Rotunda_University_of_Virginia

UGuides to Introduce New Tour Program with HRL

On Tuesday, Sep 19., the Student Senate met in Newcomb Theater for its first meeting of the year to address the events of Aug. 11 and 12.

At the Senate meeting, the University Guides Service presented their new initiative, a tour program called “If These Grounds Could Talk”, which will expose first-year students to the University’s history of racial prejudice. The program will be run as a joint effort with the Housing and Resident Life department. Within this joint effort, HRL aims to help foster an open dialogue within residence halls to gather ideas about action towards racial justice within the University community.

By focusing on the University’s entanglement with white supremacy, UGuides is hoping to bring light to Charlottesville’s August events by engaging with the questions, “Why here?” and “Why now?”

But I have a better question for UGuides: why only first-year students?

The University has not announced plans to include this information in Grounds tours for prospective students. Perhaps they are working towards that goal and are waiting to see how the tours pilot first. But why wait? Are we trying to avoid scaring prospies (and their tuition dollars) away with discussion of some of the University’s more shameful past and how it produced its present context?

National media coverage of these events means they’ve already been hashed and rehashed for us. Through whatever lens prospective students have seen the Unite the Right rally and subsequent discourse, they– and everyone else– know about it. We cannot just sweep these events under the rug and continue business as usual (whatever ‘usual’ is for UVA, given the number of times we’ve been in the national spotlight in recent years).

Especially harmful is the message we send to prospective students of color by not addressing the August events as they consider attending UVA. These students may visit the University unsure of how safe they’ll be on Grounds. They have a right to know what changes are being made to change the contexts that bred such a hateful display and how they can be a part of it.  

Wes Gobar, President of the Black Student Alliance (BSA), also spoke at the Student Senate meeting. Among the BSA’s demands in response to the tiki torch march on the Rotunda was one calling for matching the ratio of Black students at the University to that of Black students in the state.  Specifically:

“8. As of last year, the percentage of African American undergraduate students enrolled in the University was 6.4%. The University must take action to ensure that as a public university, this number is reflective of state demographics at a 12% proportion. Given the impact of recent events, action on this step is crucial.”

Without inviting students of color to be informed voices in changing these contexts, we lose an essential component of such change. But first, these students have to see that we’re actually talking about it. 

Avoiding this conversation with prospective students who visit Grounds is dishonest and does a disservice to not only prospies, but also everyone involved in making the UVA community more aware of and responsive to issues of racial injustice. By failing to include prospies and their families in this dialogue from the start, we’re missing a crucial opportunity to invite potential Wahoos and their families to be part of creating and leading change at this University. We’re especially missing out on attracting the voices we need the most, and are lacking in– those of prospective students of color.

As a University, we have so much energy to take action against the ideals that sparked the August events, including ideals that have been rooted in UVA’s history since the beginning. But we cannot take these steps in the dark. We must invite our communities, our prospective new students and their families, and the rest of the world to take charge in changing our contexts, instead of preoccupying ourselves with hiding from our past.

The Declaration reached out to UGuides and HRL, but both groups were unavailable for immediate comment. 

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Via Cosby and Laurel Spiegelthal are both fourth-years who live, eat, and breathe Dance Dance Revolution.