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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