Last spring, students in the lecture course, “Black Fire: The Struggle for Racial Justice at the University of Virginia (UVA),” conducted a series of oral history projects that sought to document the diverse ways in which African American students, faculty, administrators, and alums have and continue to transform the political, social, and intellectual landscape of UVA. The 150 students enrolled in the course worked in groups ranging from 6 to 12, and each group was responsible for conducting two interviews. The interviewees ranged from Ralph Sampson to founding members of Black Voices. One group interviewed Sylvia Terry, a woman whose contributions to the University are too many to name. The students’ questions and Terry’s answers provide tremendous insight into the inner workings of the Peer Advisory Program, its funding mechanisms, and the central role of parents and alumni in enriching one of UVA’s best traditions. Not only did Mrs. Terry agree to participate in the oral history project, but she also delivered a fantastic lecture on the history of the Peer Advisor Program. A keeper of the tradition in every sense of the term, Terry also emailed me more detailed reflections of her contributions to the University. That email will be posted later. Below is a shortened and largely unedited version of the students’ oral history, which begins with a short description.
Group Members: Adam Beirne, Carmel Bernhau, Dana Cypress, Tameka Glover, Camran Irvani, Amelia Penniman, Thomas Reid
Our group interviewed Dean Sylvia Terry, who for three decades was an institution within the UVa community. Dean Terry’s long career began in 1980, when she was hired as a recruiter for African American students in the Office of Admissions. Her work paved the way for a visitation committee, which evolved into the Peer Advisor Program in 1984. In 1989, she took an assistant dean position in the Office of African American Affairs. It was evident to us that Dean Terry’s experiences- from her upbringing as the child of educators, to her personal experiences as an English major at Virginia State University, to her journey through UVa’s various administrative and cultural institutions- all contributed to the enduring legacy she left at the University. Dean Terry was able to speak to the rich history of black students at UVa, and provided an insight into racial politics at several troubled periods in UVa’s more recent history.
Sylvia Terry Transcription
How did your parents and your experiences growing up in your hometown shape your vocation as an educator and the eventual impact you would have as the director of the Peer Advisor Program at OAAA?
One of the motivating factors for me was the experience I had growing up in a segregated area where U.Va. was not a place that I could have enrolled in. [At] the time I was looking at schools, U.Va. had not opened to women. African American [men] were few, but there were some there. My parents were teachers in Southampton County (Virginia) and I have memories of sitting in the back of the car with them, and [memories of] their going to various households to talk with families about the value of staying in school because it was a rural area, a farming area. Boy, this dates me when I say that they would “pick p’s”. Peanuts were a big thing…and growing cotton. But I remember my parents going from household to household talking about finishing high school, getting that high school diploma, and going to college. And I remember, as a little girl, standing in the yard as my father drove people off to Virginia State University, as is it now. It was Virginia State College back then. It was a black college established for black students during the days of ‘separate and equal’. I grew up with parents who were highly motivating, who wanted to do that. And in some ways, in admission, it gave me the chance…because I remember at one point, not wanting to do what my parents did…but some of my views began to change when I was in college. And when this opportunity came up in terms of working with recruitment, which was like giving back or extending what they had done.
How did your time at Virginia State College and the training you received there shape your vision for the Peer Advisor Program?
The Peer Advisor program was a program to help be an encouraging support. One of the things in terms of the retention of any student is that if there is someone at that University to whom the student feels he or she can turn, that student will be more likely to stay there. So when I look at Virginia State University, we had so much love there. And we had a professor, Joseph Jenkins, he was the chair of the English Department, and he checked on all of us. Not just one or two of us, met with all of us individually to see how things were going. And to me, that was important. And with the Peer Advisor Program, that was one of the things that was important for me – to have students feel there was someone to whom they could turn. I think of RA’s as being like PA’s, and I love the work of the RA’s, but I also know that with African American students, there may be some issues that arise that an RA might not have experience with. I created the Peer Advisor program because of that love that I felt at Virginia State. And I wanted any student to have that sense of love, that sense of caring.
