Infant Mortality and Race

Examining Health Disparities in Charlottesville Past and Present

Words by Lucy Hoak and Spencer Philps. Photo illustrations by Max Patten.

In 2016, a group of researchers at U.Va. published an article in the scientific journal PNAS that explored the implicit racial bias of 222 white medical students and residents at the University.

Twenty-one percent of first-year medical students believed that black patients had stronger immune systems than white patients, and 14 percent of second-year students were of the opinion that black people’s nerve endings were less sensitive than that of whites’. Almost half of first-years and second-years, and one-quarter of resident medical students believed that the skin of a black person is thicker than that of a white person’s.

In that same year, 2016, a black baby born in the city of Charlottesville was nearly 10 times as likely to die in their first year of life than a white baby.

In 2016, Charlottesville’s infant mortality rate for African Americans, or the number of infant deaths before one year of age per every 1,000 live births, was 26.3. This rate was among the highest in the Commonwealth, while the same statistic for white children was just 2.6. This disparity is not at all unique to Charlottesville — nationally, black women have the highest rates of infant mortality out of any racial background.


The context of the systemic social and economic barriers that women of color are subjected to in the United States can explain this racial disparity in pregnancy outcomes, according to a study conducted by Duke University’s Center on Social Equity. Black women experience the effects of both a gender and racial wage gap and are disproportionately exposed to factors that are correlated with poor pregnancy outcomes, such as high levels of poverty and decreased access to healthcare, food and housing.

The city of Charlottesville is no stranger to such racial discrimination and inequities. The City-ordered razing of a prosperous black neighborhood at Vinegar Hill in the 1960s pushed hundreds of African-Americans into public housing. Last year, a New York Times and ProPublica investigation uncovered the rampant racial segregation that exists today in the City’s schools. A recent report presented by the Charlottesville police found that black residents were nearly nine times more likely than whites to be subjected to stop-and-frisk encounters.

However, such an institutional explanation cannot fully explain this phenomenon, for when factors such as levels of education and income are held constant between African Americans and whites, the infant mortality rate gap still exists. What else, then, explains the racial gap in infant mortality rates in this city? Mayor Nikuyah Walker, in an interview published last fall, referred to the city as aesthetically charming, but still a “very ugly-in-the-soul place.” And indeed, the infant mortality crisis in Charlottesville cannot be explained without examining the city’s “ugly soul,” which begins at the University Hospital.

Dr. Michael Swanberg is a nursing researcher and professor at the University who wrote his dissertation, entitled “A Canary in the Coal Mine: Exploring African-American Women’s Lived Experience of Childbirth,” on Charlottesville’s racial disparities in infant mortality.  

Tall and affable, he led us through the labyrinth of hallways in the University Hospital down to the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, where he wanted to show us primary sources that illustrated the hospital’s gruesome racist past. In the University’s infancy in the early 19th century, a wealth of evidence describes the routine practice of procuring cadavers for the medical school from African American cemeteries in the region, which would often have to be prepared for dissection by the University’s slaves.

“The graves of African Americans were robbed for that,” Swanberg said, “and the owners of enslaved people could sell their bodies — so even in death, the African American people didn’t have ownership of their own bodies.”

Even up until the 1950s and 60s, the hospital remained racially segregated. Black patients stayed in inferior and inadequate rooms with pipes that often leaked from overhead, and an emergency surfeit of patients meant hospital beds and patients would spill over into the hallway.

The legacy of discrimination and segregation prevails among older generations when they remember the old hospital — a legacy inherited by those visiting the hospital today.

Photo from University of Virginia Medical Alumni Newspaper showing pipes dripping onto patients.

“I was born in 1953, so anyone of my age remembers visiting their mother, father, grandmother; this is what it would it would look like,” Swanberg said. “One of the salient characteristics that people talk about — these water pipes, the heating pipes would drip on the patients. Every person that I talked to who’s over the age of 70 — that’s the one memory they take away from this is being in the basement, visiting their family members and having water drip on the patients from the water pipes in the basement.”

This traumatic legacy coupled with the implicit biases revealed in the 2016 PNAS study explains the disconnect that black patients feel in their experiences at the University Hospital, otherwise considered among the best hospitals in the Commonwealth.

The 42 African American women who participated in the focus groups which were the basis for “A Canary in the Coal Mine” often articulated a discomfort with being used as material for medical study, an experience not far removed from the days when African Americans’ graves were robbed for use in lab dissection. African Americans interviewed in the study preferred established doctors over inquisitive medical students.

“Like some people that do have bedside manner — they’re like 40 [years-old],” a participant said in “A Canary in the Coal Mine.” “They’re like way older because they’ve been doing it. And now they just like looking at you like ‘This is my science experiment, let me see what experience I can get out of it.’”

Participants also felt that given space constraints in the birthing room, priority was given to medical students over family members.

“And they have like a crew of students — the room is so crowded and the actual RN is sitting on the sink … It’s entirely too crowded,” a participant said. “I felt that they [the medical students] needed to leave … Like, if they have that many students in there, they can have that many family in there.”

The practices inherent to the pedagogy of medical school created a sense of mistrust by mothers. Swanberg described how the established protocol of having students establish safety by checking the patient’s identity — name, date of birth and number of children — can be at odds with the close relationship the patient hopes to have with their doctor. This practice in turn reinforces the stories from the past, while the medical student only thinks they are creating a safer environment.

“Like when I come in, you should know me by my first name. No matter that you have 3,000 women that you’re seeing. You should know me by my first name,” the participant said. “When you look at my chart, you should have a general idea of what’s going on with me and my pregnancy … I mean you don’t have to know my favorite color, but you should know that this is my first child, you shouldn’t ask me that when you come in the room.”

Swanberg relates these sentiments not only to the disturbing narratives of racism passed down from centuries ago, but also to even more recent narratives such as the destruction of Vinegar Hill.

“The local midwives, once the neighborhood was torn down, that whole social safety net was kind of moved to the hospital,” Swanberg said. “People really thought that medical students were giving the care, that again we kept hearing that narrative that we were being used as science experiments .… I don’t think we’re creating better stories, when we’re talking about health disparities. And if this was your memory, often what the women encountered at the hospital was just re-traumatized.”

Patients’ beds spill into the hallways in photo from 1953 University of Virginia Medical Alumni newsletter.

Despite such deep-rooted oppression, efforts are being made to reduce disparities in infant mortality rates and health disparities generally. Swanberg is hopeful about the projects and endeavors in the future, particularly given the increased public consciousness of past realities.

“The good part of this story a lot of people are working together and we’re trying, but we’re still not anywhere near where we need to be,” Swanberg said. “I think now we’re moving in the right direction, where for a while there we were moving in the wrong direction … a lot of people are working together.”

Yet, Virginians now know that their governor, Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist himself, wore blackface in medical school, and still holds office.


The issue of racial disparities in infant mortality caught the attention of local public health departments in 2008 following a district-wide community health assessment which was led by representatives from the University, Charlottesville and Albemarle Schools and Thomas Jefferson Health District. Since then, according to Kathryn Goodman, the public information officer for the Thomas Jefferson Health District which includes five healthcare facilities, a host of measures have been introduced to try to improve rates.

“From that [the results of the 2008 community health assessment], we deemed that we kind of needed to create a coalition that could collaborate and make bigger systems, changes and work together to address the issue, and kind of figure out the root cause of the issue and then work together to create programs and solutions and policies that could improve the birth outcomes,” Goodman said.

This led to the creation of the Improving Pregnancy Outcomes workgroup, a coalition of local stakeholders which strives to achieve goals such as increasing access to timely and adequate prenatal care and intervening on behalf of populations most in need.

Today, Goodman oversees the district’s IPO workgroup, which is in its 10th year and described the types of issues they address.

“There are handful of indicators for birth outcomes, and so we worked on different projects to address everything from reducing the rates of preterm births, low birthweight, infant mortality, of course, and other factors that play into pregnancies,” Goodman said. “So looking at increasing access to early entrance to prenatal care … and looking at enrollment in Plan First, which is a medicaid program that covers family planning services.”

The IPO workgroup puts out a resource guide compiling useful information and services for pregnant mothers in the area. On the guide, one can find resources like free support groups, low-cost or discounted transportation services or maternal education and support programs.

Goodman was optimistic about the progress the group had made and the plans for initiatives in the future, including looking at postpartum support services including maternal mental health.


Dr. Rachel Zaslow, a trained midwife and doula with a doctorate degree in feminist theory, is among those seeking to remedy the infant mortality crisis in Charlottesville. Upon moving to Charlottesville, its deeply ingrained segregation and corresponding health disparities made an impression on her.

“I was immediately struck by how segregated Charlottesville is,” Zaslow said. “There’s people living very different experiences of Charlottesville … you see it evidenced in restaurants and public spaces — and to me that almost always translates to higher parent/infant mortality and health outcomes.”

Zaslow found Charlottesville’s birth outcome disparities to be on par with the nationwide disparities, even when controlling for education and income.

“When you look at a black woman who’s Harvard-educated and eats only at Whole Foods, and her outcomes are just as bad, then we have to say, there’s something else going on. And the answer to that is almost always implicit bias in the case of medical care,” Zaslow said.

In a Cesarean section, Zaslow explained, some degree of pain is perceived as normal. Yet implicit bias means doctors are more likely to dismiss a black patient’s pain level as “normal” and forego additional testing, according to the 216 PNAS study.

“If a black woman has a C-section and says I’m in pain, the doctor is less likely to take her pain seriously than a white woman,” Zaslow said. “And a white woman — they may say, I believe you, let’s just run these labs, and, ‘Oh, we find out they’re internally bleeding, and we’re going to have operate again.’”

These disparities prompted Zaslow to start the Sister’s Keeper Collective in Charlottesville to educate women in the community as birth sisters, who then serve as advocates for their peers. In the four years since its founding, Sister’s Keeper has trained 65 women as birth sisters.

“Birth sisters work alongside a pregnant person helping them navigate the system, helping them ask questions to get the medical care they want or need, helping them create a birth plan to understand all the options, understand what options they might want, and understand that you can ask for these things,” Zaslow said.

This advocacy for women of color is key, given the implicit biases that may put women of color at risk, if communication is not two-sided and based on trust. In particular, the birth sister will work with the doctor and patient to ensure that the risks and benefits of any possible procedure are out in the open and clearly articulated.

“What we have heard doctors say is, ‘Well, the risk is that you don’t have your baby and the benefit is that you do,’” Zaslow said. “So the doula in that moment would say you can just explain to us a little more what would happen … and are there side effects.”

Ultimately, Sister’s Keeper strives to ensure that health care providers work as a team and allow the mother to make a real choice. The mother’s interests and desires are paramount — no bias is shown against choosing a natural birth, for example. After the birth, the birth sister continues to provide postpartum support.

“We do a 24-hour visit, a one week visit, and then as often as the mom needs postpartum to help her settled into a newborn care routine, to help her with breastfeeding,” Zaslow said. “We do screening for postpartum depression, and we make sure moms are linked into services that will help them to thrive with their new babies.”

Moreover, Sister’s Keeper provides services that aim to bridge the gap between services normally available to white women and women of color. Their new location on the Downtown Mall hosts childbirth education classes, prenatal yoga, babywearing classes, individual meetings with midwives, prenatal counseling and more, all centered on serving women of color.

“One of the things we heard from especially black moms, but women of color in general in Charlottesville, is a sense of disenfranchisement from most of the new mom spaces, so if you go to Bend Yoga on the downtown mall, which is a mommy/baby/prenatal center, it’s all white people in there,” Zaslow said. “Because of the history of segregation in Charlottesville, a black person may not feel comfortable walking into that space, so creating a space here that is a safe space has been an important thing.”

Incidentally, the yoga classes always sell out.

In providing these prenatal services, Sister’s Keeper aims to increase the percentage of African American mothers in Charlottesville who receive prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy — now only 30 percent according to Zaslow.

“The greater piece are these pregnancy crisis centers of Virginia, which are pro-life centers masquerading as health centers,” Zaslow said. “So they’re not real health centers, they don’t have doctors or nurses on staff, they have church volunteers but they offer ultrasounds, free pregnancy testing, and counseling … What we have found is they’re serving over 80 percent of the black population in the first trimester, and what is happening is people think they are getting prenatal care … even though it’s not actual prenatal care, it feels and looks like prenatal care.”

Pregnancy testing is a critical service, as social services such as Medicaid and food stamps require an official verification letter of pregnancy to receive additional benefits. Because such pregnancy centers have been authorized to verify pregnancy, women can come and take what Zaslow calls “a dollar store pregnancy test” to receive social services, decreasing incentive to seek prenatal care at an established health center with medical staff. In response, Sister’s Keeper hopes to provide legitimate prenatal care, attracting women with the same services offered by the pregnancy centers.

“These kinds of things we’re hoping to combat by opening up this center,” Zaslow said.” We’ll be offering free pregnancy testing and verification letters, we’ll be offering the opportunity for people to get prenatal care here with a midwife and then transfer to a doctor if they want to deliver at a hospital.”

Sister’s Keeper also trains women to be advocates for the health of themselves and their babies. Zaslow views this lesson of self-advocacy as instrumental to helping the mother be an advocate throughout her life, thus having the ricochet effect of healing disparities far beyond birth.

“If a mom can be supported to have one, a positive birth experience, but two, the skills that she learns to advocate for herself, to ask questions, will carry forward in this ripple-effect way, through medical care for her children growing, to the school system, learning to ask and advocate for more,” Zaslow said. “You have a right to have more and ask more — this is the toolbox for how you do it.”

Such a ripple effect is crucial because Zaslow says issues of injustice must be attacked at their core, as they are intertwined.

“In the words of Staceyann Chin, all oppression is connected,” Zaslow said. “You can’t separate one from another. They’re all crises in Charlottesville, and they all come down to segregation, a history of explicit and implicit racism and systemic oppression of people of color, both at U.Va. and people in the city.”

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Silently Struggling

How students navigate the barriers and doors to mental health access at the University

Words by Molly Wright. Photos and Illustration by Max Patten.

*The names in this story have been changed to protect the sources’ privacy.

A picture-perfect image of a student at the University exists within the minds of other students as someone they constantly have to live up to or strive to become — a student who is double-majoring in rewarding and rigorous subjects, excelling in their classes, leading on-Grounds organizations, having fun every weekend and making it all look easy.

“I definitely think there is an unspoken level of success,” said third year College student Sarah Nolan. “I feel like you’ve made it [as a University student] when you are involved in at least two organizations and you’re on the executive board for at least one of those. You’re on the Dean’s List the whole year. You probably have a job or some way to get money and you also have a great job or internship lined up.”

