggestion. It tightened firearm restrictions, as well as removed Confederate plaques from the Rotunda, though not specifically included in the group’s recommendations. Additionally, the university has appointed an advisory committee on the Future of the Historic Landscape to evaluate and make recommendations as to how historic symbols should be displayed on Grounds.

Another major pitfall of the response to the August events was the UPD’s lack of knowledge and a failure to enforce the section of Virginia Code that prohibits the burning of any object for intimidation.

“I wasn’t aware of this,” said Sullivan in an interview with The Cavalier Daily last August. “We are aware of it now. We’re going to make sure our police are aware of it too.”

Additionally, advised by an outside education safety consulting firm hired by the university, UVA expanded police and ambassador coverage across Grounds and amplified security at major university events, as well as implemented a clear bag policy.

The website for the Deans Working Group includes a community input forum (response.virginia.edu/share-your-ideas) for individuals to voice concerns—approximately 300 responses have been received thus far. Also listed is a detailed report of the UPD’s actions on August 11, an archive of public statements from university officials, links to news coverage of the events and a page of resources, such as a safety guide, various counseling offices and resources for faculty.


Creating art from terror

UVA staff and students use art as an outlet to share their messages

By Dan Goff

A.D. Carson has only lived here since last May, but the hip-hop artist and UVA professor is already familiar with—and has a lot to say about—what he calls the “sickness” of Charlottesville. “It’s infecting the entire country; it just manifests itself in a few specific ways,” says Carson.

Exposing and addressing this sickness is a main goal of Carson’s latest work, Sleepwalking, Vol. 1: A Mixtape, released in September of last year, following closely behind Charlottesville’s white supremacist rallies.

As he lays out the various elements of the area’s sickness—which he defines as “white supremacism and racism”—it’s clear Carson has given this a lot of thought. Remnants of a dated era such as the Robert E. Lee statue and those who vehemently support its preservation are labeled “symptoms.”

“These are like the cough and the fever and the runny nose,” Carson explains. He has some complicated ideas about the removal of the statue itself, suggesting that doing so would be like “stopping the cough while the body is still sick.”

Carson says he’d like to find a way to “beat the sickness and not the symptoms” —but he doesn’t claim his music has the power to do that. More than anything, he says, “it’s a way of pointing at all of these different things going on and processing them. It’s not so much of a prescription or a cure.”

A.D. Carson, UVA’s professor of hip-hop, hopes his work will fight the “sickness” of white supremacism and racism that he says has infected Charlottesville. Photo by Amy Jackson

Carson does more than diagnose the shortcomings of the country and community. Much of his work involves introspective thinking, as evidenced by his many self-reflective questions: “How do I, as a person who’s moved here to Charlottesville for the purpose of working at Thomas Jefferson’s university, fit into this puzzle?” Carson asks.

The title of his mixtape refers to a line in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in which the narrator acknowledges his own invisibility and walks softly among “the sleeping ones,” saying that “there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.”

It’s fair to say Carson is obsessed with this idea of sleepwalkers and invisible people. “Am I the individual who is rendered invisible by those in the community I’ve moved into or the world I’ve been living in, somehow trying to convince myself that I’m not?” he asks. “Or am I the sleepwalker who is seeing folks as invisible?”

Carson doesn’t know the answer, but says that a big purpose of Sleepwalking is an attempt to find it—otherwise put, Carson is trying to contextualize his own role in the university and in the larger community.

Though a relative newcomer, Carson professes strong ties to the area. “If my work is about the community but not in the community or with the community or for the community, and I don’t have any contact with the community, then I’m looking at the symbolic,” he says.

While Carson may be an ideal artist-activist bridging the university and Charlottesville community, what about the artistic representation of the students? Second-year Jessica Harris thinks it’s just as important.

As director of 2017’s Black Monologues, Harris is well-versed on the subject of student artists and their role in addressing politics. A staple of the UVA Drama lineup, the monologues typically celebrate or otherwise contemplate the black student experience in Charlottesville. This had been the plan for last fall’s production, but as the city underwent drastic changes, Harris explains, so did the script.

Second-year Jessica Harris, who directed 2017’s Black Monologues, says many students’ response to August 11 and 12 has been to create art. Photo by Eze Amos

“It shifted from this individualized, celebratory focus to a more introspective one,” Harris says. “Being black, how do you deal with these issues? How do you deal with them in regards to the community?”

She adds that while ignoring August 11 and 12 “would be doing an injustice to the students,” the monologues weren’t completely consumed by discussing the white supremacist rallies. “We didn’t want a hateful terrorist event to overshadow the amazing student responses we have,” Harris says.

Both Carson and Harris have noticed artistic reactions to August 11 and 12 outside of their own personal projects. Carson cites a hip-hop event at the Ante Room in which he participated. He also criticizes the Concert for Charlottesville, calling it an “attempt to make us not talk about things anymore.”

Harris praises the multiple August in Perspective events hosted by the Carter G. Woodson Institute, along with the “less institutionalized” art of fellow students. “Students have written slam poetry, students have created art,” she says. “A lot of students have the response of just, ‘I gotta create.’”