Talk about the first ten years of your career at U.Va. Between 1980 and 1989 you served as an admissions counselor. What were some of the challenges associated with the recruitment of black students?
When we think about those early days, those challenges in terms of some counselors, challenges in terms of parents, I can recall in my first year traveling to the Eastern Shore area of Virginia. You might imagine how I felt in going to the school. And I don’t know if this was something they had up all the time, or if I had missed a parade; I’m not sure. But I was going down the road to the school and the streets were lined with Confederate flags. And then when I got to the school, there were Confederate flags in the front. And when I walked into the foyer, there were Confederate flags and that sent a message to me about what I might be confronting. That represented a certain way that people think. One experience that I had, not there but at another school when we started to visit middle schools to encourage students early to think about college, I later learned that the counselor had sent a letter home to the students with whom I would be meeting and most of those students were not African American. But the letter that she sent was asking permission from the parents to talk with a “black dean from U.Va.” Now, I could have seen if it was “meeting with a dean” but the thrust of the letter was not that. It was because of who I am and was that she made that request. So again, it gets back to some of challenges that we had to face during that time.
How did your earliest interactions with black students here help you to develop the aims of what would eventually become the Peer Advisor program?
When I was in admission, it was the end of my second year. And I remember I had been invited to a meeting with VP Ernest Ern, and he had several black student leaders in his office discussing a variety of concerns that they had about UVa, among them the lack of Black faculty. But I remember sitting next to a fourth year student, again this was near the end of my second year in admission, but he said to us words that I will never forget, and they became a driving force for me in terms of this program. He said, and I would tell this to my PA’s in their training, “UVa has done everything to get me here, and now that I’m here, nobody seems to care.” That still sends chills up my spine. And, I knew, if we’re out recruiting students to this institution, then I didn’t want to hear a cry of isolation – that’s what that was to me – a cry of isolation. I’m here, but where is everybody else. And so, with this program, when I developed it, that’s what was behind that. At admissions, we were providing personalized support. The kind of attention that I got at VS, we gave that in the recruitment of students. We met with families and communities, in their churches, in recreation centers, in a variety of places where we talked about the fact that UVa had changed, that it was interested in diversity. But again, you had some parents that were skeptical about the type of experience that their children would have there.
And so what I did after I heard this student, I went back to my office, there was a black student admissions committee, and they were used mostly for Spring Fling, but I went back to that committee and reorganized it. And I created the Visitation Sub committee. We went to the dorms of first year students to see the students we recruited – how they were doing. And you also should know that we talked to roommates as well. There are ties that come up between admissions persons and students. It may not happen in every case but in so many cases you build those ties up. The reality is if we are building relationships with students, then we have to go back out on the road to start another recruitment cycle, so what’s going to happen to these students if they’re not feeling as comfortable yet. And so the Peer Advisor program came out of this sub committee. A year or so later I wrote up a proposal that OAAA might create a “Black Student Network” to give attention to students like I felt the love and support at Virginia State.
We were talking with students and their families about colleges, and we were advising. Some of our students thought that when they were taking the Achievement Test they had to take that of the advantage of when to take it strategically. We were sharing that information, and so a lot of interaction with families, and so the Peer Advisor program focused on interaction with families. We had a welcome program during orientation, we had this reception, and I would invite the faculty and invite the President. President Casteen was Dean of Admissions and had a long history of interest in diversity. And parents, when they were getting ready to leave, there was a sense of support because they were leaving their children with us. And when you have the president there to, in a sense, confirm that we were welcoming. And that didn’t mean that the students came here and had a perfect existence – that was the role of Peer Advisors and others. The Peer Advisors are, as I see, Heaven-sent. They wanted to make differences in the lives of other students. And actually within that Peer Advisor Program, Peer Advisors became a support for each other.
If I had a middle name at U.Va., it could have been Peer Advisor program, because every time I went to a meeting everybody knew, “she’s going to bring it up! And with my husband, the Peer Advisor t-shirts that we created read, “Lending a Helping Hand, Academically, Psychologically, Socially.” My husband heard me talk so much about this program, that when we got our t-shirts, he designed the shirt. When my kids were growing up, they thought every student was a peer advisor. I had taken my daughter to church on a particular Sunday, and she was ready to go home, while mommy was standing around talking to all these students, and she whispered, “Can’t we go home, can’t you stop talking to all these peer advisors.”