This desire to be perfectly well-rounded usually leaves students feeling overwhelmed, stressed and confused as to why they’re not keeping up with their peers, when their peers may very well be struggling as well.

Illustration by Max Patten.

“U.Va. is a highly-ranked institution, and students get here because they’ve been extremely successful for all of their academic careers and especially in high school, having been involved in lots of things,” said Nicole Ruzek, the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University. “So what we tend to see is a lot of students coming in and striving still to be the best and to get into all the different clubs and majors that they want to be in and not always being successful like they were in high school. That can create some identity confusion and just kind of a re-evaluation of you know, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What do I really want?’ and ‘What’s important to me?’”

Ruzek said that while this “process of self-reflection” often goes well, in other cases these questions lead students to a lower sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem that can then trigger mental illness. The effects of mental illness and the nastier side of the University’s culture of competition and perfection is something that Alex* has seen more than once as a first year Resident Advisor at the University.  

“Around exams, one girl did not get into a leadership position for First Year Council, and she was threatening to throw herself in front of a bus,” Alex said. “Her friends found me, and we ran over there. She was sitting on the side of the street, and I ended up talking to her for 30 minutes with those girls.”

What Alex saw from this girl, they said, was the need to be perfect and the desire to fit the “U.Va. mold” that they have recognized many more times in other first-years who were also struggling.

“It’s usually about fitting in at U.Va, not feeling like they belong,” Alex said. “I don’t know how to correct that at U.Va, but I do think that there’s a lot that can be done about changing what we perceive as success and perfection. I try to tell people that you can be successful in so many different ways.”

The pressures of success ride on the backs of University students almost every day because, as Ruzek mentioned earlier, many students have already been successful for most of their lives. The idea of not being the best or even failing once in a while seems detrimental.

“There is an atmosphere at U.Va that discourages acknowledging [anxiety, depression and stress],” said an anonymous student survey respondent conducted by abcd magazine over Google form to which 29 students responded. “At U.Va, it seems as though every student is expected to have it all together all the time — make the best grades, be the most social, and be the most involved. In reality, no one has it all together, but no one ever dares express that. U.Va students hide behind a facade of perfection. I don’t think it’s only students’ faults though, I think the University in general doesn’t want to admit any kind of fault, or instance where we aren’t the best. They don’t want to compromise U.Va.’s reputation.”


So what do students do when they feel they can no longer handle being under constant stress or sense that their struggles might be the beginnings of a mental illness like anxiety or depression? The University offers free therapy sessions for students with Counseling and Psychological Services at the Elson Student Health Center, yet gaining access to the mental health resources at CAPS has proved difficult for many students.

Each year, CAPS sees approximately 2,000 students and has around 13,000 in-house appointments, but these numbers do not account for the amount of brief screening phone calls CAPs makes, which Ruzek cited as the way most students enter their services.

“Most of the students, they do an initial phone call, and it’s a script that we follow,” Ruzek said. “We know it’s not that fun for students to do because it’s you know very scripted, but it’s the best way for us to kind of look at everyone and see what level of functioning they’re at — get a sense of if they’re eating, if they’re sleeping, are they going to classes, are they using substances, are they having any thoughts of self-harm — that kind of thing.”

During the phone call, CAPS employees determine if the specific student fits into one of four categories, according to Ruzek. The first category is for students during an emergency or crisis, and CAPS will ask them to come into the center right away. A student may not be immediately in crisis, but is still not functioning well, and as CAPS’ second category, they are asked to do an “urgent intake.” For an ugent intake, although the student might not be seen by CAPS the day they call or even the day after, they will not have to wait more than five to seven days to be seen by CAPS.

A student who has a “standard issue” for CAPS falls into their third category. This might be a relationship breakup or “having some anxiety maybe having a few depressive symptoms but they’re still going to class and doing O.K.,” Ruzek said. The wait time for an appointment at CAPS for students like these during the middle of the semester can be up to three weeks before they are seen.

About 2,000 students use CAPS each year. Photo by Max Patten.

The last category that CAPS assesses is a student who either does not want to wait for an appointment at CAPS. Some students already know they have a mental health issue that they had been treated for at home by a psychologist or therapist and would like a similar kind of treatment. Others may complete a mental health screening and realize they want a therapist faster than CAPS can provide. For these students, CAPS tries to give them referrals for other psychologists or psychiatrists in the community.

As a precedent, CAPS also tells students that it can only offer up to eight sessions because of the high demand for appointments and there only being 18 counselors working for the 2,000 students they see each year.  This is a higher ratio of counselors to students than the one to 1000 ratio the International Association of Counseling Services recommends. However, the brevity of sessions, along with a lack of available appointments, has made many students upset with their services.

“I have a friend and she went to CAPS five or six times and she really liked the person that she worked with — she felt like it was helping,” Lanier* said. “Then they told her, ‘O.K, we can’t really help you anymore.” They tried to find her someplace else to go and they actually did find her someplace, but like she doesn’t have a car, she has to take three buses to get there and she just doesn’t click with the person. She just feels like she wasted all that time getting to know the other person at CAPS, so it’s just problematic.”


Even in times of crisis, the resources at CAPS have fallen short for students.

“I remember one time this girl was really struggling, and we were on the phone with her parents because she was going to spend the night in the E.R.” Alex* said. “A person from CAPS wasn’t available so the police escorted her to the E.R., and she was trying to make an appointment for CAPS just after, but they were like, ‘We won’t be able to see you for a week because we’re overpacked.’ I feel like they’re understaffed.”

Other students voiced their concerns and complaints about a disconnect between the brief screening phone call and the follow up in-person appointment that can happen weeks later.

“I wasn’t seen in an actual session, but I did the process of being screened to be seen twice,” said an anonymous student who voluntarily answered a survey posted on Facebook by the reporter. “Both times, it took two weeks to schedule a phone call for them to see what type of service would be best. Then it was two further weeks until they could get me in. The first time I did the process I convinced myself I was fine and just overreacting in the two weeks between me scheduling the call and actually doing it so I canceled it. The second time I did the same but after having the diagnosing call. I definitely needed help both times and the waiting periods created such a barrier to seeking help.”

Other students reported that they have benefited from seeking help and using the resources at CAPS.

“I gained a lot of skills and new ways to manage my anxiety,” said one anonymous student respondent. “My therapist was very intentional and seemed very proud to see my improvement. I greatly appreciated my sessions at CAPS.”

CAPS also has more than 12 group therapy classes in an effort to expand the number of students that can be seen by their services. Some of these offerings include a mindfulness meditation hour each week, a “Hoos Stress Less” group and groups for those needing support with substance abuse or eating disorders. However, students like Emma* have commented that the dynamic is different in group therapy compared to individual sessions.

“I’m going in for group therapy this semester, but it’s very odd just because they recommend that you do it for eight sessions and you’re not allowed to talk with the people that you see in group outside of group,” Emma said. “They don’t want you to develop extremely close relationships with anyone and then for that to effect the group dynamic — for them to feel like they’re getting more support from another peer. It’s just very odd — the fact that you can’t discuss everything that’s said in group because it involves other people’s lives and issues is just very strange because I was personally seeking out one-on-one treatment with a professional at the same time. Though it’s understandable that their  resources are very much strained — it’s not necessarily therapy in the same way that we think of therapy.”

CAPS is attempting to expand, but the details of expansion may not be clear for the next two years. Photo by Max Patten.

According to Ruzek, CAPS is currently trying to expand its resources for students with the construction of a new student health and wellness center on Brandon Avenue in the next two years, and do not have a budget yet. They hope to hire more therapists, but do not know how many, and have more wellness focused offerings, even a contemplative space with relaxation and mindfulness resources. Ruzek said she would like CAPS to focus more on helping promote students’ well-beings at the University so that fewer students would reach the breaking point of needing urgent care at CAPS.

“I think what we would all like to do is more prevention-type work and more wellness focused work, so instead of waiting until someone’s developed anxiety or depression,” Ruzek said. “We have a group called Enhance that’s based more on positive psychology and really helping people to build on their resilience. We’d like to be doing more of that kind of work to keep people healthy versus just addressing them when they’re not healthy.”

Student groups such as the University’s chapter of the National Mental Health Alliance, a national grassroots mental health organization, the website group IfYoureReadingThis.org and Peer Health Educators also provide resources and safe spaces for those struggling with mental health to find a community and share their stories.

“As of right now we are mainly just doing activities, trying to get people together so they can share their story, talk about this and find a group where they can feel comfortable sharing and having a dialogue,” said Wendy Wang, second-year College student and president of National Alliance on Mental Illnesses.

Wang also mentioned how NAMI is planning a panel on the topic of minority students and mental health stigma and said that she personally hopes to have a resources panel for first-years and exchange students next fall with representatives from CAPS, Madison House and the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center.

“NAMI is trying to fill a lot of gaps,” said Grace Leffler, second-year College student and NAMI member. “We’re trying to re-group and really look at how we can be advocates for mental health. We’re going to try to pair with IfYoureReadingThis and potentially other mental health-based groups to bring more awareness and also strengthen the ties between these different advocacy groups. If we’re all on the same page and aware of what everyone else is doing then we can better focus on our side of the court.”


Expansion is a common theme among the mental health resources at the University. The website IfYoureReadingThis.org, founded by first-year graduate student of Medicine Alexandra Pental, plans to not only develop its presence at the University more but also expand to other universities such as the University of Florida and Northwestern University. These plans are being enacted by the current president of IfYoureReadingThis.org, fourth-year College Student Alexander Hyldmar.  

Pentel started IfYoureReadingThis.org during her years as an undergraduate student to provide students with letters from their peers about mental health, stigmas, substance abuse or anything else people would like to write. She said the idea behind the website came from the need to have a support system of friends who were comfortable sharing their struggles and stories together. Pentel also stressed her excitement over having faculty members write letters as well to break down the barriers between students and the administration.

“I think it’s really great that Dean Groves and President Ryan wrote letters,” Pentel said. “Dean Groves’ was a lot more personal than I expected, being like, ‘hey I’ve struggled with this, I went here too, just know you’re not alone and just because I’m Dean Groves doesn’t mean that I’m immune to that.’”

While the student team behind IfYoureReadingThis.org cannot provide professional help, they have been trained and started a peer counseling group for students who may not be comfortable enough to talk to CAPS yet or just want to talk to a friend, according to Hyldmar. Pentel also said CAPS refers students to their website, and IfYoureReadingThis.org then helps students get connected with resources at CAPS.

“We want to create less of mental health resource nodes around U.Va and more like a net that can hopefully catch everyone,” Pentel said.

The word has spread around Grounds about IfYoureReadingThis.org as Hyldmar says they are seeing more and more submissions for letters from people the team does not know. The group also provides its subscribers with a mental health newsletter every so often and has a list of resources at the University and in the Charlottesville community on their website. Pentel said they have had conversations with Dean Groves about expanding the conversation surrounding mental health at first year orientation, seeing as discussions and modules about sexual abuse and drug and alcohol abuse are already included in the first year education process.

“Our first aim is to have a newsletter, like an email that’s sent out to all first-years or all undergrads,” Hyldmar said. “Then next step is maybe integrating a mental health module at orientation.”

“We want to let first-years know that U.Va cares about this and just let them know what’s there,” Pentel said. “I think a lot of times the only thing people know about is CAPS but there’s a lot in Charlottesville specifically for U.Va students.”

The hope from organizations like NAMI and IfYoureReadingThis.org is that those struggling at U.Va will not feel like they are struggling alone — that students will know about the vast array of sources available to them and see that many students at the University struggle with stress, anxiety and depression. In the Google form survey conducted by abcd magazine, 100 percent of its responders said that they thought anxiety, stress and depression were problems at the University.

“Honestly before like three years ago when I arrived at the University, mental health was not spoken about,” Hyldmar said. “I just remember that so clearly and over time, not only IfYoureReadingThis.org, but just like everything — other students, other organizations have created this community where people are more comfortable. I think we want to reach this level where everyone, not only a certain group of students, but everyone can be comfortable talking about it.”


*Names have been changed for anonymity

If you or anyone else you know is struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health concerns please call CAPS at 434-924-5556, the UVA HelpLine at 434-295-TALK, or dial 911 for emergency situations.

For more resources see: IfYoureReadingThis.orgStudent Health Links, NAMI

Catching the Shadow

The ‘Kitty’ Foster Memorial

Words by Kasey Roper. Photos by Riley Walsh.

“At this place, on the site of Catherine Foster’s home, this ‘Shadow Catcher’ links the visible with the unseen even as it pulls the eyes to the sky; it creates a shadowy, grid-like outline of the house that once stood at this location,” reads a plaque directly outside the Shadow Catcher Memorial honoring the household of Foster, a free black woman who bought the property in 1833.

The metal structure is between Nau Hall and Olson Student Health, almost directly behind what is now New Cabell Hall and Old Cabell Hall. There are cylindrical metal poles holding up the “roof” of the memorial — a collection of thin, flat metal beams that criss-cross over the ground above what used to be the home of Catherine “Kitty” Foster and her family. These structures cast a shadow in the shape of the house, reminding us of its presence.

However, the history of the Foster Site was largely unknown prior to 1993. It was only when construction workers beginning to expand a parking lot where Nau Hall stands discovered evidence of burials — coffins and remains — that the history of the land was evaluated. The remains were left undisturbed, but the historic investigation began.


“That was the beginning of the consciousness of the Foster family,” said Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation planner in the Office of the Architect.

A task force spearheaded by the Department of Anthropology and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro- American and African Studies was formed to do initial archeological and historical research into the site. The team determined that the University had an obligation to further investigate the site for historical and local significance. Rivanna Archeological Services, a local firm run by two alumni of the University, was brought in to complete a formal archaeological survey, which was estimated to cost somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000 in the task force’s original notes. These records can be found in the Special Collections Library at Peabody Hall.

What initial archaeological and historical research discovered — buttons, thimbles, dolls, cobblestones, bowls and more — revealed the life of a free black seamstress and her family.  

Rivanna Archeological Services’ work led to the Foster Site being added to the Virginia Landmarks Register for archeology as well as the National Register for Historic Places.

Foster started her business working as a seamstress and launderer for students and faculty of the University, which was a job previously done mostly by enslaved laborers behind the Pavilions. In the 19th century, laundry was not as simple as it is today — rather than tossing clothes into a machine and coming back to toss them into another machine an hour later, washing clothes was a very labor-intensive, all-day task. Workers sorted clothes, carried buckets of water, built fires to boil the water, stirred and washed each large load of laundry, scrubbed each individual piece of clothing, rinsed the clothes, rung out extra water from them by hand, hung them to dry and occasionally mended tears and sewed buttons onto the fabric.