Though both artists feel the stress of creating such politically relevant work, they also recognize the necessity of doing so. Harris applauds fellow students for joining her in the creative process. “Students are always actively creating and channeling what they feel,” she says.

Carson says he doesn’t think the problems of Charlottesville are leaving anytime soon, but neither is he, and neither is his music addressing the problems. “Running from it won’t save me, and you have to think about whether it would save anyone,” he says.


Student group keeps the dialogue going about tough topics

By Gracie Kreth

“After four semesters of Sustained Dialogue, I confidently say I’m gender nonconforming,” says Luke McPhillips, a second-year University of Virginia student.

Sustained Dialogue is a student-run organization that groups some 400 students into small discussions to talk about controversial issues. The organization’s main goal is to widen the perspectives of students and encourage learning outside the classroom.

“I’ve listened to how other people have experienced gender,” McPhillips says. “I’ve looked at how it influences different people’s interactions with parts of their life, and I’ve learned from that. Dialogue forces you to really think about why you view the world the way you do.”

Meeting each week for approximately an hour, the small-group discussion topics range from race to mental health to sexual orientation to family.

“We did a dialogue about if you are morally justified in having a racial bias in who you are attracted to,” McPhillips says. “We have a preference in eye color—that’s an attribute. Skin color is also physical. [So] what’s the difference?”

The group did not come to a conclusion, something McPhillips says is not the goal of SD. Instead, the idea is to provoke conversation and attempt to understand others’ experiences. With more than 16,000 undergrads on Grounds, everyone comes from different walks of life, and the club tries to take advantage of that.

McPhillips says the process begins by “building a space.” Returning to the same space every week allows the group of strangers to become comfortable with each other, says McPhillips.

Participants open up about their backgrounds and personal lives and share ideas, innermost thoughts and confessions. Students inevitably clash, but in SD, these disagreements are seen as ways to question seemingly standard beliefs.

“Then you start to ‘norm,’ [and] that’s when people are really saying things that they would not say in normal conversations, even with friends and family,” McPhillips says. “They feel really comfortable doing that, and they feel heard and welcomed.”

Along with other primarily conservative figures, New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks criticized the need for safe spaces like SD, popular on college campuses, claiming students are becoming weaker and afraid to voice opinions in public.

McPhillips and chair of SD Jenna Wichterman argue for the necessity of safe spaces for minority populations in particular. Yet, group moderator Alex Spratley rejects the classification all together, preferring to call SD a “brave space” because she says the discussions are meant to push participants outside of their comfort zones.

“It’s not a place where you go and people just nod and affirm you,” Spratley says. “If someone disagrees with you they may ask you, ‘Why?’ and push back a little bit. It’s never going to be a debate space, and it’s not somewhere where people just sit back and listen.”

Wichterman says all people and comments are welcome in the discussion except for those that diminish someone else’s personhood, like white supremacy.


A drop in the bucket’

As UVA students take more local rental inventory, a call for additional on-Grounds housing is issued

By Tim Dodson

With ongoing construction of an upperclassmen residence hall, the University of Virginia is in the process of increasing the availability of on- campus housing—but some students are drawing attention to UVA’s impact on the local market, and are calling for the university to bring even more of its students on Grounds.

“It’s really only a drop in the bucket of the off-Grounds student housing issue,” UVA student Brian Cameron says about the Brandon Avenue project, a 300-bed upperclassmen complex on the south end of the street —the first step in a larger redevelopment project envisioned to include a new student health center and additional academic mixed- use and residential buildings.

Cameron, along with classmates Morgan Feldenkris and Allie Arnold, examined UVA’s housing policies and property acquisition this spring as part of a course entitled All Politics Is Local. Using data from the University’s Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies, the group looked at enrollment and housing figures between 1991 and 2017 and found that while UVA’s undergraduate population has grown by about 4,700 students, there has only been an increase of about 1,300 students living on campus.

UVA’s Brandon Avenue Upper Class Housing project includes a six-story, 208,000-square-foot residential building, which will accommodate 313 students in apartment-style housing, along with parking for 137 vehicles. Courtesy rendering

As of fall 2017, just under 9,700 students —about 60 percent of the undergraduate student population—live off Grounds. With more undergraduate students in the local housing market than ever before, and new private developments marketed to students appearing on West Main Street, the group is raising questions about potential negative impacts on nearby neighborhoods like Fifeville and 10th and Page.

“In terms of the visual experience of being a student here, even in the last two, three years we’ve been here, it’s super clear where development is happening,” Feldenkris says. “It’s not just the Downtown Mall. It’s West Main Street. It’s 14th Street. It’s all these privatized student housing developments, and clearly those have an impact on the neighborhoods adjacent to the university.”

Feldenkris says they are concerned about gentrification and impacts like cultural displacement, increased traffic and parking challenges. Feldenkris and Cameron also point to factors like the growing University Health System and UVA’s acquisition of property in nearby neighborhoods as other contributors to UVA’s expanding footprint.

For example, UVA purchased just under three acres off King and Grove streets in Fifeville for $8.73 million in August 2016. In February 2017, the University of Virginia Foundation—which provides real estate and financial services for UVA—spent $4 million to buy 1000 and 1010 Wertland St., totaling about 0.55 acres in the 10th and Page neighborhood.