Tell us about the Peer Advisor cheer and how you came up with the idea.
I was a cheerleader in high school, that’s why I created this cheer. I would get so excited, and parents would get so excited, because during that orientation, once those students arrived, I had the Peer Advisors march down the aisle in Newcomb Hall, and I would have them introduce themselves, talk about the activities in which they were involved – because again I wanted them to role model how to be a part of the University – so I ended up with this cheer. I had this program called Harambee that the first years put together to orientate them to the Peer Advisor program and then to talk about the University at large. There was a group, as a part of that, at the University, and they had written me a letter. I went out to the porch of the Luther B. Jackson house, and there was a package addressed to Dean Terry. I still have it. I opened it, and inside, it was a model of the Rotunda, and there was a note that said “Remember, this is your University too.” And I thought this message is not for me, this is addressed to Dean Terry, but this is coming on the day of this important program, so I took that Rotunda with me and it is now a tradition. I would ask students “whose University is this?” And they would respond – “UVa.” I would keep asking – whose University, until I started to hear the response that I wanted to hear. And I would say to students in that program as a part of that Rotunda, is that I want you to know that this is your place. Even though the first African American did not get a degree until 1953, I want you to remember that we have always been a part of UVa. When the institution was built, it was built by the hands of black slaves, so if there is anybody who should take ownership of UVa among the various groups, we should. Because we were here from the beginning.
From this particular note that I later received, it read “at first I thought Dean Terry was crazy because she kept saying ‘whose University whose University’ – but now I understand. I understand that it is mine. And she went on to talk about some of the things, some of the activities of which she had gotten involved, and that was part of it. As we all sit here, this is our University. Everybody in this group has a UVa story. No matter how far away you are, you have a University story, each of you has a story. And if there is anything about UVA now, as we have more diversity, we all bring stories to the table.
UVa is, in my opinion, a far better place than it was in 1819, when Thomas Jefferson created it. A far better place. Because of all the changes. When I look at you, some of us wouldn’t be here if it was 1819. It has grown, and it has changed. And when you go out, I hope each of you will talk about the experiences that you’ve had, and there are few students who have not taken away valuable experiences. The alumni – oh my gracious – I know so many of these alumni because I was here for 29 years. But if we look at African American students in particular, for me to see the growth…I can remember the excitement in the 1980s when 12% of our student population was African American, all that work that went into that. We spent so many times away from our families to get that in recruitment of black students.
You’ve mentioned extensively the ways that the admissions process and recruitment is centered around educating and interacting with families. What were some of the recurring concerns that black parents expressed to you regarding the possibility of their child matriculating to U.Va.? How would address those concerns?
When we get back to the 80s, again, recruiting was difficult in some ways because even though black students could come to U.Va., because of some of those negative things…You know, parents were skeptical about having their sons and daughters to come here. Because if you’re sending your child off to a place where he or she may not have many others around him or her that understand some of the things with which they’ve had to deal, that could be a serious thing to think about for us as parents. And you will learn this if you choose to have children in your lives – it’s hard sometimes to let go. Your parents may have cried. I know I did when my children started in kindergarten so I was crying every few years as they moved from one thing to the other. But there were parents who were concerned about what their son or daughter might experience so we had to deal with that.
Then you had counselors who were not always as excited about students coming because when we were recruiting in the 80s we were coming out of segregation. I am a child of segregation because when I went to school there was a law in which you were supposed to have “separate but equal” [schools] so there was a school for black children and a school for white children, and believe me, the facilities were not the same for those schools. And so, you had some counselors who were not as eager to encourage black students to come to U.Va. because for some…I remember that there was an African American counselor who said that he was not interested in helping me in terms of allowing me to talk to black students because of his own experience. When he was in school, he was not permitted to come here. The Commonwealth of Virginia had come up with this plan that any black student who was going to a white institution, the state would pay those students to go out-of-state. He remembered that very clearly and he still had bitterness for that and at the time, it surprised me but I didn’t think about how little time had passed since he had that experience.