The entire design of the original Foster Site — originally known as the Venable Lane Site — was directed toward these laundering practices. There is evidence of a large cobbled work area near the house to prevent the ground from becoming muddy while working with large amounts of water.


Foster was an important presence just south of the University during its formative years. Not only was she an entrepreneur, but she was a free land-owning black woman as well. During the 1830’s, it was rare for African American women to own property, even in upper Southern states like Virginia. Foster purchased 2 ⅛ acres of land in 1833. Three generations of Fosters — all headed by women — lived on and improved the land, even renting it out to tenants, until 1906, when it was sold to white land developers.

In the early 20th century, the University purchased land around the Lawn in an attempt to hide the black community.

“Up to the 1890s, it is a neighborhood that is mixed in terms of who lives there,” said Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of both the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation. “It’s not all free, it’s not all enslaved, not all black, not all white.”

As the Jim Crow Era of segregation solidified, the neighborhood became predominantly black.

This community was vital to the functioning of the University because enslaved and minimally-paid laborers alike built and maintained Grounds. This was not by accident. The opening of the University in 1825, von Daacke said, attracted a diverse group of workers who settled just south of the Lawn in what is referred to as “Canada.”

The term Canada appears in census reports from the 1850s as well as in notes from Board of Visitors’ meetings during the same time frame. The exact origin and meaning of the nickname Canada is unknown. Some theorize that it pays homage to the country that housed runaway slaves prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Others argue that it is a degrading term meant to emphasize the different, foreign nature of these “other” people who supported the University.

“Canada is a kind of a derisive reference to free people who [the University faculty and students] think really should be enslaved,” von Daacke said.

The Fosters lived in Canada — they’re listed as residents of it in census records — and thus had deep ties to the community and the people living there. The 12 remains found during construction were initially thought to be part of a Foster family graveyard, but as more remains were found — 32 in all — researchers realized that it was more likely a community graveyard.

Canada remained a community that housed those who supported the functioning of the University. However, just as a shadow changes its composition throughout the course of a day, the community’s composition shifted from one of a largely mixed neighborhood to a predominantly black neighborhood over the course of the nineteenth century.

This was difficult because Canada was not University-owned property, so the University really had no control over the interactions students had with the community.

The University saw the community as a “pest hole,” according to von Daacke, and sought to limit University students’ involvement with it.

When choosing between three separate designs for the South Lawn — only one of which closed off the Lawn — the Board of Visitors decided on the one that closed off the Lawn. The result of that decision is Old Cabell Hall, which New Cabell Hall was eventually built around. These buildings would have blocked sight of and access to Canada from the University as well.


The relationship between residents of Canada and the University is complicated because of racism, white supremacy and mutual dependence. The University needed residents to function, just as the residents need the University for work. Students also relied on Canada for products and activities they were prohibited from doing on Grounds.

For example, Canada was where students went to drink alcohol, gamble and interact with their enslaved servants, who were not allowed to live on Grounds. They also went to Canada to practice shooting their firearms.

Additionally, residents of Canada were employed by the University for various tasks, including cobbling, cooking, cleaning and more.

Von Daacke explained how this tension between the residents of Canada and the University — both free and enslaved — transferred to working at the University.

“To take those jobs is to require that [the residents of Canada] interact with — on a daily basis — hundreds of white would-be masters and young U.Va. students who are in the middle of identity formation as the master class, who feel very comfortable treating every person of color they meet as an enslaved person and using violence to dominate them,” von Daacke said.

Interactions with the University, therefore, did not come without risks for the residents of Canada.


The Shadow Catcher Memorial represents the story of a woman who stood in the face of racism and white supremacy, took advantage of several economic opportunities and succeeded in creating an established, private home for herself and her family for generations.

“The [memorial was built as] recognition that this is really kind of an amazing story,” Hogg said. “She’s a free black woman in the 1830s in Charlottesville. She had enough money to purchase that property when many of the people around her were renting, and she and her family managed to own the property for 75 years.”

He concluded by calling Foster “an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Yet the memorial also represents the enduring Canada community, a place of interracial coexistence as well as a crucial part of understanding the University’s relationship with the larger Charlottesville area. This is where the University’s interest was peaked when initial investigations into the site were ongoing. Not only were the Foster Site and the Canada community important to the development of the University, but they were also important to the complex tale of slavery, racism, freedom and the tightrope walked in between.


If the memorial is a literal shadow, how can we catch it?

Upon first glance, the site does not declare its significance loudly, as the Berlin Wall outside Alderman Library does. Second-year nursing student Rosie Ix passed by the Shadow Catcher on her way to class in McLeod Hall.

“I didn’t realize this was a memorial,” Ix said. “I guess I’m always walking through here just trying to get somewhere.”

Lack of awareness about the site raises questions about the University’s efforts to make its history known — especially its history tied to racism and slavery. Von Daacke explained that the University has increased its efforts to make its history with racism and slavery transparent. The Shadow Catcher Memorial, he suggests, is not well known because of the design of the South Lawn.

Jefferson Park Avenue divides Nau and Gibson Hall from Central Grounds, and students typically use a bridge to travel between the two areas. The memorial is located on the Nau and Gibson side, away from the bridge, so students are not typically positioned to walk past the Shadow Catcher Memorial. Conversely, the Berlin Wall Memorial is in Central Grounds, where many students, faculty, locals and visitors alike have more opportunities to walk past it.

Matilda Olbin, a third-year exchange student from Sweden studying Sociology, is not an expert on the memorial, but is generally interested in history. She thinks memorials allow history to be interpreted and not just lectured or rehearsed.

“It’s more solid, I guess you can make your own idea about it,” Olbin said. “If someone tells you about it, it’s gonna be their story.”

To Olbin, it is more inviting to experience history in the present. That is what the Shadow Catcher is trying to evoke — a visual perceived differently by each passerby in each moment.


Even in the early stages of the creation of the Foster Site, the Charlottesville community was actively involved in the conversation of what to do and how. Meetings were held to receive feedback from the community, and press releases were given to update the community on archeological findings and decisions, such as the decision to halt construction for the parking lot until further research could be done.

The University is still engaged with the Charlottesville community and thinks critically about its relationship to the area. For example, President Jim Ryan created a Community Working Commission last October made up of local residents to identify key issues within the area and help address them together.

The top issue listed in a report released in January is affordable housing in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. This is relevant to the University because if it does not provide enough housing, then it pushes people off Grounds and drives prices up for everyone.  

The other top issue, non-living wages for University employees, has a direct link to the early years of the University and the Jim Crow Era, when it had no obligation to pay high wages.

“They [did] not feel compelled to, nor [did] they have to, pay a living wage,” von Daacke asserts. “This is a legacy we’re still talking about in Charlottesville today where [there is] steep income inequality.”


The Shadow Catcher is a reminder of the University’s deep historical connection to the local community, as well as to institutions of racism and white supremacy.

Other memorials in Charlottesville also directly connect to these institutions, evoking controversy over the glorification of pro-slavery figures. Most notably, the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park has been debated since 2016 when city councilor Wes Bellamy proposed a commission to discuss the statue and local African-American high school students petitioned City Council, asking for the statue’s removal because they felt it was offensive. The debate reached a violent head when the Unite the Right Rally came to Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017 partly to protest the statue’s removal.

On Grounds, the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the West Lawn was vandalized with the words “Racist+Rapist” criticizing Jefferson’s slave-owning practices the night before the 275th anniversary of his birth. Both memorials have sparked charged discussions and confrontations about how to best represent Charlottesville’s history of racism.

But the Shadow Catcher memorial represents a different kind of narrative coming out of the same history — one of resilience.

“It’s an amazing success story when you look at Catherine Foster,” von Daacke said, because she succeeded despite being surrounded by “pro-slavery ideologues.”  

This shadow the memorial casts is our history. As time passes and things change, so does the placement of the shadow around the Foster House. The position of the sun changes our perception, as well as the prominence, of the history present there. Yet we are also attached to it directly — we cannot separate it from ourselves nor our present.

There are certainly times, however, when we cannot see the shadow, when we are not aware of our past or how it affects us.

“I pass here every day almost, but I’ve never stopped except for now,” Olbin explained.

There are other times when our past and present line up nearly exactly. This overlap of time and space is physically represented by the Shadow Catcher.

“Every once in a while, the light is such that … the shadow cast is the exact footprint of the house,” Hogg said.

In these moments, the sun is in the exact position to cast a shadow on the still-present, though hidden, foundation of the Foster House. In some moments, we understand clearly the effects of our history on the present.

“The Shadow Catcher is meant to evoke the presence of the house, but also reflect transience because the house is gone and all that’s left is a shadow,” Hogg said. 

Redefining Roots

What it looks like to start a new life in Charlottesville

Words by Abby Clukey.

A security guard intently studies a scribbled-on napkin pulled from his pocket on the bus headed home. Across town, a custodian clocks into work and prepares to clean the floors of a medical school much like one he had dreamed of attending since childhood. At her kitchen table, a single mother balances a wistful pride as her son tells her the new English phrase he learned at school that day — one that she has never heard.

The lives of Charlottesville’s immigrants and refugees are unique. Different circumstances led them to pursue lives in this city. Some were forced to leave their homes to escape the imminent threats of genocide and war. Others made the decision for themselves in order to seek more abundant opportunities for their families. Because they could sense that their futures were precipitous. Because they knew that if they didn’t leave when the option presented itself, they might never get the chance.

Instances of sacrifice are threaded throughout their narratives. They have given up jobs and degrees, the intimate knowledge of their own country’s culture, the natural command of a native language — the familiar privileges and comforts that come with living in the same place your entire life. They have left behind everything they have ever known to build new lives from the ground up and reconstruct a sense of belonging in Charlottesville.

These are just a handful of their stories.


Mohammad Mottaghi is an Iranian immigrant of Turkmen heritage. He was once a professor, consultant and conservator of ancient Islamic art. Now, he is an Aramark employee and a security guard at the Fralin museum.

“When I came to Charlottesville, I had to start at zero,” Mohammad said.

The Mottaghi family — Mohammad, his wife and their then-teenage son — moved to Charlottesville in 2012 from Isfahan, an Iranian city steeped in a legacy of such historical and artistic grandeur that it boasts the motto, Isfahan nesfe Jahan. “Isfahan is half of the world.”

Mohammad Mottaghi, Photo by Abby Clukey,

It was in Isfahan that Mohammad, now 58, reached the height of his career. In addition to holding a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in art conservation from Pardis College, he has multiple certificates from UNESCO to maintain world heritage sites. In 2008, the Iranian government hired Mottaghi to oversee restorations of the city’s Historical Bazaar, an ancient marketplace and plaza.

Mohammad said he enjoyed the work that he did at the heritage site, but was also aware that Isfahan, like the rest of the country, was becoming increasingly unstable. Aside from periods of political unrest, a population that has more than doubled itself in the past 30 years has led to a congested job market, increased pollution and the rationing of resources.

“In Iran, everything was collapsing,” Mohammad said. “The economy — there were so many jobless. The air was polluted. We had no water. The climate was changing.”

Mohammad knew that he had to find a way to move to the United States, for the sake of his family.

He began applying for an immigrant visa through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, commonly known as the green card lottery, in 2001, and would repeat the process nearly every year over the next decade. In 2012, he finally won.

Mohammad described the atmosphere of confusion that enveloped his family as they prepared to leave Iran. They only had a few months to get their affairs in order. They boxed up their possessions and stored them in attics of neighbors and friends. They sold whatever wasn’t necessary, including Mohammad’s carefully cultivated personal library.

They also had to determine where exactly they wanted to live. His son scoured the internet for Turkmen names in the United States and found two Turkmen families in Charlottesville. One was a family of refugees, and the other were the first Iranian Turkmen green card winners to move to the city. The Mottaghis decided they would be the second.

Mohammad’s favorite job that he’s ever had — what he loved even more than working at the heritage site — was teaching art conservation. He worked at several Iranian universities throughout his career, and his primary passion has always been encouraging the younger generation.

He says that he embodies the character of “the professor.” Teaching is how he defines himself. Which is why, when Mohammad moved to the United States, he wasn’t just leaving half of the world behind. He was leaving behind a piece of his identity.

“When I came here, I said now I can’t teach — I can’t work as a conservator, a professor,” Mohammad said. “When I came here, I said, I so miss it. My heart is depressed. During the first six months, I wanted to cry. But I controlled myself, breathing deep. Breathing, breathing.”

Many workplaces in the U.S. do not honor foreign degrees — it depends on the nature of the degree and where it was received. A lack of English proficiency will often force immigrants and refugees to start at the bottom rung of the educational ladder when they come to the United States, even if they had extensive, high-level careers in their home countries. The stipulations of their green cards also require them to find work quickly, which limits the range of their employment opportunities upon arrival.

Harriet Kuhr, director of the International Rescue Center in Charlottesville, said that one of the main challenges that educated individuals face in the resettlement process is the transition to low-level jobs.

“What’s hard is, if you’re an engineer and bringing this resume, you might have been doing it for 20 years in Baghdad or something, but you’re going to be competing for that same job with American candidates,” Kuhr said. “Sometimes it’s a lot harder for people from professional backgrounds than it is for people with not a lot of education because of the expectations. I think that’s really frustrating.”

Mohammad’s first job in Charlottesville was at the Royal Indian Restaurant. He said that he missed working in a collegiate atmosphere during this time, and being completely severed from his past career made his transition to life in the U.S. even more difficult.

After about a month, he applied for a job at U.Va. as an Observatory Hill dining hall employee. He thought that working at O’Hill would be the most effective way to get as close as he can to what he loves — interacting with students.

In his initial interview with Aramark, Mohammad joked, “In Iran, I teach the brain. Here, I want to teach the stomach.” He says that the students he meets at work often teach him right back. He asks them to write English phrases on napkins that he will take home after his shift and copy down into a notebook. Their energy revitalizes him.

Even though he enjoyed his job at O’Hill and was excited to be surrounded by students again, Mohammad still wanted more. In 2017, Mohammad told his friend who had connections at the Fralin that he wanted to work at Arts Grounds, and found out that a part-time security guard position was open. He saw this opportunity as a foot through the door into what he has always loved. He told the manager of the Fralin that working at the museum, even as a security guard, would be like being “born again.” He got the job soon after.

Mohammad sees his job at the Fralin as a college course. Walking through the doors of the museum is like going to school. The art communicates with him, and working alongside it renews his desire to further his education in Charlottesville.