University Deputy Spokesperson Wes Hester said in an email that UVA does not currently have development plans for these sites.

Hester also said the university is in the process of conducting a site and constraints analysis of all property owned by the university or the UVA Foundation on West Main Street and in the nearby vicinity. However, he described the study as a routine assessment and said it “is not indicative of any near-term development.”

Jim Duncan, associate broker/partner with Nest Realty, says he doesn’t believe students have been the main driving force of gentrification in nearby neighborhoods, but he has noticed undergraduate students now occupying spaces further down West Main Street. Recent years have seen the construction of the Flats and Uncommon—now known as Lark on Main—and The Standard will also soon house students living off Grounds.

Lark on Main. Photo by SkycladAP.com

“When I was a kid, the end of the world was 14th Street, but now it seems that has extended well beyond 14th Street and further up West Main as that has grown and evolved,” Duncan says.

Duncan attributes some of the rise in developments aimed at students over the past 15 years to a 2003 zoning ordinance change that allowed for higher densities near the university.

Although most UVA students live off Grounds, previous survey work has identified some unmet demand for on-Grounds housing among upperclassmen. In a 2016 presentation to the university’s Board of Visitors, the development adversory firm Brailsford & Dunlavey identified potential unmet demand among third- and fourth-year students for more on-campus housing. Currently, only first-year students at the university are required to live on Grounds.

Brailsford & Dunlavey also recommended constructing a 300-bedroom apartment building on Grounds and considering an additional 600 units of upperclassmen student housing. (The 300-bedroom Brandon Avenue residence is expected to open in August 2019.)

The Standard. Courtesy rendering

Hester said the university will likely study a site adjacent to Bice House—an existing student apartment building on Brandon Avenue—for the possible future construction of an additional 300-bedroom building, in accordance with the Brandon Avenue Master Plan. In order to address what has been identified as a 900-bed housing deficit, Hester said there will be a third on-Grounds housing project but a specific site has not been determined.

Moving forward, Cameron said a key consideration for the university should be ensuring that any enrollment growth is accompanied by an increase in on-Grounds housing for upperclassmen

Duncan said constructing more on-Grounds housing could be beneficial for others in the local market.

“I think that the students tend to take a lot of the housing that is in the city that is accessible to them away from people who are looking for more market rate rentals or renovations,” Duncan says. “If you can drive more students onto Grounds, I think that will open up opportunities for city residents who are not necessarily students to take advantage of.”


The tumultuous tenure of Teresa Sullivan

By Lisa Provence

When the University of Virginia announced its first female president in 2010, no one could foresee that, after only two years, Teresa Sullivan would be ousted—and then rehired—by the Board of Visitors. She was dubbed “the unluckiest president in America” by Fortune magazine in 2015, and, in 2017, shortly before the start of classes, Sullivan watched from Carr’s Hill as torch-wielding neo-Nazis marched through the Grounds of Virginia’s flagship university.

There have also been plenty of accolades as Sullivan heads toward this weekend’s commencement address before her term ends July 31—she’s been heralded for attracting faculty and raising pay. But like other public university presidents, Sullivan faced declining state funding, a push to make universities more corporate-like and tuition more affordable, as she struggled to attract minority students and deal with sexual assault. And many of the crises she faced played out on the national stage.

August 1, 2010

Sullivan begins her term as president—three months after UVA and Charlottesville were rocked by the murder of lacrosse player Yeardley Love by her former boyfriend and lacrosse player George Huguely.

June 2011

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights puts UVA under review for its handling of sexual assaults.

June 10, 2012

Rector Helen Dragas announces Sullivan’s resignation barely two years into her five-year contract to a stunned community. Dragas orchestrated the ouster in frustration with Sullivan’s incrementalist approach to trends such as online courses and without the full consent of the Board of Visitors. Outrage ensues.

June 26, 2012

The Board of Visitors votes to reinstate Sullivan.

Teresa Sullivan speaks to the thousands who gathered at the Rotunda to welcome her back to Grounds after her unprecedented ouster—and rehiring—by the Board of Visitors in June 2012. Photo by Cole Geddy

September 2013

Sullivan established the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University to raise awareness and commemorate the role of enslaved laborers at UVA.

September 13, 2014

Second-year Hannah Graham apparently becomes disoriented and walks to the Downtown Mall, where she’s last seen alive. Her body is found five weeks later on October 18 and her slaying is connected to that of Morgan Harrington five years earlier. Sullivan again faces issues of student safety, sexual assault and alcohol abuse. Monticello High grad Jesse Matthew pleads guilty to both murders in March 2016.

A candlelight vigil is held for second-year student Hannah Graham, who disappeared from the Downtown Mall on September 13, 2014. Five weeks later, Graham’s remains are found on an abandoned Albemarle County property, and in March 2016, Jesse Matthew, a Monticello High School graduate, pleads guilty to her murder. Photo by Sanjay Suchak

November 19, 2014

Rolling Stone publishes “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” about the now-discredited account of alleged victim Jackie’s fraternity gang rape that drew national scrutiny—again—at how the university handles sexual assault. Sullivan heads to the Netherlands for a conference as the story breaks, leading to calls for her resignation. She suspends Greek social activities, and the story leads to lawsuits against Rolling Stone by then associate dean Nicole Eramo, Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and three of its members.

