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),





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

EVENT SPOTLIGHT: Preview of Fall Fling and Fall Blast

Hello everyone! My name is Brandie Quarles and I am a third year Biology major and African American Studies minor here at UVA. Fall Fling and Fall Blast are coming up, compelling me to reflect on when I went to Fall Fling my junior year of high school. Fall Fling is an opportunity for prospective black students and their families to explore the university and to find out more about the culture of the campus. Fall Blast is a similar event geared towards Latino students.

Coming in to Fall Fling my junior year of high school, I already knew a little about the university since I had grown up in the Charlottesville area my whole life, but I was curious to learn more about what the black student experience was like. During the morning sessions, I realized that I didn’t know as much about the general student experience as I thought. Those sessions were helpful in terms of the admissions process, making sure I had a good essay, and ultimately when it came down to my decision on whether or not to come to the university. While those sessions were important, the most memorable part of that day was the lunch with current students. My mom and I really enjoyed getting to hear what UVA is really like for black students straight from a current one. That lunch was both inspiring and practical. I remember the student explaining that yes, there is a minority of us here, but that doesn’t stop us from excelling at our academics and still having a strong black culture.

The discussion that I had with that student was so influential to me and my decision to come to the University of Virginia, it has inspired me to volunteer to be one of those lunch buddies every year since I have been here. I really love getting to clear up any misconceptions about the university and to be honest about what our current situation is. While it may discourage some, I hope that some of the students I talk to decide that it is worth it to come to this university and sometimes be the only person of color sitting in a large lecture hall because ultimately black culture here is strong and this university is one of the best there is.

That being said Fall Blast is on Friday, November 13, 2015 and Fall Fling is on Saturday, November 14, 2015, maybe I’ll see you there!

Faculty Relations and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at UVa

By Diogo Fortes – 1st year Undeclared Major

The transition to college is an awkward period in every first year’s life. You’re put in an environment that is utterly foreign to you, and that is in many ways the polar opposite to high school. You bid farewell not only to the familiarity of the subjects but also to the close relationships between students and teachers in high school. College professors often do not have the opportunity to get to know all of their students, and it’s easy to blend into the crowd and become another name in a sheet of paper. Faculty relations is an important concern for prospective students, as it should be. After all, how approachable and responsive are faculty here at UVa?

Hoping to provide an answer I set out to contact a professor in a department I hadn’t taken classes in, to get their opinion on the matter and get them to provide an overview of what their department might offer to prospective students. I found the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGS) program particularly suitable since it is a field of study very rarely (if at all) offered in high schools, and one many of the readers may be interested or curious about (after all, college is the time to expand your mind). I hence decided to contact Dr. Charlotte Patterson, chair of the WGS department here at UVa; Dr. Patterson is also a professor in the Psychology department, and was kind enough to accept being interview for Hoos Talking.

Dr. Patterson has been involved with the WGS program for many years now, and we got to talk briefly about the department’s history here at the University. The WGS program got started 30 years ago under the name of Women’s Studies, as an interdisciplinary program counting with only one half-time faculty member. In the early 90’s it became known as Studies in Women and Gender and more recently, in recognition of a growing work for diversity, adopted its current name.

Women, Gender and Sexuality is a growing program here at UVa. Since its infancy, Dr. Patterson points out, interest for the major has continually grown. The program enrolled over 1000 students in its classes last year and offers a plethora of extracurricular events both for WGS majors and non-majors. There has been a clear increase in demand, with classes offered often being full and with long wait lists (fret not; classes are offered many times and in ample amount throughout the year). There are now about 75 students majoring in WGS.

You don’t have to be a WGS major to take full advantage of the program, Dr. Patterson adds. One of the programs most outstanding features is its array of events offered to students. The department often organizes movie screenings, panels and speaker events. It department invites eminent social philosophers, feminist writers, awarded filmmakers and celebrities like transgender activist Janet Mock, who attracted more than 200 students to hear her speak last Spring. It organizes events that students express an interest in and ultimately exposes our community here at UVa to new and challenging ideas. As Dr. Patterson concludes, “gathering these viewpoints and integrating them into a solidified, substantiated perspective”, an important part of the college experience for many students. (If you’re still not convinced by that, I forgot to mention that the events offer free food – a commodity no college student in their right mind ever refuses).

Finally, I asked Dr. Patterson how she would describe student-faculty relationships, given her experience teaching at two separate departments. She responded that, in her experience, faculty make a sustained effort to know students, especially those who go to Office Hours. At WGS, the small class sizes offered make it easy for students and faculty to bounce off ideas and really get to know each other both in class and at the multiple events hosted. But while class size is helpful in building that familiarity, that attitude is prevalent amongst most faculty at UVa. When planning the University, Dr. Patterson adds, Thomas Jefferson pictured it as an “academical village”, where students would “live near and run into their professors” regularly. Ultimately, these real relationships would make the learning process easier and classes more interesting.

In my five-week long experience, I can attest that going to Office Hours, asking questions at the end of lecture and being proactive in your relationship to faculty is the way to go. Despite their best effort, faculty will not get to know you if you don’t make a significant effort to get to know them. And that includes not only asking about material covered I class. Ask them about their research, their time at UVa, their professional path; professors are people too (I know, shocking) and most of them enjoy seeing their students succeed and be interested in their area of study. Want to be appreciated as a learner and a human being by faculty? Then learn to appreciate faculty as teachers and people. You’ll be surprised by what you might find.

Review of Spring Fling/Black Alumni Weekend

By Jacob Uskavitch

2nd year – AAS and CHEM Major

Over this past weekend, I further realized the depth of the black community at the University of Virginia. Hosting perspective students during Spring Fling and connecting with graduates at Black Alumni Weekend intertwined the past with the current and future of the student community. While it has been a rough year in regards to everything surrounding grounds, this weekend was well needed in providing discussion and an overall good time with fellow, past, and hopefully future classmates.

For Spring Fling, I volunteered to host two perspective students overnight. I really enjoyed showing these two future hoos around grounds and making sure they had a good time. This was a great opportunity for them to ask questions to current students, to visit classes and dorms, and to figure out what the college experience is like at the University.

From Black Voices having their alumni sing at their concert to mingling with brothers who were initiated into the Iota Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. decades ago, graduates are very involved in the university community and are heavily active in the organizations they were once members as u11038805_10206286233659857_2597341008819131865_ondergraduates. Reaching out to graduates is a common thing when it comes to finding research or job opportunities during the summer or after graduation. Our community fosters that connection.

As this was my first time hosting for Spring Fling and attending Black Alumni Weekend, I look forward to the next time participating in these events.