I’m a black student at the University of Virginia. What I found when I went back Sunday

 

And here is more about what the University of Virginia is doing to keep students safe:

Regarding student safety, a good place to start is by remembering to “take three” minutes to review the safety placard posted in each classroom on your first day.  Also, yesterday’s UVA Today article, Seven Resources to Help Students Stay Safe at UVA, catalogs important safety resources.

Timeline of statements: https://alumni.virginia.edu/charlottesville-violence-aug-11-12-2017/

Letter to the Incoming class: https://news.virginia.edu/content/open-letter-class-2021-uva-black-alumni

 

 

From My Perspective

Admittedly, a love for the University of Virginia was somewhat indoctrinated in me as a result of my parents love for their alma-mater; however, as I began to consider UVA beyond the experience of sporting events and alumni receptions, I was most excited by the opportunity to create my own story at the University. In addition to the many traditions, experiences and qualities that make UVA unique, one of the things I have most appreciated about my experience at the University thus far is the academic opportunities and support that exist. Coming to this large Virginia state school from a very small private school in Massachusetts, I was definitely interested in recreating the impactful personal relationships that I benefited from in high school. I worried about how to make myself known in classes of 150 students, how to approach my professors for help and how to create long lasting relationships out of classes that lasted only a semester.

From our first moments on grounds as participants in orientation, our Associate Deans and Program advisors made themselves available as valuable resources as I began to navigate my way through class selection, fulfilling area requirements and determining my major at the University. First semester, I found myself in an African-American Art History course taught by Professor Carmenita Higginbotham. Knowing absolutely nothing about Art History, I considered this class to be a complete gamble. I came to the University with intentions of applying to the Batten School or majoring in Politics given my long lasting interest in social justice and global human rights policies. Professor Higginbotham revealed to us a completely new way of studying the history of African Americans in the US through the consideration of numerous remarkable and engaging paintings, sculptures and photographs that are often lost in history due to context and time period in which they were completed. I was surprised by way in which this course incorporated my interest in social justice given the ability to consider the struggle and triumph of black Americans through its portrayal in artistic expression. This class sparked for me a strong interest in the study of Art History, something that I had never even considered. The following semester, I took another course with Professor Higginbotham; at the completion of that course, I was officially confused.

I entered into panic mode (a first year college student experiencing uncertainty in the future of their academic pursuits #terrifying). One of the greatest sources of support and guidance in this situation came from my Program Advisor, Professor Theresa Davis, also known as Lady T. She encouraged me to explore the ways in which an Art History major incorporates into my larger interests in the study of culture. As I delved deeper into this interest, I began to see the ways in which the study of Art History correlates strongly with same qualities of Politics that I initially sparked my interest. For that reason, I have decided to double major in Art History and Foreign Affairs and minor in Spanish (I am still utilizing the many advising, career office and academic resources that exist to determine a career path with this medley of study but I feel confident that they will cultivate into an interesting profession.)

Lady T has been an integral part of my experience at the University. As an African American student, I felt extremely blessed to have an African American Advisor. Lady T approaches both teaching and advising with a considerable amount of passion and thoughtfulness. She brightens a room and brings positive energy to every situation encouraging participation, risk taking and openness. In addition to interacting with her as my advisor, I had the opportunity to get to know her in a different context given her role as a leadership presence in Black Voices: a gospel choir on grounds and one of the first organizations with which I got involved at the University. Creating a strong personal and spiritual bond with one a professors early on in my experience, allowed me to feel extremely comfortable and supported in my academic and extracurricular pursuits.

Lady T represents one of many influential African-American faculty members at the University. Within the Office of African American Affairs there are a number of deans who go out of their way to form meaningful relationships with students and act as sounding boards and voices of reason in moments of uncertainty and transition. Dean Mason works closely with black students who participate in the Peer Advisor program and Dean Basset, though I have not had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with her has provided me with a number of unique opportunities including a trip to hear Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak in Washington DC. Additionally the office of OAAA hosts a number of events including Black Friday (free food for African American students on Friday afternoons!! and ceremonies to welcome first year African American students and honor the accomplishments of students.