Following the now-discredited Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” the university’s Board of Visitors meets in November 2014 and votes to unanimously to support a “zero-tolerance policy” for sexual assault at UVA. Photo by Dan Addison

March 18, 2015

Shortly after midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, 20-year-old Martese Johnson hands his ID to the bouncer at Trinity Irish Pub on the Corner and is turned away. He’s accosted by three Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, and appears to be thrown to the ground, although later investigations determine the agents lost their balance. Photos of the bloodied African-American student draw national attention again to the 21st century racism still thriving at the university built by slaves.

May 16, 2015

The Board of Visitors votes to extend Sullivan’s contract through July 2018.

September 2015

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights finds UVA in violation of Title IX regulations for its failure to handle sexual assaults or harassment promptly and equitably.

January 2, 2016

Third-year student Otto Warmbier is arrested at Pyongyang International Airport in North Korea and accused of stealing a propaganda poster. Sentenced to 15 years hard labor, Warmbier is flown back to the U.S. June 13, 2017, in a coma. He dies six days later on June 19.

January 20, 2017

Sullivan announces she’ll step down the following year and says when hired, she agreed to serve seven to 10 years.

August 11, 2017

Led by UVA alums Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches march through the Academical Village shouting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” and then surround and assault a small band of students in front of the Rotunda at the statue of founder Jefferson. The university is widely condemned for ignoring warnings that it would figure in the Unite the Right rally warm-up.

August 20, 2017

On a Facebook Live video, Sullivan snaps at a student who asks why the university did not issue a warning August 11 about the hatemongers, tells the student she won’t be monitoring alt-right websites and says the student should have warned the university. Turns out, UVA was warned.

August 18, 2017

Sullivan appoints law school dean Risa Goluboff to lead a working group of deans to assess the university’s epic August 11 fail.

September 15, 2017

The Board of Visitors announces the hiring of UVA alum, former law school faculty and current dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education Jim Ryan to succeed Sullivan. Ryan’s announced October 1, 2018, start date has since been pushed up to August 1.

April 24, 2018

UVA Today asks Sullivan about being dubbed the “unluckiest president.” Says Sullivan, “I reject the term entirely.”

May 19-20, 2018

Sullivan is commencement speaker for the university’s Final Exercises.


Get to work

UVA’s human resources rebuilt for speed and service

By Lisa Martin

In July 2016, after two years spent scouring the university’s core business processes for improvement opportunities, UVA officials zeroed in on human resources as an area ripe for change. They decided that a single unified human resources organization would replace the more than 70 disjointed systems serving departments across Grounds, and that a new cloud-based technology called Workday would be put in place for employees to access the system and find help when they needed it.

Newly hired in 2016, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Kelley Stuck, who had worked in health care, marketing and consulting, and had managed the University of Missouri system’s HR services, was in her element.

“I like building things,” says Stuck. “I really like change projects because of the potential to have a substantial positive impact for people.”

Good thing she has lots of energy, because when she arrived, everything was happening at once. “One of the reasons I came here was because UVA is doing this right,” says Stuck. “Instead of just installing new software without updating the underlying processes, we are doing process redesign and adding new technology and redesigning staffing all at the same time. It’s not the easy way, but it’s the most effective way.”

Now in its final stages, the $50 million transformation project, dubbed “Ufirst,” has consolidated an HR staff of roughly 240 full-time equivalent positions down to 210, mostly by offering early retirement and helping employees find other jobs within the university. The HR organization has been rearranged into “communities of expertise”—staff members grouped into talent, service and decision support areas—designed to partner with UVA’s more than 27,000 employees right in their academic division or unit.

“The future of HR is around workforce analytics and really understanding our people,” says Stuck. “What do they need? How can we make the employee experience better? How can we best recruit new talent for the future?” In refocusing and enhancing the university’s commitment to employees’ growth and success, HR and the Ufirst project received the 2018 Southern Region Excellence Award from the nation’s premier higher education HR association.

Workday, the technology piece slated to go live in January 2019, will allow employees to easily and securely access HR functions like requesting time off from work, adding benefits or exploring avenues for job advancement, all from their computer or mobile device. Stuck gave the system a whirl on her smartphone and says it was incredibly intuitive. “We want it to be as simple as a banking or shopping app,” she says. “It’s important to reach people in the way they need to receive information, and to make it a very easy process.”

After that, Stuck has no shortage of ideas. “We want to work on learning and development, career paths, retention and promotion, so many projects,” she says. “I’m always about how can we make the next big impact.”

Climate change

University community members are surveyed regularly about their perceptions of the social climate at UVA, and this year is no exception. A broad campus survey is currently being conducted by the University’s Center for Survey Research to ask students, staff and faculty about their sense of well-being and belonging on Grounds, as well as about UVA’s climate for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Report card

201516

22 formal resolutions of prohibited conduct cases
1 student expulsion

201617

40 formal resolutions of prohibited conduct cases
8 student expulsions

Undergraduate and graduate students participated in sexual assault climate surveys in 2015 and 2017, says Emily Babb, assistant vice president for Title IX compliance, and “the results indicated an increase in the perceptions that the university would support an individual who makes a report of sexual assault and that the university would take the report seriously.” New this year is a section of questions in the comprehensive survey for faculty and staff about gender-based harassment and violence in the wake of local and national movements focused on greater awareness of these issues.