A degree at an American university is Mohammad’s goal at the moment. However, before he can reach it, he has to prove a certain level of English proficiency measured by a standardized assessment called the TOEFL test. He has taken and retaken numerous ESL classes so far, and hopes to achieve the required proficiency and get back to a university by his 70th birthday. That gives him about 12 years to continue to work toward this dream.

Even though he isn’t exactly where he wants to be career-wise at the moment, Mohammad has never doubted his decision to move to the U.S. He sees the benefits of his choice when he looks at his son, who recently graduated from the University and now works as an engineer in Washington, D.C., or when he thinks about the friends he has made or the enriching experiences he and his family have had here.

When he first announced he was moving, Mohammad’s friend told him he was crazy. He had a coveted job and his life was better than most in Iran. Who could know what would happen in America? He would be gambling everything he had ever built.

“Maybe,” Mohammad had replied. “Or maybe my action could be my gambit.”

He’s thankful that he took the risk.


When Khadija Hemmati left Afghanistan in 2016, she brought her five children and her ex-husband with her. Her mother, her sister and her sister’s family had been living in Charlottesville for several years and had told her great things about their new home. Khadija applied for a green card online, packed up her belongings and moved her family to Virginia.

Life in Afghanistan was difficult, especially for women, due to issues like illiteracy, a lack of employment options, child marriage and gender-based violence. Khadija, 34, had grown up in Iran with educated parents, which gave her more opportunities than many of the women she knew. Khadija studied computer science in Iran, but was not able to pursue further education or a career when she moved to Afghanistan.

The possibility of independence and security — for both herself and her children — is what spurred Khadija to leave Afghanistan.

What it looks like to start a second life in Charlottesville.

“I came to the U.S. because here you can find peace, you can have freedom, you can have a job, and a good education, especially for women,” Khadija said.

Once the family resettled themselves in Charlottesville, Khadija’s sister helped her find a job at O’Hill Dining Hall.

Khadija says that she is grateful to have found employment so quickly, but she does not want to work at O’Hill forever. She is currently studying for her GED and has plans to go back to school. She hopes to pair her knowledge of computers with medicine or nursing.

In the meantime, however, Khadija is focusing on raising her five children on her own and helping them adjust to life in America. She says her kids have rapidly picked up English and have adjusted to American culture. They have acclimated so well in fact, that Khadija sometimes feels like she is struggling to keep up.

“Every day is a challenge for me, every day,” Khadija said. “I have to ask my children about everything. I say what do they mean, if a paper comes from school, and they have to tell me. It’s just very hard.”

Kuhr affirmed that many parents face this issue in the resettlement process. They want their children to feel like they belong in this unfamiliar country, but often know that it may not be possible to truly do so themselves.

It can be really hard, seeing your children, especially younger kids in school,” Kuhr said. “A lot of times your kids adapt very quickly, you’re watching your kids kind of become bicultural.”

Khadija Hemmati and her children; photo courtesy of Khadija Hemmati

ESL classes have helped Khadija slowly learn the language, and she has made great strides over the past two years. Still, she says that the language barrier has been the main roadblock in making Charlottesville truly feel like her home.

“One of my dreams is that one day, I will just wake up and be able to speak very good, clear English,” she continued.

She knows that it isn’t something that will happen overnight.

But she’s determined to get to that level.


Bushiri Salumu had always wanted to study medicine. He was born in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to highly educated parents. His mother was a chemistry teacher and his father was a doctor. It seemed only natural that Bushiri would follow in their footsteps and pursue a career in science.

That is, until his entire world came crashing to a halt when he was 17.

Bushiri at work in Pinn Hall; Photo courtesy of Abby Clukey

In August 2007, Bushiri’s parents and most of his siblings were killed by an explosion from a battle between the Congolese military and a militia group that had drifted too close to their home. Bushiri and his younger brother and sister were the only survivors.

The years that ensued were something out of a nightmare. Suddenly thrust into homelessness, Bushiri and his siblings were captured by a militia group, became separated, and eventually — miraculously — escaped. They then embarked on a thousand-mile journey to a refugee camp in Zambia. The three of them would remain in that camp, technically safe but without adequate food or amenities — for four and a half years.

Bushiri and his siblings were directly relocated to Charlottesville in 2012. The IRC helped them resettle in the city, setting them up in their first home and finding them their first jobs.

Bushiri worked at a number of places before before his current position as a custodian at the University’s facilities management department, including a carwash, a nursing home and Runk dining hall. Now, he works night shifts cleaning specific buildings on Grounds — usually the National Radio Observatory and the medical school’s Pinn Hall.

During the day, Bushiri takes GED classes and plans for his future. The life he had once imagined for himself might not be possible anymore, but he is intent on getting as close as he can to it.

“My plan when I was a kid was to finish high school and go to college to study medicine,” said Bushiri. “So when we lost our parents, it was hard. Now, you know, I’m 28 years old. I’m older than a med student, and medical school is expensive. Now, my plan is to go to nursing school.”

Bushiri’s teachers — or his “tutors,” as he calls them — have been integral in getting him to where he is now, and on the path to where he wants to be. He has been taking classes at the Adult Learning Center on the Downtown Mall for years, ranging from ESL to computer skills to the University-sponsored facilities management program that got him his current job.

Carol Coffey, program coordinator at the Adult Learning Center, said that “core skills” like the ones that Bushiri has been learning are crucial to elevating immigrants, refugees and others in the Charlottesville community to the jobs and lives that they want.

“Learning takes commitment and work, but if you’re willing to do that, we can help you get what you need to take that next step, wherever you are on that ladder and whatever direction you want to go,” Coffey said. “And our goal is, once again, we want our friends and neighbors to have access to sustainable living jobs. We know they’ve got to get to that 15 dollar per hour, 18 dollar per hour place, or they’re not going to survive.”

To the members of the ALC staff, education is not only about sustainability — it also fosters personal growth. Every year, there is an essay contest for the students to submit a personal narrative, a selection of which is compiled in a publication entitled, Voices of Adult Learners.

ESL instructor Chip King has all of his students write an essay. He insists that everyone has a story, even if they can’t think of one at first. “It’s like that Blake poem, ‘To see the world in a grain of sand,’” he said. The most powerful stories don’t always have to recount earth-shattering moments — they can sprout from seemingly minor details.

Bushiri’s own essay was chosen to be published in this anthology. He wrote about hearing the news of the Unite the Right rally in August of 2017 — the white supremacist protest that claimed the life of counter-protester Heather Heyer — while he was at a post office in Tennessee. He said that he was deeply upset by the evil surfacing in the place he had just begun to call home, and it was the only time he has ever felt unwelcome or afraid in the six years he has lived in the U.S.

But Bushiri has looked evil in the face before. He said that the events of last summer have not permanently altered his perception of Charlottesville. Instead, he tries to focus on the good he has encountered here.

“In every country there are the good people and the bad people,” said Bushiri. “But here I have made so many friends, met so many people who helped me.”

This mentality is what has allowed Bushiri to rebuild a life in a strange city after losing almost everything and suspending his own dreams for so long. It’s what led him to officially apply for U.S. citizenship last August not long after the day that a postal worker asked him — upon hearing that Bushiri was living in the city on the news — if he was going to go back.

“Yes,” Bushiri had told him. “Charlottesville is my home.”

House Away from Hospital

Families finding housing in medical crisis

Words and Photos by Meagan O’Rourke. Illustration by Leo Dominguez.

Sephida Artis-Mills, a 36-year-old mother of five boys from Virginia Beach, waited for the ultrasound results 31 weeks into her pregnancy. When the doctors said there was bad news, she figured she was having another son.

“I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what,” Artis-Mills said.

Her first daughter, Khanshaa, would be born with a congenital heart defect, meaning the left side of her heart is underdeveloped. Khanshaa would need three heart surgeries from the time she was born for her best chance at survival. After the first surgery at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, her doctors noticed complications. Khansha needed to stay and wait for a heart transplant in Charlottesville, three hours away from home.

“My heart felt like it fell in my feet,” Sephida said. “It felt like somebody sucked all the air out of the room and knocked the wind out of me.”

Khanshaa is now 6-months-old and Sephida spends between 10 to 13 hours a day by her side in the hospital. Commuting back and forth from Virginia Beach is not an option for Sephida.

“Nothing was right in the world not being there with her,” Sephida said.

Like hundreds of other families who live far from Charlottesville with children in the Children’s Hospital at U.Va., Sephida needs a place to stay indefinitely, not knowing when Khanshaa can get a heart. Hotels closest to the hospital cost at least $150 a night and cannot provide the protective isolated environment for Khanshaa.

However, through her social worker, Sephida found the Yellow Door Foundation, a member of the University’s new Housing Collaborative which seeks to pair families travel of children being treated at the the Children’s Hospital at the University with free housing options.

Sephida gasped and smiled walking into her temporary home full of yellow pillows, accents and flowers for the first time.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I’m just blown away. I just saw this kitchen and I said I’m in love, I love to cook.”

Now, she is only a 10 minute drive from seeing her baby.

The Ronald McDonald House in Charlottesville, Photo by Meagan O’Rourke

The Children’s Hospital at the University began its Housing Collaborative in October of 2017 working with pediatric housing groups in the area to accommodate the high volumes of families visiting the hospital from far away.

Five housing groups are in the Collaborative: the Ronald McDonald House, the Alyssa House, the Yellow Door Foundation, Open Arms and LilyPads. In total, the collaborative can accommodate 24 families.

Joyce Thompson, manager of Patient and Family Center Care for the Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services, leads the initiative. She says the goal is to provide free housing to any family which requests living accommodations.

“I think it is positive that we all have the same shared vision we want to have safe housing for all of our families and a lot of them are here for a medical crisis, and anything we can do to support the families is what we are focusing on,” Thompson said.

Currently, if a family or their social worker reaches out to the Collaborative, the Ronald McDonald House first sees if it is a good fit, as it is the largest housing option with 19 beds. If not, the Ronald McDonald House will direct the request to the Collaborative which will find proper housing for the family among one of the five houses. All housing options are free and accept suggested donations between $10 to $15 a night, making the Collaborative an attractive option for families in crisis.

“We are always full, and we always have a waiting list,” Thompson said.

Thompson approximates that the Collaborative can fulfill 95 percent of housing requests. However, if a family cannot get off the waitlist for housing, the Collaborative will send the family to a local hotel, and the Children’s Hospital picks up the bill.

The housing groups meet each month to refine the process through which families can find a place to stay temporarily.

As a former nurse passionate about healthcare, she is pleased with the Collaborative’s impact so far in providing housing.

“I think that in the short time we have been together we have done a great job,” Thompson said. “I am also very proud of our U.Va. Children’s Hospital leadership they were the ones that recognized that we do need the support in our area for the families and as part of our patient and center family care have been allowing the group to work together.”

The creation of the U.Va. Housing Collaborative corresponds with the growth of the Children’s Hospital at the University. Last year more than 5,100 patients drove more than two hours to receive care at the Children’s Hospital with around 1,000 from out of state, according to the Children’s Hospital. Specifically, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and pediatric heart transplants are the main reasons for families to visit from far distances.

Yellow Door Foundation founder Joanne McTague felt called to start a free temporary housing options in this past year when she noticed families putting themselves in dangerous situations to avoid paying for hotels.

“When I found out that people were literally sleeping in their cars I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’m doing but we are going to see if we can make something work,’” McTague said.

Within the past year, the Yellow Door Foundation has expanded from one to three apartments, creating more options for families to stay with immunocompromised children. Also adding to the number of places to stay are the Open Arms House and the Lilypads Foundation, a network of host families.

“Now, especially with Lilypads having host families we almost have the potential to double our patient family beds,” Thompson said.

Thompson is confident that the Collaborative is keeping pace with the growth of the Children’s Hospital, even as it has been expanding its services for acutely ill children.

But, for families in medical crisis, having a bed is just the beginning of finding home in Charlottesville.

Chuck George, whose 3-year-old son Thomas had a congenital heart defect, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for a total of eight months.

“Quite frankly I can’t think of a time when I was under more stress, having a sick kid in the hospital and every day they are fighting for their life, and the staff is aware of the challenges families are going through and they try to help them,” Chuck said.

Chuck has not stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in three years but he still stays keeps in contact with its director, Rita Ralston.

In 2015, after three heart surgeries, Thomas suffered complications and passed away.

“That’s the hardest day, not just in the Ronald McDonald house but in my life — period,” Chuck said. “I don’t think I’ve experienced anything more devastating than that.”

Coming back to the house, Ralston comforted him in the same way she has been a “beacon of light” to other families, according to Chuck.

For Ralston, it is all part of the job.

“Sometimes they just need to have someone present with them,” Ralston said. “One time I sat with a father for over an hour in the office, we didn’t need to speak, he just wanted someone present with him. At the same time, I’ve helped make funeral arrangements. It is whatever that family needs to bridge getting them back to having that family support.”

Hospitality and support is becoming more critical as stays at the Ronald McDonald House are increasingly extended.

“The issue with that is, yes, they need a place to stay, but yes, it is going to be an extended stay,” Ralston said. “So if I go back to when I started in 2010, if I ran a pure mathematical average of length of stay … it was a little over 6 days. Now, if I run that same average, it’s about 17 days.”

Before learning about Khansaa’s need for the heart transplant, Sephida stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. However, she moved to the Yellow Door Foundation which has accommodations for immunocompromised patients. She did not know how long she would stay there since Khansaa was on the heart transplant waitlist.

“How could we possibly pay for lodging 30 days or two or three months because when you are waiting for a transplant?” Sephida said.

However, her extended stay at the Yellow Door Foundation has given her a place to relax, stay on top of Khansaa’s insurance and a support network through the other families staying and the Foundation.

“It’s so many things you have to stay on top of so you have to keep your mind as peaceful and stable as possible because you can’t afford to let anything fall through the cracks because it can be detrimental for your child,” Sephida said.

Khansaa has been healthy so far through her procedures. She successfully received a heart transplant after 21 days on the waitlist. However, even if a family’s sick child survives, relationships between spouses and other children may deteriorate.

“Statistically things like this do rip families apart, and I know mothers who are going through divorce right now because it just was too much,” Sephida said.

However, with an apartment to herself, she can make her own meals and have her family visit from Virginia Beach. But most importantly, she emphasizes the importance of families asking for help.

“Just put that brave face on and you have to continue to smile and be positive and you have to be as strong as you possibly can and accept that support,” Sephida said.

The U.Va. Collaborative does not cost the hospital anything, according to Thompson. However, the individual housing groups need to accept the support of the community to continue offering homes for free.

The Alyssa House for immunocompromised patients costs the average price of owning at three bedroom home in Charlottesville and also keeps food staples for its residents. Maintaining the home depends on the generosity of others.