Given my experience as a student thus far, I can truly say that the opportunities and resources that exist for all students but in particular black students at the University of Virginia contribute strongly to creating the personal and supportive atmosphere that I initially sought in a college experience and I believe it has contributed greatly to my success and happiness here as a student.gabby stanfield

Gabrielle Stanfield, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2019, Foreign Affairs and Art History, ges3dg@virginia.edu

 

My UVA

The majority of current and future college students have probably heard the phrase “college is nothing like high school” countless times, and of course those words of advice are correct!!!

For some of us, college is our first chance to act as independent adults and establish ourselves in the real world beyond the confines of our high school campuses. Some people’s method of attaining a fulfilling experience at college is different from others, but all in all, we find a way to make the college experience work for our individual tastes and interests.

As a first semester student here at UVA, I was slightly overwhelmed by the number of new choices I felt as though I had to make for my future and by the vast variety of opportunities offered to me at UVA. I had to learn (rather quickly) that yes, UVA is a difficult institution academically speaking, and there will be times – unlike in high school – where I would not achieve the same level of academic success as I once did. And it is not because I am not smart or any less deserving to be here than others, but simply because that is the level of rigor UVA holds itself to in order to challenge students to become better academically, better learners, and overall better people.

UVA has its fair share of difficulties and shortcomings (as does any other college institution), but I can say that UVA has one of the most tightly-knit communities made from people of various backgrounds that I have ever seen. I have made friends simply from striking up random conversations on topics a lot of UVA residents are openly willing to discuss and talk about in a safe environment. I am now able to openly support many groups and speak up against injustices that I was hesitant to talk about before out of fear of backlash. In all, I try to not let a few bad apples ruin my experience of  UVA’s progressive culture and amazing support system.

It has taken a couple of weeks to come to this conclusion, but I finally feel as though UVA is genuinely where I belong and I would not trade such a feeling for anything in the world (with a few exceptions like world peace and an end to world hunger among other global changes…. but you get the point)!

Good Luck Hoos!!

Mya Singleton, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2020, Pre-Medicine, mcs9eu@virginia.edu

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Reflection on Diversity & Culture on Grounds

Four years ago, I received my acceptance letter to attend the University of Virginia. It was the middle of January and I just returned inside with my envelope in hand. Standing in our hallway, I opened and read “Congratulations on your acceptance into…”. “Mom!” “What is it?”, she says as she walks from the kitchen. “I just got into UVA!” ‘Til this day, I can still remember the warmth of that embrace hugging my mom in joy. Fast forward to now, the only thing I regret in regards to UVA was not accepting earlier.

My reasoning on coming is rather simple. The colleges I was considering were similarly academically rigorous with good reputations. The deciding factor was campus climate. It was late in my high school’s spring break, and yet it was snowing for my Days on the Lawn visit. However, the current students were merrily going to class amidst freezing temperatures. This sold Grounds to me. During orientation, I met Dean Bassett and Dean Grimes working the booth for the Office of African American Affairs’s (OAAA) Peer Advisor Program. They confirmed that UVA was the place for me.

Being a predominantly white institution, the University is a possibility of what minority students will face entering the post-college world. From the black student community, there can be instances that indicate UVA is not the place for us. These instances include racial slurs uttered on Rugby Road and written on first-year dorm walls, being viewed as suspects by our peers and profiled by Alcohol and Beverage Control agents, and being one of a few black students in a sea of large lecture hall whiteness. Being a Chemistry and African-American & African Studies double major, this disparity in class profiles was personally apparent. My day could go from CHEM 402, learning intro chemistry and not knowing the other few black students, to New Cabell 485, discussing the global effects of blackness with a mostly black class.