When I think about working in admissions, it had been a little over 25 years since Robert Bland and the time that we were recruiting. I didn’t think about it in those terms at that time, because we weren’t in admissions for the business of history. We were in it for the business of having more opportunities.
But yes, the questions were particularly intense, I think, as we start to have more African American students here. The questions would be similar, but especially in the 1980s – it might have been actually, for about five or six years, we continued to do the community program long after that – but the intensity of the questions really related to the environment: What was it going to be like for their child? If they had heard some negative things, they might share that. Not to put the school of engineering on the spot, but that was a particular school, and there are many loving, kind people who are there now, but you didn’t deal with the population.
And when I think about it, with the earliest – Robert Bland was in the school of engineering – so when I think about it, a lot of the earliest pioneers as I call them, engineering was the school in which they were enrolled, but there were questions about that…I don’t recall as many questions about academics other, for example, the class sizes and that kind of thing because the students coming to UVa, that’s a great thing about the University: we attract the most outstanding students from across the nation, and the world, and so, we had questions but honestly more of it, it’s that mother/ dad kind of thing- what’s going to happen. And one of the ways that we dealt with it – I wanna get to the students, because when I was in admission I remember my first year, people were a little reluctant to use the students to talk, and so I encouraged that, because students will be honest, and if a student had an experience that was great – yeah, I want him or her to share that – but if there was experience that was challenging, I want him or her to know that as well, because one of the factors that can lead to attrition is if a student comes and finds that what was advertised is not what is.
We’ve read that many of your recruitment took place at local schools, churches, and community centers in order to reach out to black students and their families…
When we had community programs, whenever possible I would have students with me, because all those programs we ended up having those more during student breaks, so we couldn’t ensure that students were there. But I used alumni as well, because alumni, as I said earlier for the other programs, would be role models. But they also were a presence. They were showing parents that they had been at UVa, and that they had been successful, and that yes, they may have met some challenges, and they would share whatever those challenges might be, and what we found is, that parents value that honesty. The questions were mostly about the environment, or what their sons or daughters might experience [and] the conversation was amazing to me that – because when you went into these settings, especially with some of these churches, we didn’t ask them to do that, they took such involvement with it. They often even prepared refreshments that afterwards, you know, we had this chance to intermingle. But those sessions have always, when I reflect about some of the things that were really important, it was that, and also just outreaching to students. Because once we had a student on a mailing list, we would continue to contact that student.
I remember, a mother commenting once that we always seemed to contact them at just the right time. And we tried to do that. If it were near the time to apply for financial aid, if it were near the time to even submit an application to UVa, whatever the instance might be, we were trying to do that because again, we were, and I used that word before – advising students/ families in those settings.
Talk about your transition from admissions to the Office of African American Affairs and your work with the Peer Advisor program.
When I was in admissions and was visiting schools I would actually sit down and write handwritten notes. When I started with the Peer Advisor program, what it meant for me was to pick up where admissions left off. We’d send a letter, the first mailing that went out to students was from the President, the second was from our office, and in that letter, we’d talk about the Peer Advisors, the next letter was when I required Peer Advisors to write letters. Admissions and peer advisors letters, the parents really liked that as well. Retention begins with admission. If we are going to recruit students, the words that echoed in my head were words that were the driving force and my passion, I am passionate about this program, it’s my baby. I am passionate about what we did in admissions, because as those numbers rose, that made this place such a better place. We’re not perfect, but you come into an institution that is so diverse, so different from what you would have experienced. If you love this institution, let it be known, because there may be someone out there who is influenced by what you say and may want to come here. Spread that word.
How did your outreach to black students through admissions and the Peer Advisor program changed over time, particularly during your years at OAAA?
We were the first to use email to outreach to students. I would do weekly emails to the group at large to remind them of things to talk about things to do a variety of things, and I was sending them emails and handwritten notes until I started doing a little less of the handwritten notes, because a student had told me, “Oh yeah Dean Terry, I got your letter it arrived about three months ago. I tell you Dean Terry, I don’t check my mail.” I go, “you don’t?!” So I kind of lessened that a little bit, but I value the interaction- the personal interaction between students.