“We really do rely on donations,” Stevens said. Although the Ronald McDonald House in Charlottesville has an annual budget of $700,000, much of its funding comes from donations and fundraising. Walking into the house, plastic containers of soda can tabs are stacked by the door front since they can be sold for recycling value. Canned goods filling the closets come from generous individuals, church groups and schools drives. The local Barnes and Nobles even donated $40,000 worth of books to stock a library for both parents and their children.

Keeping these housing groups open independently requires a large community effort. And meeting the increasing demand of more families flocking the Children’s Hospital means these housing groups must continuing supporting and evaluating each other through the Collaborative. However, having a home during crisis will remain a constant relief for families experiencing immense stress.

“I was that person looking at St. Jude’s commercials, looking at Ronald McDonald house from the outside looking in not knowing what they do, and now I’m that parent, so the tables can turn so quickly in your life and you not expect it,” Sephida said. “But thank God those programs are there because who knows what would happen if they weren’t there or how many people would be sleeping in cars or in dangerous situations that they don’t have to be in.”

Clarity in Chaos

Jazz Performance Director John D’earth discusses his musical career, life in Charlottesville and what jazz has to teach America.

Words and Photos by Meagan O’Rourke.

University Director of Jazz Performance John D’earth decided to drop out of Harvard on a Sunday in 1972.

In a New York City loft above King Pork Packer’s on the corner of 9th Avenue and 13th Street, the saxophonist David Liebman played “Willow Weep for Me” for D’earth in the morning, the brassy tones drowning out the city chatter. Later that afternoon, D’earth heard his longtime friend and percussion professor Robert Jospé and Grammy-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker playing songs off the Coltrane album “Impressions.”

“I could not believe what I was hearing,” D’earth said.

This was the jazz scene of New York in the 70’s — collaborative, evolving and raw. A jam session among friends in a loft could be the breeding ground for nationally-renowned musicians. While he loved studying English literature in college, D’earth — an insatiable listener and trumpet performer — needed to be here.

Now, in 2018, Charlottesville is his post. Continuing his musical career — still technically on a leave of absence from Harvard, he jokes — D’earth is the University’s Jazz Ensemble Director. Outside of the University, D’earth seems to be entrenched in every aspect of the Charlottesville jazz scene. He is the co-founder of the Free Bridge Quintet, a co-founder of the Precognitive Conservatory Orchestra, director of the Charlottesville Swing Orchestra and a local favorite to watch perform at Miller’s on the Downtown Mall on Thursday nights. During the Concert for Charlottesville, he shared the stage with the Dave Matthews Band and features Dave Matthews on his “Mercury” album.

However, he does not stay here for the applause he receives at the end of every performance.

He agrees to meet with me outside of Old Cabell Hall. Although his concert call time is quickly approaching, he never checks his phone or watch. Performers roll in sound equipment as we talk for an hour. During our conversation, he stops to say hello to four music students and professors he knows walking past. Jazz is truly the “social art” he described to me.

“Charlottesville is a really rich musical community and its got a really great jazz community, jazz appreciation, jazz musicians, jazz studies,” D’earth said. “It’s a musical place, and I feel as though my biggest interest in life is to make a difference to something. I think there’s bad times coming in this country, like very bad times ahead.”

But D’earth says that jazz has something to teach all of us about confronting bad times — if we are brave enough to listen.

Miller’s is the home to locals who come to hear D’earth play Thursday nights.

Miller’s is the home to locals who come to hear D’earth play Thursday nights

D’earth always knew he wanted to be a performer. Planning his career goals early on, he was an aspiring actor until the age of 12.

Particularly, he recalls watching the 1959 film “The Five Pennies.” Somewhat mirroring D’earth’s future, the film follows the true story of Red Nichols (played by Danny Kaye) as he moves to New York to become a jazz musician.

“Danny Kaye is a genius performer and he just made this crazy jazz musician come to life, but Red Nichols himself was not a great player,” D’earth said.

While he admired Kaye’s energetic portrayal of lackluster Nichols, a supporting character who played the cornet in the film captured his interest — Louis Armstrong.

“So it was in a funny way that [Danny Kaye] handed me off to Louis Armstrong and that was it,” D’earth said.

D’earth was suspended several times from his Framingham high school for “stupid stuff” like the rebellious act of not cutting his hair. His single mother was frustrated with the administration’s rule restricting the stylish trend. She arranged for her son to attend a private high school — the Cambridge School of Weston.

Here, he met Jospé who would become his musical collaborator, best friend and fellow professor at the University. Jospé, dressed in black concert attire, waves at us as he climbs the Old Cabell steps. D’earth shouts hello and leans in to to tell me they are two weeks apart in age — almost like twins — but D’earth is older.

“It was an instant connection of music and friendship [when] we started playing together the very first day we met in 1967,” Jospé said.

Jospé went on to New York University and D’earth to Harvard. But the two were not separated for long. D’earth frequently visited New York to see Jospé, who was studying under Miles Davis’ drummer, Tony Williams, at the time.

Drawn in by the city’s vibrant sound, D’earth made the move to New York in 1971, and the two friends from Massachusetts formed the jazz fusion band Cosmology. Vocalist Dawn Thompson, later to become D’earth’s wife, also led the group in crafting original music.

In 1981, the group was invited to play gigs in Charlottesville, whose jazz scene was in its early stages.

“We were sort of a different kind of sound that people were attracted to,” Jospé said.


While New York City was brimming with jazz music in the ’70s, D’earth recognizes this is not the case everywhere today. He notes that many people do not get jazz and they think that those who claim to like it are just trying to be hip. However, D’earth is not in the business of trying to get people to like jazz. He just wants his students and audiences to feel jazz.

“Jazz has to hurt you and then it is your problem and you’ll know what to do but you have to listen to it,” D’earth said. “It has to hurt you. The music has to touch you.”

D’earth refuses to leave the philosophy lesson at this. He delves into history.

“Look, jazz music is black music — it is the music of black America,” D’earth said. “And everybody plays it because black people created this music in this country and it got recorded and it went around the world, and it changed how people heard music. It gave music back to the people.”

D’earth recognizes the significance of the history of jazz music and its roots in black America. As a white jazz musician, he has grappled with the idea of whether playing jazz music is cultural appropriation.

“Every note we jazz musicians play is Black Lives Matter because the notes we play would not exist without black lives,” D’earth said. “So that’s not appropriation, that is affirmation. And that’s what art should do — affirmation.”

Deborah McDowell, professor and director of the Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, typically shies away from talking about whether white musicians are appropriating jazz music, as it is a complex matter for black jazz musicians to unpack. However, she says D’earth always explains the influence of black musicians on his work and is a masterful player.

“Whoever has heard his trumpet knows that he inhabits jazz music, bone and flesh — that he respects, even reverences, jazz music,” McDowell said in an email. “For this and so many other reasons, it belongs to him in the truest meaning of belonging.”

D’earth’s goal is to introduce each concert talking about where the music comes from and its roots in black America, referring to slavery of the past and discrimination today. He hopes people will realize the healing properties that can come out of such seemingly chaotic and spontaneous music.

“The point is, what this music talks about is genuine feelings, true experience. And guess what? It’s painful as hell and it’s beautiful to survive,” D’earth said.

D’Earth improvises and sees this music style as a form of conversation.

Once, D’earth was so moved by jazz’s power, he had to pull off of the road.

He was listening to a Billie Holiday concert on the radio. It was not the music that had moved him — it was the shock of what Holiday said at the end of the concert. “I never sing a song the same way twice, I never sing the same tempo. And when I sing a song, that’s my life.”

D’earth pauses and exhales.

“I have a hard time even repeating that without getting really screwed up from it,” D’earth said. “But the point of it is if 99 percent of people in this country heard that music and heard that voice and had the same reaction we wouldn’t have racism in this country. We would have appreciation and apologies. And we need apologies.”

While he has always been concerned about racial injustice and discrimination, he feels he, as a jazz musician, is more relevant after the events of Aug. 11 and 12 in which white supremacists and neo-Nazis occupied the Lawn in a torchlit rally the night before a deadly protest in downtown Charlottesville the following day.

“Since the events of August, I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak out,” D’earth said.

He attributes his mentor and colleague, Music Prof. Bonnie Gordon, with opening his eyes to the ongoing inequalities in Charlottesville and for inspiring him to talk more openly about racial injustices.

“I played this music for years in this town and never realized there was a whole black part of the town, a poor part of the town that would never have the transportation or the dough to find me as a teacher,” D’earth said. “I just never thought of it that way but she taught me that.”

Together, they created The Precognitive Conservatory Orchestra — a jazz performance group free for anyone of any level to join, which focuses on musical improvisation.

While he sees jazz improvisation as a form of conversation, he wishes people would harness the norms of music to have more productive dialogues about the heaviest problems facing our nation.

“Music shows the way. Especially improvised music,” D’earth said. “Because when in music you say, ‘When in doubt, leave it out.’ You say, ‘Listen to each other’.”

Teaching improvisation may seem counterintuitive, but D’earth strikes a balance.

And while D’earth loves teaching, he is wary of the intimidation that can come with mastering music. A crusading musical egalitarian, he believes everyone’s sense of music is innate. Like breathing, D’earth believes music is biological.

“Think anything biological,” D’earth said. “So I think music and sexuality are super connected to each other but I think we as a people, we the people of this country but in the human race in general is very very paranoid about anything powerful so music, sex, everybody wants to control these things.”

As a teacher, he believes it is his job to let his students find their own musicality and to embrace its power. He is disheartened by stories of children who go into music only to be dissuaded by militant teachers or critical parents.

“I say let them do their dream of music first. They have a huge dream when they go to music, and when we play this free music everybody can live the dream,” D’earth said.

As a stepfather, D’earth also sees his students as children.


Ph.D. Jazz student Rami Stucky has played drums in the Jazz Ensemble since fall of 2016. Since meeting D’earth, he has considered him as a mentor and has appreciated his understanding teaching style.

“He’s unorthodox but in the best way possible,” Stucky said.

Unlike other big bands Stucky has played in which mostly play stock tunes, D’earth encourages students to compose their own pieces. Last semester, the ensemble played three student-compositions.

“He’s unorthodox but in the best way possible.”

-Ph.D. jazz student Rami Stucky

This originality drives D’earth’s work. Watching him perform at Miller’s with his band, he plays trumpet in brilliant bursts, then walks off the stage while the keyboardist plays a solo. He grabs a drink, hugs an old friend and goes back up, moving naturally with the music. Like Holiday, he is careful not to play a song the same way twice.

He believes there are two things jazz has to teach us.

The first is mastering your instrument so you have your own relationship to its musical language.

“Two, what Oscar Wilde said — be yourself because everyone else is taken. Tell your own story, express yourself, no copying,” D’earth said. “And that’s what jazz has to teach. That’s what the great jazz musicians do.”

The city that wears its art on its sleeve

Charlottesville’s murals illustrate a city wrestling with its identity

Words by Ben Hitchcock and Thomas Roades.

Charlottesville’s most popular mural could not be more straightforward: “I LOVE CHARLOTTESVILLE A LOT,” reads the wall of Fitzgerald’s Tires in Belmont. The jauntily spaced red and black letters are a pilgrimage site for residents and students alike, a focal point in a town that loves art and loves itself.

“I Love Charlottesville a Lot,” at Fitzgerald’s Tires, is perhaps Charlottesville’s most popular mural. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Charlottesville’s walls have become increasingly colorful over the last few years, as artists and organizations have leapt at the chance to reimagine the visual landscape of a rapidly changing city. The Tom Tom Founders Festival City as Canvas Mural Project has sponsored multiple murals since its founding three years ago; The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative’s Charlottesville Mural Project, founded in 2011, has commissioned and consulted more than a dozen murals, including “I Love Charlottesville” and the abstraction on the side of The Graduate Hotel. Charlottesville now wears its art on its sleeve.

The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, which has commissioned numerous Charlottesville murals, is itself covered in public art. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

This vibrant evolution becomes more complicated in the wake of Aug. 12 and the ensuing period of town-wide self-reflection. As many have recently noted, Charlottesville’s class of well-educated, high-earning white liberals have long engaged in a dangerous sort of “performative progressivism.” After President Donald Trump’s election, Mayor Mike Signer declared Charlottesville the “Capital of the Resistance.”The city feels like ground zero for new-age, lumbersexual, craft-beer liberalism, likely home to more Priuses and Bernie stickers per capita than anywhere else in the state. But this brand of progressivism often falls short of creating real progress. Slapping a nice picture on a wall in a decrepit neighborhood and claiming to have made a tangible difference exemplifies this trend.

This context casts the various strategies adopted by Charlottesville’s muralists into a new light. Some of Charlottesville’s murals are bold and subversive and brash. Works by artists like Kaki Dimock and Tandem Friends School are squarely situated in the tradition of the mural as political activism — as the shard of Berlin Wall outside Alderman reminds us, street art has long been a powerful tool in the hands of grassroots change-makers. Other muralists like Mickael Broth have embraced the abstract and apolitical in their art. Meanwhile, work by Chicho Lorenzo aims for a different sort of activism, an activism of aspiration, depicting not what is but what could be. The merits and flaws of these respective styles have been thrown into sharp focus by Charlottesville’s extraordinary political moment.


Look closely to see a street sign painted with checkers to blend into this mural at Mas Tapas — a lighthearted and creative touch characteristic of artist Chicho Lorenzo. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Just around the corner from “I Love Charlottesville,” a similarly optimistic mural covers the side of the restaurant Mas Tapas. The “Floating Banquet,” painted early last year by artist Chicho Lorenzo, depicts a joyful scene — adults and children of all races and walks of life frolic through the sky or sit at a long banquet table, quaffing margaritas and laughing with each other. The mural is colorful, cartoonish, full of movement and life, no frowns in sight. It playfully incorporates in with the surrounding environment, featuring a street sign that’s been painted to blend in with the mural, and a streetlight grasped in one of the revelers’ hands as though it’s a cup.

The mural’s spirit echoes its creator. Lorenzo, originally from Madrid, arrived in Charlottesville in 2008 and has since painted murals in Belmont, at IX Art Park and near Barracks Road, as well as worked with local elementary schools. Lorenzo seems eternally cheerful — humble and quick to laugh, he signs his emails “Love&Rhythm.”

Lorenzo’s art may seem impossibly placid, but the effect is purposeful. Lorenzo understands art as providing an ideal for people and communities to strive towards.

“People ask me … I see just positive stuff, not negative,” Lorenzo said. “And I say yeah, because this is the possibility. This is the community that I believe we are and we can be. So somehow painting that … makes it real in the mind of people who see that mural.”