However disheartening this may seem, this particular issue can be solved rather quickly, and was solved for me. The understanding that working together will help us succeed overcomes slightly knowing each other. Black pre-medical students aren’t required to be in my CHEM major specific classes. Last semester, I barely knew one of the other black students in my Biochemistry lecture, but by the second class we exchanged contact information and knew that we could reach out to each other in understanding the material. Despite being a medium-to-large sized school, the University really becomes quite small. I can walk around Grounds and always small talk with at least one familiar face going to class, the dining hall, or library. This tightly-knit community has become my home in Charlottesville.

Without the Peer Advisor Program, my post would not be the one you are reading right now. A Resident Advisor in my first-year dorm was a peer advisor, and I owe it to that big brother relationship, walking me to OAAA, and now my best friend for my adjustment to Grounds. From there, I branched out leading the return of Black Ball, working with the Black Male Initiative, and joining the Iota Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. From these involvements, my acquired leadership skills have prepared me for my career while gaining lifelong friends.

If we are going to improve the diversity and culture at UVa, it really starts with the Class of 2021. We recognize the small percentage of current black students, but we also need to counteract prospective black students turning down their admittance. Reach out to me or any other student you know here. Gain a fuller perspective of the University from learning about the lived experiences of others. These four years really do go by swiftly. Cherish those precious moments. Have the struggles challenge you to improve, and you will find your place at UVA. When you do, live it to the fullest.

Jacob Uskavitch, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2017, African American Studies and Chemistry Major (Pre-Medicine concentration), jru2hb@virginia.edu

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Human

iqra-razzaq

My name is Iqra Razzaq and I’m currently a first year in the College of Arts and Science. I’m Pakistani-American and grew up in a small town in southwest Virginia with my four sisters. I’m currently undeclared, however I’m interested in politics and media studies, and hope to eventually reach law school. I’m a University Achievement Award scholar and am active in ESOL with Madison House, and I volunteer as a Sunday School teacher at the ISCV center throughout the year.

Video Background: I initially constructed this video concept to humanize the Refugee Crisis, and planned on interviewing various refugees and non-refugees (i.e. staff and students from UVA). I felt many times these refugees were defined solely through wars and this caused a rift in understanding the global community; it became difficult to view refugees simply as human beings because many couldn’t relate to them. I planned on asking simple questions to evoke common human emotions we all share and show that regardless of everything, we are all human. After the election, I had to shift focus as I realized I couldn’t move to an exterior issue when there was a dire interior issue among both political parties as they were greatly dehumanizing each other. I now asked the same set of questions I was going to use for the first concept in this video to heal the new divides in the community. The point is to start a conversation of difference, to truly understand those who may look or believe different from us, and to realize how similar we actually are. Please click here to view the video.

– Iqra Razzaq

 

 

Eliminate the Hate

To anyone keeping up with local or national news, it should come as no surprise that the past few weeks have been especially difficult for many Americans. Regardless of your political beliefs and affiliations, the recent presidential election struck you in some way – maybe it created tension between family members or friends, maybe you felt personally attacked or struggled with the results. Although the election is not subject to our influence anymore, our reactions definitely are. The fall semester of this academic year has unfortunately been plagued by insensitive, racialized events that have emphasized the growing need for a strong solidarity between the minority communities at UVa to combat prejudice. While this issue is not unique to U.Va., our Grounds cannot and will not support hate speech or discriminatory action that alienates students of any race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion.

Dissatisfied and disappointed to the recent instances of hate on Grounds, U.Va. students and faculty came together to organize Eliminate the Hate week – a week of peaceful demonstrations and learning opportunities aimed at the unification and growth of the entire University community, condemnation of hate speech, and conversations about combating discriminatory behavior. The week included a teach-in, where teachers held open lectures about racial and social justice both on and beyond Grounds; a love speech wall that encouraged students to leave positive messages around Grounds to counter hate speech, and an Occupy the Rotunda rally, a peaceful protest aimed at communicating dissatisfaction to University administrative leaders. Maddie Boehnlein, a second year student, participated in week’s events. “I’m both really grateful and sorrowful for its presence on Grounds. It’s incredible to see the sheer magnitude of students coming together and working to make U.Va. a safe space for everyone, regardless of color, religion, or background…but it’s also really tragic that these events had to be held.”