In 2016 and 2017, UVA published reports on its “Response to Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence.” The documents show 22 formal resolutions of reported “prohibited conduct” cases in the 2015-16 school year, resulting in one student expulsion, and 40 formal resolutions during 2016-17, resulting in eight expulsions.

“Such results are very fact-dependent from year to year, and it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason [for the increase],” says Babb, while noting that “as awareness is raised, reporting tends to increase.” With regard to 2017-18 trends thus far, Babb says, “we have observed that the #MeToo movement has given some individuals the confidence to report.”


UVA’s Jewish community on the rise

By Samantha Baars

In a school year that saw a mid-August march across UVA Grounds in which torch-wielding white supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” a university rabbi says its Jewish population is experiencing unexpected growth.

According to Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of UVA’s Brody Jewish Center, the organization engaged 477 students in 2008, but during the 2016-2017 school year, that number soared to more than 700. University spokesperson Anthony deBruyn says the school does not track religious affiliation.

To accommodate the new members, leaders at the Brody Jewish Center announced the Make Our House a Home campaign in April to raise $3 million to restore their historic 1914 building, where thousands of students who practice Judaism have gone to find community and religion-centered programming since 1941.

It’s their second fundraising campaign over the last decade, with the first raising money for an addition in 2011.

“The focus of the last campaign was really about outgrowing our space,” says Rubin. “What makes this campaign different is that it’s really about close, interpersonal relationships. We want to create intimate spaces for studying and for group work, places for students to gather in informal settings. That’s where community really begins.”

When third-year Truman Brody-Boyd, the incoming chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, decided to become a Wahoo—or WaJew, as some call themselves—he knew he’d find a strong Jewish connection. Rubin is close friends with Brody-Boyd’s rabbi in his hometown of Williamsburg.

According to Brody-Boyd, a Middle Eastern and genocide studies double-major, the school is attractive to those who practice Judaism because its Jewish community—which includes the Brody Jewish Center and Rohr Chabad House—is primarily student-led and engages students with religious services, social action and social events.

The Brody Jewish Center is Hillel at UVA, part of an international movement that includes 550 Hillels (a Jewish campus organization) around the world.

Brody-Boyd participates in the majority of programming that Hillel and the Jewish Leadership Council puts on, whether it’s at the Brody Jewish Center’s University Circle location or on Grounds. He says you can find him at Friday night services and Shabbat dinners, Havdalahs on the Lawn or the annual Matzoh Ball, as well as Israel-related programming put on by Hoos for Israel, an organization within the Jewish Leadership Council.

“Each Jewish student has to decide for themselves how they interact with the Jewish community and how prominent they want their Jewish identity to be when interacting in different environments at UVA, be that academically, socially or otherwise,” he says.

Just days before Brody-Boyd was planning to head back to Charlottesville last fall, he told C-VILLE in August that he was terrified when he saw the events of August 11 and 12 play out on television. He had planned to move into his Jewish fraternity house on Sunday, August 13, until the national chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi closed the building for the weekend. A few days later, he and his frat brothers met with a security adviser who showed them which windows and doors they should reinforce.

He found himself questioning how much of his religion he should display.

“It’s a bit different for me, as I wear a kippah all the time, so my Jewish identity is more apparent than some,” he says. But he still wears a yarmulke, and says he feels safe at UVA and in Charlottesville “most of the time.”

Wittney Skigen. Courtesy subject

Wittney Skigen, also a rising fourth-year, wears a pendant that identifies her faith.

“There are definitely times that I think twice about whether or not to wear my Star of David necklace, but I always decide that the right answer is yes,” she says. “I think I am more aware of my surroundings now, but I do not feel less safe on Grounds or in the community.”

Both students say one of the most powerful moments of being a WaJew was the Unity Shabbat they hosted for the entire university community last semester. More than 150 people of all faiths attended a Friday night service and nearly 100 others joined for dinner afterward.

“Seeing the support from so many communities made me more proud to be Jewish than I can even describe,” says Skigen.

Adds Brody-Boyd, “It was a wonderful event. I don’t think I stopped smiling that entire night.”

Both students also agree that life at the university is returning back to normal.

“Jewish life here at UVA was different for a long time, and in some ways is still healing from it,” says Brody-Boyd. “However, I would say that we have never been stronger as a community.”

Echoes Skigen, “While August 11 and 12 definitely affected the Jewish community, we have made a concentrated effort, which I think succeeded, in not letting it define our year. …If anything, I think [it] brought the Jewish community closer together, and brought a few more people into our doors. The solidarity that Jews of all levels of involvement feel and show has been really great to see this year.”

The cognitive science and public policy student says the academic rigor of UVA is what primarily drew her to the university, but she considered the size and activity of the Jewish populations of each school she looked at.