Because I actually had thought at the time with the Peer Advisor program and I was doing this, again I started the handwritten notes and all of that in admissions, but with the peer advisor program, I saw myself as a representative of the faculty, because I do have a faculty appointment but I’m not a teaching faculty, but I thought, if I’m sending letters, and I have this title “dean,” this may keep some students from talking to me or to a professor in class – you know, there were a variety of things – so that was another reason I was doing a lot of outreach, because I just wanted students – I was, my kids can’t believe this, I was really shy at one point in my life – and I know that – and this includes even my experiences at Virginia State, which is why maybe Joseph Jenkins was even more important to me. Because even though I would go to professors, I would have to think long and hard as to really, am I going to do this, what am I going to talk about and can I give this positive impression because this is Doctor such-and-such. So, that was another reason for flooding with so many things – you know – and I would say to you, uh, and technically now, they know me as Dean Terry, but that word “dean” for me, and I’ll just throw that out as an aside, because of my time here – given my relationships with students, “dean” to me is like a title like “aunt,” a title like “cousin,” forgive me but a lot of students have referred to me as being a mother figure. So, to be Dean Terry, that is so special to me, and a part of me and my wanting to, again, just help make students more comfortable in outreaching.
And you know, both in admissions and in the Peer Advisor program, I was so fortunate to have so many faculty that wanted to join hands with me. For that orientation program that I spoke of, during orientation week, we’d have so many faculty who were there, and that sends out such strong messages to parents and to others, not only that you have the president here, but you’ve got lots and lots of faculty members. With my Peer Advisor orientations, faculty would come out because I’d always have an orientation as a part of it – a mixer or a relationship between peer advisors and faculty. And some offices, when I think about it, actually benefited from that, because when I think about the counseling center, when I had a person from the counseling center to come to talk to the peer advisors, this person was so loving and warm, like a lot of counselors are, so I’m not saying the others are not, it’s just the person I chose for the session, and one day she said she had noticed – not one day – she had noticed that we were having more African American students to come, and she finally asked a student, why did you come? And it, what we tracked is, it was coming from peer advisors, because they all fell in love with this lady, and so they were constantly, if there was a situation that warranted visiting – going to the counseling center, that that was something that they could do.
What role have alumni played in your sustained efforts to recruit and retain black students at the University of Virginia?
I’ve been blessed because in my work, especially with the peer advisor program and having programs where I have asked alumni to come back and speak. I remember when I asked Robert Bland, who is the first black undergraduate. I actually asked him twice and I have a story about him. He came up [to the University] two times for me. We were prepared to pay for his transportation, his room, his food and so forth [but] he didn’t want us to do that. He was just happy to come. And when he shared his thoughts and his experiences, he came across to me as a very humble man. There’s a story about Robert Bland, and after at he spoke at a program called Harambee, he kept in touch with me and whenever he would come up, sometimes he would just come just to surprise me. And he’d come by the office because he knew I would have lots of students. And he loved and loves to talk to students. And I think part of that is getting a feel from his day. Now, when he came into the University he was one of three but the other two left. And they left for social reasons and the environment with which they had to deal. And you think about if you were the one person in a setting, or one of three, or one of five, and everybody is so very different, sometimes there are challenges that come with that. But he was so humble and so positive in his speech with students.
One of the reasons I have that particular program [Harambee] is because I wanted to have alumni so that our students could see the successes – so that they could know that if at times, they felt isolated or alone, here are some people who came before me. And each alumnus or alumna that I asked, they all wanted to come back and their messages were always so positive.
How did the U.Va.’s recent history as an institution designed to educate white males of upper to middle class backgrounds shape the challenges black students faced in adjusting to life at the University?