Though it isn’t activism in the traditional controversial, disruptive sense, Lorenzo believes his strategy can create real, sweeping change.

“Art, in general, is intrinsically political activism,” he remarked, positing that artists can be leaders by setting an example. “We imagine the unreal, the possibility. That should inspire everyone else to somehow consider those possibilities, so somehow they move society forward.”

Lorenzo’s optimism is admirable, but his murals leave themselves open to misinterpretation. Out in the wild, without Lorenzo — or a handy museum exhibition plaque — to explain, the murals are easily read as a depiction of Charlottesville’s reality, rather than Charlottesville’s unrealized future. In a city with a troubling habit of patting itself on the back a little too readily, simple depictions of a perfectly harmonious society read like a whitewashing of more complex issues. In 2014, Charlottesville was voted the happiest place in the country, despite facing problems like sweeping gentrification and a mounting housing crisis that disproportionately affected low-income and minority residents. Lorenzo’s art does not agitate this status quo.

Lorenzo’s mural offers a cheerful, perhaps idealistic vision of Charlottesville. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Lorenzo’s aim isn’t disruption — it’s charm.

“I paint with colors and shapes that people find beautiful,” he said. Lorenzo sees this attitude echoed by the other artists and residents of the city. “Charlottesville, it’s a gardening community. We love our gardens, our flowers. We love this aesthetic.”

Lorenzo feels that his cheerful style fits Charlottesville’s longstanding ethos of focusing on the good things and ignoring the uncomfortable — an ethos the city has been working hard to shed.

“Even if I try not to be beautiful, and try to do it a little bit wild, it comes always soft, which fits the atmosphere in Charlottesville,” he said. “Soft and easy art.”

Broth’s 240’ mural stretches around a corner on Garrett St. (Photo by Ben Hitchcock)


Mickael Broth, a primarily Richmond-based artist who has also painted several Charlottesville murals, learned the hard way that art is not always easy.

“I got into painting large-scale exterior surfaces as a teenager by painting graffiti,” he said. His career as a graffiti artist was cut short abruptly, however — “That didn’t end well, I wound up doing almost a year in jail in Richmond for my involvement in graffiti,” Broth said. “After that, I really stuck to doing drawings on paper for a long time afterwards.”

Since then, he’s established himself as a well-known muralist in Richmond, receiving a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts professional fellowship in 2008. Though much of his work has been in Richmond, Broth has still made his mark on the walls of Charlottesville as well. In 2015, he was the Artist in Residence for the Tom Tom Festival, during which he painted a 240-foot-long mural on Garrett Street and another at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply, as well as a Charlottesville City Transit bus — a sort of moving mural.

Broth’s mural at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply is more abstract, and its street art style hints at his origins as a graffiti artist. (Photo by Ben Hitchcock)

“ [Painting a bus] was a new experience for [Tom Tom], and I think they were trying to do something creative and different,” Broth said. “It was all done with spray paint, and then [the bus] ran for two months I think before it was taken out of service.”

“We went into it knowing that this was a temporary thing,” he said. “[Murals] are sort of medium-term permanent. They can last 20 years, 50 years, but in general it’s a medium that isn’t this lifetime commitment and it can be a temporary thing. The ephemeral nature of the work itself is in a lot of ways important for the appreciation of it.”

Broth said he rarely has one specific message he wishes to convey with his pieces — “public art is … out in public and people will bring their personal experiences and interpretations to it,” he explained. As a result, his work tends to remain apolitical. His street art style is in itself a bit edgy — reminiscent of his roots as a graffiti artist — but its subject matter is generally abstract and uncontroversial. Broth’s massive mural on Garrett Street tends toward the surreal, with faces that seem to expand as they melt into each other and eye-catching color. The wall at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply displays a more calming color scheme, but just as much abstract action in its tangled mass of lines. His work in Richmond is similarly unconcerned with explicit political statement — recent subjects include Will Smith, C-3PO, and Madonna.

Though Broth rarely tries to make any one distinct statement with his murals, he did describe the medium as a form of expression for a city’s residents and one that can be constantly changing due to its aforementioned ephemeral nature.

He explained the prevalence of murals in his hometown of Richmond as a movement of self-expression and civic pride.

“The visual landscape is now far more representative of the culture of the city,” he said. “For a long time the city has had a very conservative tilt to it, but there was always this appreciation for art and for creative expression brewing under the surface, and finally we’re at a point where that is what is being represented visually.”

Public art inherently lends itself to that kind of public representation, Broth said. 

“Public art murals have somewhat of a political or ideological … sense in that it’s taking art out of a museum or a gallery or institution and bringing it to the public,” he said. “It democratizes [art], that idea that everyone should be able to experience art.”

Broth is the founder of the Welcoming Walls initiative, a project that brings murals to the streets of Richmond with the goal of building community spirit.

Broth is right that murals, just by their very existence, can deconstruct traditional systems and “democratize” art. But abstraction only has so much power when it’s not coupled with interpretation. Broth doesn’t concern himself with political nuance. Like, for example, the “I Love Charlottesville” mural, urban beautification and civic pride are goals of Broth’s work.


Kaki Dimock’s mural by the train tracks downtown has an overt political message, celebrating the anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Murals can do more than that, however. The Rivanna River Watershed mural, located at the intersection of First Street and the train tracks, was painted by local artist Kaki Dimock in 2013 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. In collaboration with StreamWatch, the Rivanna Conservation Society, Rivanna River Basin Commission and the Charlottesville Mural Project, Dimock received over $11,000 in funding through a Kickstarter for the project, which she said celebrates the law as a successful public policy that’s benefitted many people. 

The piece depicts the Blue Ridge Mountains above several iconic University and Charlottesville buildings all resting atop an underwater scene featuring wildlife from the Rivanna River Basin — a symbolic representation of the relationship between the human community and the natural environment, according to Dimock.

Though a celebration of clean water is hardly a controversial stance, Dimock’s work subtly nudges its beholders to reconsider their entire worldview in terms of their relationship to the natural world.

“My work … is a challenge to the human viewer to consider animals in a different way,” she said. “I’m sort of trying to turn the tables a little bit and accentuate the need to balance our use of the environment with the animals we share it with. That is certainly an intentional and motivating thought for me as an artist.”

This is a theme not only in this particular mural, but throughout Dimock’s work, she said. Much of her work is in pen and ink, and occasionally watercolor, so the mural was a break from her preferred mediums, yet it still contains her signature focus on the importance of the animal world and its relationship to ours.

“The boundaries between the human world and the animal world … are more fragile than we think,” Dimock said. In order to get that message across, she often brings the two together in unconventional ways, breaking down those boundaries with somewhat surreal artwork “accentuating animals over the built environment, or placing them in strange environments.”

In the First Street mural, that juxtaposition manifests itself in the thin brown line separating the ground beneath the painted Rotunda and the vast expanse of water just below it. Though the buildings that define Charlottesville and Grounds are present, they’re hardly the mural’s focus. Instead, the underwater scene takes up about two-thirds of the space, with fish arranged in concentric circles that instantly draw the eye down. The river environment serves as the foundation for the man-made landmarks that are central to the city — demonstrating our dependence on the natural environment and, in particular, on clean water.

That concept of nature as the foundation on which humans are dependent is characteristic of Dimock’s work. “You might see a drawing of a town in my work, but the town is on the back of a giant red kangaroo,” she said.

Though paint-on-brick murals are not her usual medium in which to work, Dimock expressed an appreciation for the inherent subversiveness that accompanies the art form. 

“I would suggest that … murals are an act of activism and a little bit assertive in that art used to be the private domain of the rich,” she said. “The idea of public art means it’s automatically a little bit subversive, it is to say that beautiful things with meaning belong to all of us.”

She seemed to think that message was especially appropriate for a mural celebrating clean water — a natural resource on which we all depend.

“Water is everybody’s in the same sort of way,” Dimock said. “It felt to me that there were a lot of parallels between the water basin and the idea of [public] art.”

Dimock environmental agenda means her murals carry weight as agents of community change. Water conservation may not be controversial, but it’s a worthy goal, and Dimock’s murals advocate for change by distorting both physical and mental space.

A mural of two Native American Chiefs is barely visible in a narrow alley behind the Main St. Marriott. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Charlottesville’s most disruptive mural is no longer visible without a little bit of searching. On Main Street, a narrow alleyway squeezes between the Grand Market Afghan grocery and the Marriott Hotel. Two Native American chiefs wearing traditional feathered headdresses stare sternly down from the wall of the Market. In 2011, when the chiefs were first painted, their line of sight cut across the corner of the street and fell upon the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea that stands at the intersection of Main, Ridge and McIntire. Now, their view is obstructed by the hotel.

Unlike Lorenzo or Broth, the Tandem Friends School students who painted this mural had an explicit political agenda, based around subversion of the city’s status quo. Jack Ronayne, one of the Tandem students who worked on painting the mural, said that the mural represented a response to the statue across the street.

“I’ve always looked at the Sacagawea statue as being one of the worst statues in town,” he said, “just because it shows her as cowering and subservient, and that’s not what she was like in actuality. She was leading the charge, leading these totally dumb blind white men through the woods.”

The students who painted the mural aimed to undermine the statue’s comfortable, well-worn message.

“To have the two chiefs from the west kind of giving you this solemn, pointed stare, it just makes you reset,” Ronayne said. “Like maybe we should think about what we did to the Native Americans, and how the land was taken.”

The mural was commissioned by Ryan Deramus, at the time owner of Random Row Books, a used bookstore that had occupied the lot where the Marriott now stands. In a blog post written just after the completion of the mural, Deramus echoed Ronayne’s sentiments.

“It was clear from the beginning that it should directly contrast the perspective presented in the Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue,” Deramus wrote of the mural. The people behind this mural aimed to create contrast and tension.

The city resisted the mural immediately. Charlottesville declared the mural had been painted in a historic district and would need to be presented to the city’s Board of Architectural Review. He was asked by the City to retroactively apply for a permit and pay the $100 application fee. Deramus scoffed at the threats of the bureaucracy.

The mural eventually withstood the city’s resistance only to face new troubles two years later in 2013 when Random Row Books closed its doors. The building, a former auto repair shop, was demolished to make room for the hotel, which towers over the wall featuring the mural, and leaves an alley only a few feet wide from which to view it. Random Row was a community attraction — in addition to displaying the mural, the store hosted music shows, theater performances and conversations with local political activists. In its place now stands a Marriott, smooth tan concrete walls pressed up against the noses of the noble chiefs on the side of the neighboring building. The students’ brave statement and energetic activism is occluded by a cookie-cutter box full of uncomfortable beds.

The story of the Native American shows that Charlottesville needs more activism like the kind expressed by the Tandem students. There is still plenty in this city worth subverting and questioning. The community faces an affordable housing crisis at the same time as luxury apartment buildings continue to rise on West Main Street. The Lee statue still stands in Emancipation Park. Even after a year of important self-reflection, Charlottesville still needs an honest reminder of what it is, not a heartwarming declaration of what it can be.

Eugenics’ racist chains on U.Va

How an outdated science manifested into racism and discrimination the University still contends with

Words by Navya Annapareddy and Aisha Singh.

As the University of Virginia marks its Bicentennial, the laying of its cornerstone will be celebrated by old and new Hoos alike. The University’s history is long and rich, as is with any any premier institution of learning almost as old as the United States itself.

A journey to the bottom floors of the University’s Shirley Small Special Collections and the Claude Moore Health Science libraries reveals hundreds upon hundreds of journals, all giving a vivid glimpse into the University’s past. Not all the historical accounts are good, of course — there are controversial manuscripts and many journals and books depicting the brutalities of slavery. Texts relay accounts of the evolution of man from more “exotic” races. Some are centuries old, and some only decades.

Look even further at dusty anatomy books, containing pages upon pages of racist and ableist prose. Some describe methods of ensuring lighter skin in offspring. Others recommend forced sterilization of “defective women.”

This is the pseudoscience of eugenics, a collection of genetics practices based on mistaken facts — a so-called science propagated by a legion of the University’s best minds at the time. It is a science which promoted the falsehood of genetic purity and at its worst, lent its ideas to the Nazi movement. Eugenics was well in practice in the 20th century and even now its grasp on the University, in the wake of the self-reflection following the events of Aug. 11 and 12, is apparent.


At its simplest, eugenics aimed to increase the proportion of genetically healthy people in a population. In the late 1800s, English scientist Francis Galton published his beliefs that social improvement would only happen by improving the heredity of those who were having children. His ideas, which he termed the science of eugenics, took hold within the United States in the early 20th century.

Paul Lombardo, former director of the Law and Medicine Program at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University, said one of the bases behind eugenics was population control.

“The theory was that you could engineer society in the long-term, to improve it … to do away with many of the problems like crime and poverty and disease,” Lombardo said.

In theory, the goal of improving society seemed a noble one. But in practice, eugenics intertwined with the ideologies of racism, ableism and Nazism, devolving into a science that promoted sterilization, coercive measures and ultimately a framework that proposed racial purity.

Virginia legislators were staunch supporters of eugenics. By 1912 and 1916, the state-funded Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded housed epileptic, disabled or otherwise “feeble-minded” individuals. These colonies housed people who proponents of eugenics deemed not fit to be in society – although there were fair numbers of the mentally ill, the only thing differentiating these people from everyone else was their lack of wealth and power.

“The comparative histologic study of pigmented skins was undertaken with the hope of discovering evidence that might throw more light on the problem of color inheritance among the descendants of crosses between whites and negros.”

– Professor H.E. Jordan, University of Virginia, August 1911

Lawmakers did not stop at establishing institutions for people deemed unfit for society. The first sterilization legislation in Virginia, proposed in 1914, was fueled by notable eugenicists such as Albert Priddy and Joseph DeJarnette. Both also helped establish the Virginia Colony. On March 20, 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Sterilization Act, which allowed for “sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases.” On the same day, the Racial Integrity Act was passed, which expanded Virginia’s ban of interracial marriage, posing stricter regulations on the classifications of “white” and “negro”.

In one fell swoop, the stage was set for another layer of institutional and legal discrimination of poor, mentally-ill and African American populations across Virginia.

At institutions like the Virginia State Colony, sterilization was a proposed procedure to ensure that its wards would never be able to have “morally corrupt” offspring. Colonies like the Virginia Colony were organized to separate patients from the general population.