“Being a Jewish student at UVA means I have a community that I automatically feel comfortable in to fall back on when the school starts to feel too big,” says Skigen. “However, although Judaism is a huge part of my identity, it’s just that—a part.”


When four years isn’t enough

UVA alums who stay in Charlottesville after graduation

By Alexis Gravely

For the first three years that Lee Kussman was a student at the University of Virginia, she expected she would live somewhere exotic post-graduation—a place like San Francisco. But by the time she was ready to graduate with her systems engineering degree in 2014, she knew that Charlottesville was where she wanted to be.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized Charlottesville really checked the boxes for me, and I had a community here that I really loved,” Kussman says.

Kussman is not alone. Thousands of students leave the university each May, but hundreds of them choose to stay. According to data from UVA’s Career Center, 202 graduates from the Class of 2016 reported they would be remaining in the city after graduation. Additionally, Charlottesville was among the top three postgraduate destinations for the classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The appeal of remaining in or returning to Charlottesville after graduation is different for everyone. For Kussman, it was the community of people she found in the area and the lower cost of living than a bigger city. For Luxie Hair Services owner Destinee Wright, a 2017 graduate of UVA, it was a place to launch her career.

“I think that I’m building a solid foundation here for what I want to do,” Wright says. “I don’t think I’ll stay in Charlottesville for my whole life, but I think that right now this is where I need to be to set myself up.”

Destinee Wright stayed in Charlottesville after graduating from UVA in 2017 because she saw the city as a good place to open a haircare business. Graham Evans, a 2009 UVA grad, recently launched Bluegrass Creamery, a local organic ice cream company. Artist Brielle DuFlon graduated from UVA in 2010, and stayed here because Charlottesville has a “nice combination of a small town familiarity” and an excellent food, drink and music scene. Photos by Eze Amos, Martyn Kyle

Graham Evans, a 2009 graduate, also found that Charlottesville was a place to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations. He stayed in town for a year-and-a-half after he graduated and worked with a local start-up. After spending time traveling nationally and internationally, Evans returned to Charlottesville two-and-a-half years ago, and recently launched Bluegrass Creamery, an organic ice cream business.

“I was really interested in getting to know Charlottesville not as a student and was very surprised and pleased to learn that there’s this whole other world out there that I didn’t really know,” Evans says. “There was a lot to learn, a lot to get to know [and] a lot to explore in ways that were hard to do as a student.”

Both he and Kussman said the culture of the city—from the vibrant music scene to the variety of local restaurants—were parts of Charlottesville they didn’t always experience as a student but were factors they considered when deciding to live here.

Evans also said he appreciates the geography of Charlottesville—that it’s located in the mountains, sits on the Rivanna River and is only three hours from the Atlantic Ocean—which is what’s made it unique from the other places he’s lived.

Brielle DuFlon, a 2010 graduate and local artist, said the people from all walks of life who help to make Charlottesville special and welcoming is what she finds different about the area.

“I think it’s got a nice combination of a small town familiarity with a lot of the citizens here, yet has amazing food and amazing music and an amazing bar and cocktail scene,” DuFlon says.

Wright also says Charlottesville is unique from the many other places she’s lived—but not in a positive way.

“Charlottesville is really racist,” Wright, who is black, says. “I’ve had multiple incidents this year. I went to 12 different public schools all across Virginia, I lived in North Carolina for a bit, too—this is a super racist area. People like to frame it as racism just now came to Charlottesville, but it’s been here.”

Evans also acknowledges that Charlottesville isn’t perfect, describing the area as “in a bubble.”

“Sometimes people blind themselves to the ways that we’re not better than the rest of the world, in terms of how we handle issues,” Evans says. “With what happened on August 12 last year and in July with the KKK rally, those have certainly forced us as a town to confront some of the underlying seediness that is in this part of the country and in central Virginia and in our town.”

Regardless of both the good and bad of Charlottesville, the biggest reason UVA graduates stay often isn’t just about the food or the four seasons or the big-city perks with a small-town feel—it’s about the people they’ve found and the life they’ve built.

“I’ve created my own community,” Wright says. “I pick and choose who I want to interact with. I really have built my own network of amazing, beautiful people. I’ve had some of the best times I’ve had in my life here through my own work.”


Life on the lawn

A visit to Grounds isn’t complete without a stroll past the fourth-year Lawn rooms in hopes of sneaking a peek inside via an open door. The good news for all of us is that these students—Lawnies—love telling stories about their time at UVA and reminiscing with alumni who come back to see their former digs. Below, three Lawnies share some of their favorite memories of the past four years, as well as advice for incoming first-years.

Maeve Curtin

Hometown: Falls Church, Virginia

Major: Global development studies and government. Will be returning to UVA in August to pursue her master’s in public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

What involvements/accomplishments led to you getting a Lawn room?

Most of my involvements centered around community engagement and public service. Student Council and serving as the student liaison to the Charlottesville City Council took up most of my time, but allowed me to learn more about UVA and Charlottesville than I ever imagined and definitely increased my love for this place and my desire to improve it. My other main involvements include serving as an R.A., moderating for Sustained Dialogue and PULSE, sexual violence and hazing prevention work and Best Buddies.