As members of minority communities on Grounds, the Eliminate the Hate Campaign was a crucial, edifying movement that voiced the concerns of minority students in addition to calling for equality and tolerance amongst the University as a whole. One of the most encouraging aspects of the campaign was that its open and inclusive foundations demonstrated the overwhelming support of the student body and faculty in our attempt to eradicate bigotry and discrimination at UVa. Individuals from all backgrounds could be seen and heard across Grounds advocating for inclusivity and respect, and throughout the entire week, the support of thousands of students and faculty members was visibly shown. This in itself exhibits the ongoing efforts of the University community to continually make our Grounds a safe and welcoming space for everyone, and moving forward, this campaign highlights the desire of many students and faculty members to continue to stand in solidarity against discrimination.

Although many are disappointed in the University community for succumbing to acts of hate there is still an incredible amount of hope for the future, evidenced by the willingness of both students and faculty members to participate in the Eliminate the Hate events. No community, school, or society is perfect, but it is clear that on Grounds, there is a steadfast commitment to enacting change and improvement. Maurice Wallace, an associate professor in the Department of English and an advocate for racial and social justice on Grounds, encourages students to challenge themselves not only to refrain from acts of intolerance but also actively work to counter them, saying, “Power is not equivalent to force. Justice is not reducible to legalities. And love is far more than an emotional attachment. All make up a social ethic that might better govern our lives together, if we are committed to them. This is all we have, and all we have to do, to realize our better citizenship. To realize what it means to be, to say nothing of what it means to love, a neighbor in the present age. As James Baldwin said, ‘Everything now is in our hands. We have no right to assume otherwise.’”

Submitted by Daniel Rocha (CLAS 2018) and Jordan Kijewski (CLAS 2019)

Black Women’s Initiative

By: Brandie Quarles – 3rd year Biology Major and AAS Minor

There are plenty of clubs at the University of Virginia catered to the black community. However, at the end of my first semester, even after going to BSA’s activity fair and reading all of the event emails, I still found myself struggling to find a club I truly felt like I could be myself in. That’s when I got an evite to the first ever meeting of the Black Women’s Initiative (BWI), a new organization aimed at creating a safe space where black women could come together and speak about issues that are pertinent to them. I was instantly interested and RSVP’d immediately. Walking in to that first meeting and seeing all of the beautiful, smiling brown faces looking back at me I knew I had found my place.

I have not missed a BWI meeting since that first one my first year. The intellectual, thought-provoking, soul-healing conversation keeps me coming back every time. Now, as a third year, I am one of the leaders of BWI, helping plan the meetings, keeping people informed about the organization, and helping facilitate the conversation during the actual meetings. 10-15 girls come to the meetings regularly, encouraging a sense of community and comfort during the actual meetings. I find that people are more willing to share their personal experiences if they are around people they know. BWI meetings are also established as a no judgment zone and my fellow leaders and I make a strong effort to make everyone feel like their opinions and experiences matter as much as anybody else’s, even if they are different than the majority.

So far this year we have had a meeting about “Finding and Maintaining Your Identity as a Black Woman at The University Of Virginia,” “Black Women in the Workplace,” and “Black Femininity and Sexuality.” The first meeting, while directed mostly at first years, also allowed upperclassmen to reflect on their time at UVa and give advice to the first years. For our second meeting we invited in black female professors, faculty, and grad students to participate in the conversation about what it means to be a black woman in the workplace. Lastly, during our most recent meeting, a discussion about black femininity and sexuality, we had one of the richest conversations we have ever had with people sharing what it meant to them to be black and feminine in a world that tends to distort black femininity.

Being a part of BWI has reminded me that I am not alone in my experiences as a black woman at this predominantly white school, but it has also taught me how diverse the black women at this school are. BWI has really helped me discover who I am as a black woman and I hope it continues to do so for many years to come. I will end this post like we do all of our meetings, with this quote: “I am enough. I am worthy, just as I am. Once I realize my worth it makes space for a greater appreciation of yours.”Brandie Blog post.jpg