Carrie Buck, a Charlottesville native, was removed from the care of her mother, Emma, and taken in by foster parents soon after Emma was committed to the Colony in 1920. At school, Carrie showed promise, but just a few years after moving in with her foster parents, she was raped — supposedly by the foster family’s nephew. With a baby on the way, her foster parents condemned Carrie to the Colony, citing her “promiscuity” and “feeblemindedness” as reason for her banishment.

“Her foster parents said that she was a moral delinquent, and she had different problems and disabilities … but the biggest problem was that … she got pregnant,” Lombardo said. “She had a baby but she wasn’t married.”

At the same time as Carrie’s departure to the Colony, the Sterilization Act of 1924 was passed, and Carrie became the test subject for a law that would serve as a basis for the discriminatory policies of the time period.A court appeal filed on behalf of Carrie Buck objecting to the sterilization process for reasons including it imposing “a crel and unusual punishment.” Circuit Court of Amherst County.


The Virginia legislature, armed with lawyer Aubrey Strode, used the stigma of being an unwed, lower-class woman to deem Buck a candidate for sterilization – a series of medical procedures that would render her infertile.

Against her will, on Oct. 19, 1927, Carrie Buck was the first woman in Virginia to be sterilized under eugenics law.

Oliver Holmes, the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals said of the case, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Lombardo emphasized the national importance of the Buck v. Bell ruling.

“[The ruling] formed a precedent for the whole country, saying that laws that would allow the state to sterilize people in institutions or hospitals or asylums, was [sic] constitutional,” he said. “The Buck case became the national precedent really for the whole practice [of eugenics].”

Lombardo also noted how the eugenics laws complemented other racially charged structures at the time.

“In a setting where Jim Crow laws are the rule, where racism is institutionalized in the law, eugenics comes along to provide an extra argument and a more focused argument about race,” he said.

At the height of its power, eugenics reinforced the concept of racial superiority and anti-Semitism at the University of Virginia and the Southern aristocratic families it served. In Virginia, 7,325 people were sterilized, although nationally the number is estimated to be as high as 60,000. The majority of those affected in Virginia — about 62 percent — were women.

Throughout the country, eugenics legislation was pushed forward and sterilizations were forced upon many marginalized groups, such as the poor, mentally ill and African-Americans. In Virginia, however, most of the sterilizations were done on white people, according to Lombardo, because there were not as many institutions for people of color.

“Do you realise that about 10 percent of our population is defective, an economic and social burden, and a constant source of racial menace and contamination?”

– Twelve University Lectures, 1914

However, in both black and white institutions around the Virginia area, the subject of eugenics was extremely prevalent. At both the University of Virginia and the all-black Howard University, among others, classes for eugenics were added to curriculums and students began writing papers and theses on the topic.


Eugenics at the University

Throughout its rise and fall, the University was notably silent in publicly addressing its involvement in eugenics as controversy over the movement mounted. In fact, notable eugenicists in Virginia permeated the core of the University’s leadership.

The University’s first president, Edwin Alderman, as well as the fourth dean of the University’s medical school, Harvey Jordan, were both fervent eugenicists. When the eugenics movement in the U.S. started faltering during World War II, even as Hitler’s regime rose to power and embraced its ideas, faculty at the University continued to include eugenics in curriculums and instruction.

“When Hitler embraced eugenics, it was so apparent that it was part of a racist ideology … But people here supported it,” said Dr. Preston Reynolds, a professor in the division of General Medicine, Geriatric and Palliative Care at the University’s School of Medicine. “In their courses, students writing papers supported Hitler’s regime and wished the U.S. could embrace Hitler’s programs.”

Harvey Jordan, although a stark opponent of interracial marriage, once claimed in a 1913 issue of The Literary Digest that the African American could be “saved” and purified by reproducing with caucasians.

“The mulatto, measured by present day standards of Caucasian civilization, from economic and civic standpoints, is an advance upon a pure negro,” the former dean said in the interview with the publication.

In 1972, the University named the building that serves as the home of the School of Medicine after him.

Ivey Lewis, vice president of the biology section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was asked to give an address to his section at the University in 1953 extolling the premise of eugenics. This talk was given after World War II, when the principles of eugenics were falling out of fashion.

“People were so outraged that they actually refused to publish his address in science [journals],” Reynolds said.

“Eugenics was the scientific foundation that justified the development of [discriminatory] policies and those structural barriers. Eugenics justified it.”

– Dr. Preston Reynolds, Professor in the Division of General, Geriatric, Palliative and Hospital Medicine

Reynolds, who is Associate Chair for Professionalism and Diversity in the School of Medicine, gave a lecture on the past and future of eugenics last fall in the now renamed Pinn Hall maintains that eugenics propagated systemic issues in racism. The University’s decades-long affair with eugenics significantly slowed the University’s racial integration, as well as its admittance of women, across the University.

“Eugenics was the scientific foundation that justified the development of those policies and those structural barriers,” Reynolds said. “Eugenics justified [them].”

Both Reynolds and Lombardo also agree that the University has been forced to grapple with how its past in eugenics affected its practices both in the past and present.

“Because it continued into the 60s, it justified a lot of what we would call racist instruction,” Reynolds said.

The University administration has garnered criticism for its perceived lack of recognition of its past. Reynolds, for example, described how her lecture on eugenics was controversial because of the light in which it depicted the University.

Alice Burgess, a Class of 2017 graduate of the University, knows both the difficulties and importance of depicting the University’s past accurately. Burgess, who participated in the University Guide Service, a University-designated special status organization, believes the main priority of those showcasing the University’s history should be to present a picture that is accurate and detailed.

“This means including both positive and negative aspects, but the main goal is just to be honest, open, transparent, and not to look upon U.Va.’s past with rose-tinted glasses,” she said. “Conveying the scope and lived realities of these periods of history is a challenge, but opening up the discussion on U.Va.’s distressing … past is crucial for the creation of a better university climate.”

Current University Guide and third-year College student Jillian Randolph contends with two views of the University: the ideals it promoted, and the racism and ableism it exhibited in practice.

“The University was built on these ideals, with good intentions. But those aren’t necessarily mirrored in the practice of how they came to be,” Randolph said. “And it just so happens that with what it wanted to be and how it came to be tend to be ironic themes. You want illimitable freedom of the pursuit of knowledge, but then you have enslaved laborers building the entire University.”

“I’ve now given this lecture, and people say, ‘How can you pull that off?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m a trained historian, I’m a scientist, and I’m tenured. So I can speak the truth,'” Reynolds said.


Reconciling an Inconsistent Past

After the events of Aug. 11, when white supremacists marched on the University’s Lawn, it is difficult to ignore the sentiments that have permeated the University since it was founded. With an increase in the visibility of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, not only here but across the nation, people are looking for an explanation for why the events in Charlottesville took place.

“I think that eugenics being so prominent here is a direct extension of that idea of white supremacy that Jefferson boldly detailed in his writings,” Randolph said. “The fact that he was one of the first people to introduce the biological debate on racism, and that we become a world leader in eugenics …. It’s not surprising that that’s why this was a breeding ground for it, and that on August 11 and 12, white supremacists found a home for it here.”

Some believe the University is too passive in its acknowledgment of its past. In recent years, Lewis Hall was renamed to Yen Hall, after the first Chinese student to graduate from U.Va., and Jordan Hall was named Pinn Hall, after Vivian Pinn, the only African-American and woman to graduate from the Medical School in 1967. Some people feel that conversations about the eugenicist beliefs of the men the buildings were originally named after should have held a more prominent place in discussions and announcements about these renamings.

“It’s fine if you want to change the names, but you should have a marker on the building saying why you changed the name, rather than just trying to erase it and hoping that everyone forgets it,” Lombardo said. “I’ve never been in favor of changing the names of buildings as a way of avoiding talking about some of the horrific things that happened in the past.”

Regardless of the University’s slow progress, it is important to understand the continuance of the discriminatory ideas from Jefferson’s time, to the time of eugenics, to today.

“We don’t have to use the word ‘eugenics’ to condemn the kind of hatred that was propagated on the Lawn last year, but it would be helpful if we realized that the same kind of sentiments that brought Hitler to power are very much alive in society today,” Lombardo said. “I think what you get if you forget about it is people marching with tiki torches on the Lawn.”

He also stated that those marching mistakenly believed stigmatizing groups of peoples is part of the American way.

Randolph said one way to confront racism and other systemic issues that propelled eugenics forward is to face these ideas head on and encourage dialogue and instruction among students and the administration. For example, University president Teresa Sullivan recently formed a new President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation, which aims to explore the University’s role in the racial segregation that occurred in the 19th and 20th century.

“We’re in a really interesting place, as college students, to have these conversations and push these barriers,” Randolph said. “No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you can agree that the events of August 11 and 12 were tragic, and should’ve never happened here.”

“I think what you get if you forget about it is people marching with tiki torches on the Lawn.”

– Paul Lombardo, former Director for the Law and Medicine Program at the University

The discriminatory policies of the past and their effects today have been difficult for the University to address in previous years, but the steps it is taking now to address its history are ones that aim to make the community a more inclusive and understanding place.

“In the University administration as well, the fact that we’re starting to offer classes on eugenics, that we’re starting to just acknowledge it in the greater role that it had on the Charlottesville community, especially the Charlottesville community, actually, is sort of this turn in the University,” Randolph said. “I think that with the new president coming in we’re poised to make this large turn into our third century.”

Fostering the Fringes

Courtesy The Magnolia House

How small venues shape Charlottesville’s music underground

Words by Abby Clukey.

A stand-alone, single-car garage facing a grassy hill. A wide-porched, tree-obscured house on the corner of a neighborhood street. A red brick, neoclassical building in the heart of the Downtown Mall.

These unassuming structures blend into Charlottesville’s landscape, but there’s more to them than what meets the eye. To people entrenched in the city’s music scene, they symbolize community, passion and possibility. These are the places they go to discover something new and to share their own talent with others.

In an increasingly competitive real estate market, the small music venue has the odds stacked against it. Because of the difficulty of maintaining a steady source of revenue, these venues are constantly in flux. Those who follow music attentively in this town can speak of this shifting quality. They recall the closings of their favorite venues which were sold, bought and demolished, replaced by office spaces, hotels and convenience stores.

But many Charlottesville musicians say that in any town, there’s a need for spaces that cater to the fringes of the music scene and promote diversity and inclusivity. No matter how hostile the economy becomes, fans and musicians alike will always crave a place to start out — a place to encounter the music underground and maybe even glimpse a flash of brilliance. A place to call home.


When I initially walk through the doors of The Ante Room, I find it’s animated with commotion — something you wouldn’t expect at a music venue in the middle of a weekday afternoon. However, this energy is different than anything you would experience at a show. Instead of a reverberating bassline, the sounds of power drills and electric saws echo throughout the room.

A crew diligently works on pulling up the bar. The cornerstone of the space — the stage — is next on their list, but for the moment still stands intact as a reminder of room’s purpose. Distinctive decorations, like the doors painted to resemble black and white playing cards, emblematic of the venue’s gambling theme, have been taken off their hinges and lie propped up in a corner. The Ante Room is being painstakingly dismantled piece by piece.

The venue was opened by Jeyon Falsini in 2012 under the name “The Main Street Annex,” and has been an integral part of Charlottesville’s DIY music scene ever since, housing an eclectic assortment of bands and artists of varying genres and levels of experience. Last year, The Ante Room was purchased by Taliaferro Junction, LLC, and Jaffray Woodriff, with the plan to demolish the venue and its surroundings. The Ante Room closed its doors permanently at the end of March, in preparation for the space’s transition into a technology startup center this summer.

Falsini greets me in the midst of the chaos. The blare of the ongoing construction is overwhelming, so we move our conversation through a side door and into the adjacent Main Street Arena, the ice rink that is also slated for demolition this summer. In the cold stillness, we discuss why he wanted to open a small music venue in the first place.

“Well I’ve been booking bands and doing events for over 10 years,” Falsini said. “So, before I was freelance and just working out of my garage and booking shows in various places. I never really had my own room that I had the keys to and that I could set up a sound system and stage. So when this idea presented itself to me, I realized that I could finally book a lot of the things that I couldn’t book in other places.”

He tells me about his company, Magnus Music, which does booking for several venues in town — including The Whiskey Jar, Jefferson Vineyards and Rapture. These venues cater to distinct genres of music, so Falsini distributes bands to where they fit best based off of their repertoire.

Falsini opened The Ante Room so he could book groups that didn’t fit neatly into genres, or were too offbeat to play other Charlottesville venues. His space could be a haven for overlooked artists.

Over the past six years, The Ante Room has become a hub for Charlottesville’s hip hop and metal scenes, two genres that are not given a lot of exposure in the town’s dominant music venues. Falsini believes that one of the duties of the small music venue is to allow niche groups a space to play and attract a greater following.

“I think it’s important because you would hope that there’s always fans of that music out there, that are looking for it,” Falsini said. “And, you know, maybe that’s what music does, that it brings people together.”


Falsini’s reasons for opening The Ante Room echo the sentiments of other small venue owners in Charlottesville. I talked with Sam Bush, a 2009 University graduate who started The Garage, about his own business over coffee.

The Garage is aptly named. It’s a single-car garage owned by Christ Episcopal Church, right in Charlottesville’s downtown. The space takes the small venue concept to the next level. It provides just enough room for a band and their equipment, and concert-goers watch the show from the hillside across the street. Bush said the effect is one that is totally unique and totally mesmerizing.

The Garage is right across the street from Emancipation Park, and its central location allows passers-by to stumble upon shows on their way to the Downtown Mall. (Christina Anton)

“It’s amazing to have that situation, we’ve got cars driving by between the band and the audience, and it just brings a really unique experience to it, to a concert that kinda deals with the element of surprise,” Bush said. “A lot of people who end up going to the shows didn’t plan on going, they’re heading downtown to grab a drink with a friend, when they hear this amazing string band from New Orleans or this incredible voice and they stop.”

Bush told me he helped found The Garage when he was a third-year on a whim, with the vague idea that he could create an intimate venue that facilitated an engaging concert experience. He just felt like the space was meant to be. Bush and his band at the time christened the space with its first show, and their business has only grown from there. He gets about 20 emails a week from bands across the country who want to play The Garage.

“Whatever reason we started The Garage is kind of beyond me,” Bush said. “We just kind of did. And then it took a life of its own.”

The allure of the small venue to musicians, Bush said, is not the possibility of monetary compensation. He tells me how he passes around a jar each night and the band gets to keep its contents — usually only about a hundred dollars or so. What really attracts artists is the experience itself. To many people, there’s nothing else like it.

“Bands really… do it because despite being in a public place, it’s a very attentive crowd, which I think bands would prefer over anything,” Bush said. “Instead of playing a bar where nobody’s listening, they’d rather play to a small group of people who are really engaged, who are coming because they want to be there.”