How many times a week do people stop by and ask to see your room?

I keep my door open as much as possible when I’m home and people always stop in and ask questions about living on the Lawn. On weekend mornings I meet tons of visitors who love coming in to look around; on average I would say that about five days a week I have people pop in to look at the room. Little kids love commenting on how tall my loft is and sometimes even ask to climb up. Adults tend to gravitate toward my wine rack.

What’s the best thing about living on the Lawn?

The fact that I can come home almost any time or day of week and find people either hanging out in my room or nearby outside. I love that it’s not just my home, but a room so many friends feel just as comfortable in as well. I also did not realize how important my neighbors would become, but when I look back on my Lawn experience, I know it will be that special community that stands out most.

What’s your favorite hidden spot at UVA (it’s okay, you can tell us now that you’re leaving!)?

I like studying on the top floor of the Special Collections Library. It’s a beautiful building that’s never crowded and the view of Central Grounds is really beautiful.

What’s the best place to eat on campus?

I love going to get food from any of the food trucks by the amphitheater. It’s a good way to spend time outside and you’re always bound to run into someone you haven’t seen in a while since they are so popular.

What’s the best/coolest thing you attended during your time at UVA?

This March I went to a panel discussion sponsored by the Virginia Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission. Dr. Wesley Harris, who was a student activist at UVA as an undergraduate student and the primary student responsible for bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Grounds in 1963, participated in this event. He also lived in my room on the Lawn, and so in addition to hearing these very thoughtful insights from panelists about UVA, Charlottesville and race in America, I had the opportunity to meet a former Room 53 resident. I loved hearing stories from Dr. Harris about his time at UVA, as I do with all alumni, but particularly those who lived in my room because it reminds me of the incredible history and stories that exist in the space I’m lucky enough to inhabit.

What advice would you give a first-year?

Never lose sight of the people who matter. Coming from a nostalgic fourth-year who has been asked about favorite memories a lot recently, I have centered every story around the people who shared those memories with me. Say yes to a picnic on the Lawn even when you’re trying to write a paper, go get dinner with your first-year hall, organize a Humpback hike, show up at your friends’ concerts, games and recitals, and invest time in your friends because it’s the most valuable gift you can give.

Why did you choose to go to UVA?

As a student from Virginia, I always knew I would apply to UVA, but never really considered coming here seriously. When I finally visited in March of my senior year I absolutely fell in love with the people here and knew this was where I wanted to spend my college years. I remember watching a UVA basketball game in a Lawn room and was incredibly impressed by the diversity of conversations all the students were having while watching the game. From Shakespeare and Russian literature to debates on the meaning of American democracy, discussion of college basketball stats and even stories of streaking the Lawn, my conversations with friends and classmates have mirrored those I heard that night.

There were some difficult events that drew national attention during your time at UVA—how did that affect your college experience?

The Class of 2018 has undoubtedly had a challenging time at UVA. Confronted with tragedy after tragedy and headline after headline, I know that inevitably these events have changed the way I see UVA and Charlottesville. I know most people expect that change to be a negative one, but much like living with no air conditioning and walking outside to use the bathroom, it is just the way things have been. It’s taught me the value of student leadership and made me believe in the healing power of a community that comes together. These events made us more resilient and reminded us all to tell people how much they mean to us a little more often.

Maeve Curtin. Photo by Stephen Barling

Anna Wickham

Hometown: Atlanta

Major: History

Did you know you wanted to live on the Lawn since you were a first-year?

I had always romanticized the Lawn but never thought I would get to experience it firsthand. This was a general attitude of reverence among friends, but imagining our own places on the Lawn felt too far away. I remember feeling completely enchanted during a club meeting in a fourth-year student’s room on the east side in my first weeks at UVA, and I couldn’t ignore that I wanted to be a part of the community in this way.

What involvements/accomplishments led to you getting a Lawn room?

I co-founded a club focused on providing college counseling services to first-generation college applicants called FairED, and I work as a research assistant in the Curry School’s Nudge4 labs that intersect education and technology. Additionally, I work as the internal chair of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, wrote for the Cavalier Daily’s Life section and served as a Kappa Delta recruitment chair.

How many times a week do people stop by and ask to see your room?

Perhaps 10 to 15 on average, but the numbers are much higher on nice days. During Days on the Lawn I talked to dozens of families and future Hoos!

What’s the best thing about living on the Lawn?

I have been amazed at the community of friends, new and old, that’s formed on the Lawn this year. I count my neighbors as some of my closest friends with whom I’ve made unforgettable memories that have defined my UVA experience. I wouldn’t trade my fourth year here for anything because of them.

What’s your favorite hidden spot at UVA (it’s okay, you can tell us now that you’re leaving!)?

There’s a little pathway behind Garden X, past the serpentine walls and before the East Range. When you stand at a certain point on the path, the scene looks as if it came straight out of Colonial Virginia, and it’s so beautiful in every season.

Anna Wickham. Photo by Stephen Barling

What’s the best/coolest thing you attended during your time at UVA?