When I think back to admissions in the 1980s, we had challenges. At that point the University was open…it was almost 130 years from the time that it opened to the time that the first African American enrolled. Because actually Gregory Swanson was the first African American to enroll, and again he left for the same reason as the other two that I just described because of the environment that I just described. In reading about him, one of the things that stood out was the fact that he couldn’t live on Grounds. He was in Law School and he actually came in 1950, which was a little before Dr. Ridley. Dr. Ridley who was the first black graduate was in the graduate program in education because he had his Ph.D…but when we think about Swanson…he couldn’t be a part of the social environment. At that point U.Va. was still an all-male institution so fraternities were important to social life but he was not permitted to join that. He couldn’t go to parties. He actually wrote to the president asking, “Can I go to parties” and the president say “No. Parties are private and only those who give them can determine who will come and who will not.” Personally, for me, a part of claiming ownership in an institution is being a part of the family, a part of that environment. I would hate for any student to come to U.Va. and only study. You learn so much from interacting with other people. Here’s a young man, and he can’t do the [social] things that would broaden his education. And think about it, students lost out because they didn’t have a chance to be educated and learn through him as well.”
You’ve talked a little about the racism and prejudice black students faced while at the University. Have there been any moments where you’ve had to confront racism while on the job?
I went to the University of Richmond for a forensics conference, and I was the only African American there, and this was interesting to me, but I remember in leaving one of the workshops, there was a wooded area and a bridge, and I can still see it today, that I had to cross to get to the library where I was going. But I could hear this voice following me, couldn’t see anybody but following me, and they kept using this the n-word, but that word is very offensive, and I was very frightened. And what amazes me is that I never told anyone – I didn’t think that I could because in terms of the people at the school I didn’t think that I could do that. But what amazes me is that I never told my parents, but that was such a frightening experience, to have been singled out and in a sense for those moments to have been chastised as I saw it in that way.
How did OAAA manage to secure funding for programs like BSAC and the Peer Advisor Program?
Money that the University [provided], either through alumni support or state [support], because we are a state institution. And when we look, for example, [at] the 7th president [John] Casteen, part of his job as president was to do the capital campaign in terms of traveling. So a lot of that comes from state funding, and in terms of UVa, a lot of alumni support and parental support. There is a parents’ committee division within the alumni office. With our office and the Peer Advising Program, it was a part of the UVa budget, but because parents valued the program, at first they raised money and made donations to the peer advisory program, and then later they actually went to the president and asked if we could receive greater funding, again because of the value they saw.
And as black enrollment increased in the 80s and 90s, the funding did as well?
[W]ith the Office of African-American affairs, there were not large increases in the budget there, because there were at times questions about if you could get additional funding. And then after, the Commonwealth itself experienced a recession. Every department had to cut back on things, and I remember being concerned about how it was going to affect our office and the support we provided through the Peer Advisor Program. But there is, again, with the alumni, there is a black alumni group that raises money specifically for scholarships, but they also contributed to the capital campaign to help the university in terms of meeting its needs. But the University gets so much from alumni, well-to-do alumni. I could never have a building named after me because I don’t have the finances; so when you look at some of these buildings, they’re named after distinguished persons whose families or other families have given in their honor. Come to think of it, the Ridley Scholarship Fund was kind enough to create a scholarship in my name. But it’s not a building. [laughter]
I’ve had people who used to ask me, because I had been at UVa for 29 years – 9 recruiting students and 20 with the Peer Advisor program, people who I met at grad school would ask me, “Why are you still at UVa?” They’d ask after 10 years, why are you still there, after 15, why are you still there, after 25 the comment went to, “You’re still there?” And my response was: seeing progress, again we’re not perfect, but when I think about the progress that has been made, I am excited and hopeful about that. ‘Cause that’s even true within our society, to have seen that.
In light of the activism of black students at the University of Virginia, including student response to the Farmington Incident, the Cavalier Daily’s coverage of the Griot Society in 2002, and the Daisy Lundy incident, how would you describe the current state of student activism at U.Va.?
I guess from my viewpoint, it went in spells. Things would be going along and something would happen, and I don’t even- and I shouldn’t put it in that way, because in some cases it wasn’t that it just happened; it was an extension of things that had happened [previously]…
One [incident] that tore my heart out happened a little bit later, I’m gonna say ’08? I’m not sure the year, I’m not the best person when it comes to years. But there was a student who was running for student council, and she was attacked. And the university at large came together- and I remember we were all in the Newcomb Hall ballroom- and I felt my heart had been torn out because here we were in the 2000s, and to have a student to be attacked because of her race, for wanting to dare to run for this.
