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.
Gabrielle Stanfield, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2019, Foreign Affairs and Art History, firstname.lastname@example.org