Seeing Angela Davis speak at the Paramount was truly incredible—she’s a hero of mine and hearing her perspective on the horrific events of August 11 and 12 gave me hope for the future and reinstated the strength and wisdom of female leaders. Other honorable mentions include all Whethermen improv comedy shows and the area poetry program capstone presentations.

What advice would you give a first-year?

Invest time and energy into friendships you care about, go on as many adventures as you can, take a class in women, gender and sexuality and African-American studies, ask good questions, go to office hours, recycle when you can, save keepsakes from special moments over your four years, pursue those things in life that you really want.

How many items have you checked off the “Things to Do Before I Graduate” list?

110–hoping to get the final eight by graduation!

There were some difficult events that drew national attention during your time at UVA—how did that affect your college experience?

Tragic and heartbreaking events beginning in September of first year with Hannah Graham and ending with the terrorist marches of August 11 and 12 were painfully difficult to reconcile. However, with each national headline, they brought us closer together. They also spurred important conversations and helped to improve existing UVA policies and practices.

David Birkenthal

Hometown: Lutherville, Maryland

Major: Politics, honors

Did you know you wanted to live on the Lawn since you were a first-year?

Until early in my second year, about when my third-year friends were thinking about applying to the Lawn, I legitimately believed you had to either, one, be a UVA legacy student or, two, be in a secret society in order to live on the Lawn. Honestly, for all I know, I might be the first-ever Lawnie who isn’t in a secret society.

What involvements/accomplishments led to you getting a Lawn room?

In my Lawn application, I wrote about the toy library my friend Madison Lewis (shout-out!) and I got started, so I guess I’d say that’s what landed me here. Every JMRL location now has these toy sets available for children to come borrow as they would a book. The program makes sure that all young kids in the Charlottesville area, no matter their socioeconomic status, have access to the sorts of high-quality toys that promote pretend play and encourage involvement from mentoring figures, like a parent or a sibling, in a child’s playtime.

How do you deal with the elements: no air conditioning/having to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night?

I’ve only had a few rough nights with the temperature, and we only had one snowfall of any significance this year. I usually joke with tourists that UVA convinces you that living on the Lawn is a big honor, and then you find yourself walking in a robe to go take a shower in 8-degree weather, and you just have to wonder if this is just all a big prank.

What’s your favorite hidden spot at UVA (it’s okay, you can tell us now that you’re leaving!)?

In Alderman Library’s new stacks on floor 2M there’s the comfiest red rolling chair that I’ve been sitting in since second year to do homework or just watch a movie. I looked up the price of this chair once, because that’s what I do when I procrastinate, and it’s “only” $100, so if anyone is looking to get me a graduation gift…

What’s the best/coolest thing you attended during your time at UVA?

The Concert for Charlottesville was definitely exciting, but I was also able to snag a ticket to go hear Hillary Clinton speak last semester during the Women’s Global Leadership Forum and that was amazing to hear her talk a bit about the 2016 campaign.

What’s one thing you won’t miss about UVA?

Bees. I’m getting better, but I’m still very afraid of bees and Grounds has a heck of a lot of them. I get that all the plants make UVA a beautiful college, and I get that bee populations are at risk, but geez Louise these bees!

David Birkenthal. Photo by Stephen Barling

How many items have you checked off the “Things to Do Before I Graduate” list?

Not nearly enough. Once I realized I was never going to wake up early enough to get the No. 1 ticket a Bodo’s, I started just picking and choosing the ones I wanted to do.

Why did you choose to go to UVA? Did it meet your expectations?

I was accepted here and Penn State. I love Happy Valley dearly, but Penn State is one of the country’s most expensive schools for out-of-state students, and AccessUVA made coming to UVA the only reasonable decision. I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but in these past four years I’ve watched Brittany Howard perform live, driven to the Grand Canyon, saw Katie Couric speak, rushed the field at Scott Stadium (twice), become neighbors with Larry Sabato and road-tripped to Mount Rushmore with my best friend, so whatever expectations I could’ve had have definitely been exceeded.

There were some difficult events that drew national attention during your time at UVA—how did that affect your college experience?

In my first year, with Hannah Graham, Rolling Stone and Martese Johnson, I felt much more like a spectator, unsure of what my place was in all this and just watching the fourth-years lead the community, and I know that most of my class feels similarly about that beginning period of our time at UVA. In the past year, with the events of August 11 and 12, I can say that I was proud to watch those I like to think of as my peers become anything but spectators. On the 11th, I was here in my room, and on the 12th, I was downtown working at The Haven. That less than 24-hour period still gets to me, to say the least, as anyone I’ve spent much time around this year could tell you.

I think I can only describe it all as a unique college experience, being somehow both universally understood (CNN and the president made sure of that), while still being entirely incomprehensible to anyone but myself. When I talk about my college years, I’ll inevitably end up talking about being 30 yards or so from a highly publicized domestic terrorist attack, which is, for lack of a better word, different. But, I think I’ve found that I conceive of my sense of purpose as forever fundamentally tied to UVA and Charlottesville because of being part of the unprecedented and extraordinary events in my first few years as a member of this community. I’m not really sure where I’ll find myself after graduation and in the coming years, but the people of the Charlottesville community will always act as a guide for me, and that alone is more than I could have ever asked for from these past years.