I was sad recently, since I’ve retired I’ve read about some things being written on the Beta Bridge. I had heard yesterday or the day before- this is not race related but it is sensitivity related- about students on the lawn, apparently some people on the lawn were anti-gay [referring to a recent appearance by the Westboro Baptist Church]. And, you know, I had said earlier how proud I am with the progress but we still have things that we need to take care of. Places that we need to take care of, we need to go. And when I think about student activism, you know, there was a time when sometimes things would come up in the Spring of the year, and it would kind of die down by the time that students were supposed to come back. And so sometimes you had impediments.
But I think a saving grace is, and I don’t know quite how to put this, is if students are continuing to speak out and [what they’re speaking about] becomes the issue, if we’re gonna have these things recurring…That’s where I see student power from my viewpoint. The importance of students in terms of what we did for recruitment and the retention of students, for this institution to be strong, we have to have students continue to speak out about things. And sometimes I feel like it’s that student power that is more important than the administrators, because that’s what causes the administrators to really hear. When I think about that last instance, I guess it affected me more because even though there had been some other things, there had not been an attack, and I won’t give you the analogy that I shared with my husband when it first happened, but just the fact that for me it was a violent action that had taken away innocence. We weren’t innocent, because again we have a lot of things to happen; and I don’t know if I felt that way because, ‘Had I become complacent?’ I don’t know. But I know how that moment felt, and I know how that moment felt in the ballroom to have African-American and non-African-American faculty standing up, condemning the action. Because we were in grieving. Maybe that’s how I felt, like it was death. I grieved over that. And when I think of other instances, it can be a small thing or it can be a big thing. Even though one might not know who did it, but in a sense to not speak up would be to allow it. There have been racial things on that bridge. We’ve talked about anti-gay things on that bridge, anti-female things on that bridge. Just about anything on that bridge that could be written that would be hurtful has been written.
I remember students coming into our office – the Office of African-American Affairs – black students, white students…even people in the community. Because when I think back to the days of Lundy and the student who was attacked, there were ministers in the city who came to our gatherings to talk and express [their reactions], and that had happened previously as well. And Latasha knows, because again, I would classify her as being one of those activists. We were so blessed to have her here, and I’ve been excited when we’ve had alumni to come back to the University, but we’re not always able to keep them because sometimes there can be greater opportunities elsewhere. But for them to bring their experience and their knowledge I think can help us to be stronger. I don’t know if I’ve answered either of your questions, other than just to re-emphasize my view of when things happen, just how important it is for students to take a stand.
You have so many stories to share! What is it like for you to reflect on your time here at U.Va.?
Sometimes it’s kind of nice to walk down memory’s lane, even though, again, I will remember things at the University that I was sorry it happened, and it could, something that happened at the University could affect recruitment as well, but not for that reason – just the fact that progress is exciting, and sometimes with progress, things don’t always go as you want them to go, you have to step back, it’s like, behind successes there are failures, we all know that, and sometimes it’s from the failures that you learn. And so, as this institution has progressed, there have been times when things have happened and we had to take a step back, but when I look at the alumni, since I have kind of – I’m not on Facebook a lot – but since I have taken that step, it’s just fun for me sometimes to go and Facebook and look at my friends. I have visits – I don’t make comments, most of the times I don’t, I’ll just look at pictures and families and think back, “oh yeah I remember when that student was sitting in my office, talking about becoming a doctor, and now she is.”
Our class will be working on oral histories to recover the stories that have been lost or erased from the University’s collective since African Americans began coming to the University. Could you share your thoughts about the importance of documenting this history.
There are so many who have done so much…and is there going to be a forgetfulness because you all come in cycles? You come and you get four or five years or longer if you choose to do graduate study. And in some cases, the memories are with those who are here. But if it’s not documented in any way – if it’s not written – then some of that can be lost.