Another Charlottesville musician, Sam Roberts from Magnolia House, has long-running ties to small music venues. As we sit on Magnolia’s front porch, he tells me how he started coming to the house’s shows in high school, and they exposed him to Charlottesville’s music underground. He’s been living and working here for almost a year now, booking about four to five shows a month.

“I think it’s a good place for certain bands to come play,” Roberts said. “I don’t think there’s venues for certain genres that people want to see. But there’s people coming to shows here — as long as people are coming out I think that it’s worth doing.”

House shows have a significantly different feel than concerts put on by other music venues. They’re on a much smaller and more intimate scale — a band plays on a stage set up in the living room of someone’s home. The people who populate these shows usually hear about them through word of mouth, and are there primarily to support underground artists.

For many house venues, there’s no real business model or commercial interest. Roberts and his housemates pay the rent just to live at Magnolia — they aren’t concerned with making a profit from their shows. Because money is not a factor in Magnolia House’s production, Roberts and the other residents book whatever acts they want to see perform — something he believes wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

“I’ve thought about possibly booking shows for a venue in my life professionally,” Roberts said. “I know that’s something you can do and I’ve kind of acquired the skills to do that through booking here, but I don’t know if that would be very fun. It’s fun to just put on shows that I want to see and that I think people who come here will want to see.”


One aspect of the small music venue is its accessibility for musicians trying to launch their careers. It can be difficult to find places to play during a band’s early stages, but small venues often allow new acts an opportunity to perform even if they’re not well established in town.

“When you’re first starting out, there’s this Catch-22 of well, a venue’s not gonna hire you, a venue’s not gonna let you play unless you have a reputation,” Bush said. “But you’re not going to establish a reputation unless someone lets you play.”

Current student musicians affirmed the struggle of making a name in Charlottesville’s music scene. Fourth-year College student Maria DeHart said that the lack of small venues in town complicates finding places to play before becoming well-established, especially if a band’s music is unconventional.

“There’s not a big house-show culture, so there’s not a lot of options in terms of that,” DeHart said. “The venues in town mostly cater to not really DIY bands, more to bands that have a manager and stuff like that.”

Third-year College student Grant Frazier said that the pressure for venues to book lucrative acts often makes them less inclined to let new musicians play, which is why starting out at small venues is important.

“In terms of trying to get your own show, it’s really hard,” Frazier said. “It’s a grind to try and get your name out there, to gain some notoriety. To have a business say yes, you can come play here. Because there’s two sides to it, both parties have to benefit in terms of making money, because at the end of the day it’s really about, from the business side, how can they benefit from you playing here?”

Part of Falsini’s mission in running The Ante Room was to give new artists a chance. He would often let emerging acts play the room and even if the show wasn’t profitable, he would help the artist or band find another space to perfect their sound.

“We like to tell bands, ‘Hey maybe that show didn’t work out with us, but why don’t you get in touch with Magnolia House or a house place’ … there’s other spots,” Falsini said. “You can kind of help the band. You definitely don’t want them to stop what they’re doing, you’re just trying to get them exactly where they need to be so that they can grow to the next level and then you can see them again.”

Bush also spoke to the lack of venues that foster new music, and said that spaces like The Ante Room are necessary to cultivate the creativity in the Charlottesville community.

“The Ante Room closing is of course discouraging for the community, because that’s a place that features established bands but is also one of the few places that you can get your foot in the door as an emerging artist,” Bush said. “And communities need that in order to grow. You need to have those places that facilitate emerging artists in order for them to establish themselves. Otherwise, we’re only depending on bands that come from out of town and play and they leave.”


Many musicians agree that hip hop is one genre in particular that is overwhelmingly overlooked in Charlottesville’s music scene. They say The Ante Room was one of the few venues that consistently featured hip hop artists, which makes its closing all the more disheartening.

“This town is kinda run by like, Red Light and Dave Matthews, which is not really conducive to underground stuff,” DeHart said. “The Ante Room was really the only place in town that catered to hip hop specifically — that’s probably the shittiest thing about it closing.”

The Ante Room has featured a wide variety of acts on its stage, catering especially to artists and bands from underground genres such as hip hop (Courtesy The Ante Room)

Local hip hop artist Cullen Patrick Wade said that the City has historically been a somewhat hostile environment for underground genres, despite its widely-perceived creative and music-friendly image. He told me this environment largely stems from the lack of small, accessible venues in town, which are vital to fostering the kind of music he plays.

“Charlottesville has a reputation for a vibrant, thriving music scene, and it’s funny when people come here expecting that, and when they’re playing in one of the more underground genres, you only have like two places to play here,” Wade said. “They’re a little disappointed when they find out how limited we are in terms of small venues.”

For some Charlottesville musicians, The Ante Room represented more than just a venue — it gave them the opportunity to be heard. Hip hop artist Quin Booker cherished his opportunity to play The Ante Room, saying it helped him elevate his career and allowed him to share his words with the community.

“It’s actually the only spot in town that really lets people perform, hip hop wise … really the main one that gave rap artists and hip hop artists a place to own, a place to speak,” Booker said.

Reagan Eadie, a Charlottesville hip hop and R&B artist, said that though there aren’t many venues that cater to hip hop, there is still a large scene thriving under the surface. She thinks that there is more to be done to make this community more cohesive, and that supporting other hip hop artists is crucial to developing the scene further.

“I think showing up to your fellow artist’s show is important,” Eadie said. “That’s part of what makes Charlottesville special … to be there for people that you don’t even necessarily know but the fact that you’re trying to do kind of the same thing is important.”

Wade professed a similar desire to promote solidarity within the hip hop community — something he thinks can be achieved if there were more spaces like The Ante Room for artists to come together and perform.

“One of the big things we’re trying to do with that is foster some scene unity,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of people doing different things … we don’t really have a space  — a physical space … or anything like that in which we can all collaborate.”

As the hip hop scene has grown in Charlottesville over the last several years, a few venues that have refrained from featuring the genre in the past have slowly begun to lift what Wade calls “the unofficial hip hop embargo.” Wade hopes that even with The Ante Room’s closing, hip hop will continue to gain momentum and move in the right direction.

The small venue owners I spoke with emphasized their commitment to foster hip hop in new and creative ways, conscious of the effect that The Ante Room’s absence will have on the community. Roberts said that he’s looking to book even more hip hop shows at Magnolia in the future, and Bush told me how he’s been trying to incorporate more unconventional genres at The Garage, even though their location and lack of license have restricted the types of acts they could book in the past.

“We’ve been limited to folk bands because they’re quieter, but we’ve been reaching out in the past couple of months to some hip-hop artists,” Bush said. “We just want to branch out. I think an ideal situation would be to pair bluegrass with hip-hop, or a folk band with a rapper, and to have very different sounds together in one night I think is very unique. I don’t think a lot of venues do that. We’re not like a lot of venues already, so we might as well have fun diversifying our lineup.”

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive solution to the issue of accessibility for artists of underground genres. However, some artists believe that venues will start to take them seriously if they continue to prove that hip hop is just as legitimate and profitable as any other scene in Charlottesville’s music landscape. They want to demonstrate to venue owners that hip hop is a force to be reckoned with.

“Artists have gotta do our jobs to let the people know that we’re serious, and that we ain’t on no BS,” Booker said. “We can help them make money as well as they can help us gain fans. Like a hundred people listen to us and you only have a max of 25 people at your bar — you do the math.”


Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of maintaining a small music venue stems from the financial realm. Falsini said it is difficult to keep up with the costs when the venue’s revenue isn’t particularly steady.

“Running a music venue is definitely a labor of love,”  Falsini said. “And it’s also … very expensive, and you’ve got a lot of variables. Your rent gets higher and higher every year as you go, a lot of times if your programming is such that your shows aren’t making you money, then you may go out of business.”

Other small venues in Charlottesville do not have the same limitations as The Ante Room. Like Magnolia House, The Garage does not rely on a profit to stay open. The space is owned and funded by Christ Church — a benefit which gives Bush the ability to book acts and put on shows without worrying about major financial repercussions.

“We’re at an advantage compared to other venues that have to worry about how they’re going to keep the lights on,” Bush said.

Falsini said that a possible remedy to this problem of financial sustainability would be for cities to give grants to music venues, in the similar way to how Charlottesville funded the restoration of the Paramount Theater in 1992. If the threat of being priced out of a space is taken off the table, Falsini believes that music venues can focus instead on promoting original art.

“If grants were available to perhaps buy buildings for venues or help supplement a building’s rent, then perhaps venues would last longer, and in that case, the music scene could continue unabated and not have these sort of ebbs and flows,” Falsini said. “Because, it’s very important for venues to exist in order for scenes to thrive, and then ultimately create potentially famous musicians that increase tourism dollars and put cities on maps.”

Because Charlottesville is a growing city, Falsini said that many venues hesitate to feature musicians from obscure genres because there isn’t always enough interest to cultivate a profitable show. Niche genres can flourish easier in bigger cities where fans of a particular genre are more densely populated. Falsini and the other venue owners agree that unfortunately, a venue cannot support itself if there aren’t enough people to fill the doors.

“That’s just the tragedy of the small music venue in a college town,” Bush said. “There’s something that’s unsustainable about it.”

Over the past couple of decades, Charlottesville’s small venues have followed an irregular pattern of openings and closings — The Ante Room’s is one in a string of many. Both Bush and Roberts reminisced on venues long gone such as the Satellite Ballroom located on the Corner, which Bush described as “a punch in the gut” when it was turned into a CVS during his time as a University student.

“We would go there twice a week and we would see incredible bands who would be famous two weeks later,” Bush said. “I just have so many memories of that place and it was so crushing when it closed.”

However, Bush is hopeful that another small venue will rise up to fill the gap left in The Ante Room’s absence. He said there’s always going to be a need for inclusive venues in a college town, and he thinks Falsini’s passion will allow him to keep working to fulfill this demand.

“Jeyon is a huge influencer in this town,” Bush said. “I hope he feels encouraged to keep doing what he does. If not at The Ante Room, then somewhere else.”

Falsini told me he is trying to do just that. He has been visiting different properties since the room closed and is looking for different opportunities to re-establish the business, even if that means compartmentalizing for the time being.

“Right now, it’s looking like we may split up the different aspects of our business,” Falsini said. “We’re talking to IX Art Park about helping them develop a bar, so that would be something we would help them with, and also perhaps help them fill their calendar … Once we get back into a space, we’ll just check our emails and get back to people and we’ll hopefully be putting bills together once again.”

The Ante Room is being stripped of its distinguishing touches as the space undergoes preparation for its impending demolition. (Courtesy The Ante Room)

Ultimately, many Charlottesville musicians and venue owners believe that despite its instability, the small music venue is essential for a whole host of reasons  — opportunity, visibility and authenticity. To them, these venues have a distinctive quality that draws people in and brings them together, making the spaces too important to overlook.

“The small venue is always scraping by — maybe that’s what makes it magical,” Bush said. “I don’t think you would agree if you were the owner of a small venue — there’s nothing magical about that. But in the broader sense, there’s something special about the small music venue. It caters to the losers. It caters to the nobodies, and you need to be able to allow the nobodies a place to play so that they can become somebodies.”

Protest, dialogue, confrontation

The legacy of Thomas Jefferson statues on Grounds

Words by Charlotte Lawson. Photos by Andrew Walsh.


In light of Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong involvement in and advocacy for the institution of slavery, it can be hard to square his words about freedom and inalienable rights with his actions. Given the role of both Jefferson and enslaved laborers in the birth of the University, the question of his legacy has been a fixture of the discourse at U.Va. Meanwhile, with the growing controversy surrounding statues of Confederate generals, both in Charlottesville and around the country, the idea of statues in a general sense has come under scrutiny, as communities consider exactly what it means to erect a statue of a person. On Grounds, these two dynamics intersect directly. A number of statues depicting Jefferson dot the landscape, in many ways physical manifestations of his legacy, just like the University itself. These statues have been the focus of protest, dialogue and confrontation. Just as there are many different opinions on how to treat Jefferson’s legacy, there are a number of visions for what the statues represent, and what their future should look like. This is a small collection of some of these visions.

The statue’s enduring symbolism

The statue of Jefferson in front of the Rotunda embodies the values we should aspire to, despite the sins of its subject

Following their separation from the British Empire in 1776, the newly-founded state governments desperately needed a way of governance to replace colonial rule. The disparate and fledgling nation required legislation that actively defied the various forms of oppression that it had accused Great Britain of inflicting upon the colonies. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson headed this quest with his fervently liberal-minded promotion of the values of limited government and national rights. Shortly following independence, the statesman began to draft a document that would become one of his most enduring legacies — the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Although it was presented to the Virginia General Assembly for review in 1779, the bill did not pass into law until 1786. During the legislative process, Jefferson, looking on from afar as the Ambassador to France, eagerly awaited the debate’s outcome as his longtime friend and ally James Madison lobbied for the statute’s passage back in Virginia. The mission of the bill was twofold — to secure one’s right to exercise their chosen religion freely and to protect separation of church and state, thereby abolishing Virginia’s association with the Church of England. Above all, the statute ensured an individual’s freedom from any government attempt to dictate one’s choice of what to believe or practice.

It was with these treasured ideals in mind that sculptor Moses Ezekiel crafted the Thomas Jefferson statue that adorns the north plaza of the Rotunda. Ezekiel’s intended themes for the statue were discovered in 2014 by W. Scott Harrop, and first published in the newsletter of the University’s Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures Department. Now a Jefferson Fellow at Monticello’s International Center for Jefferson Studies, Harrop’s curiosity about why various names for God — including Allah — were inscribed on the side of the Jefferson Statue led him to an extended study of Ezekiel life and work. Harrop found that the Virginia-raised Jewish artist — who confronted the sinister force of religious prejudice throughout his life — deeply cherished the freedom of religion that Jefferson fought so hard to ensure. Surrounding the liberty bell that Jefferson stands upon are four winged spirits representing other values that the sculptor and founder alike held dear — equality, justice, liberty and religious freedom. Through his art, Ezekiel monumentalized the founder’s lasting contributions that he deemed most valuable to the state of Virginia, our country and the world.


As the University, we have an obligation to remember and examine all aspects of our founder’s legacy — the good and the bad. The dichotomy of Jefferson as a figure cannot be overlooked. His relentless fight to codify personal freedoms occurred concurrently with his ownership of enslaved laborers. Our efforts to scrutinize Jefferson’s personal failures, however, cannot come at the expense of the deeply beneficial and continually resonant aspects of his quest to protect freedom and equality. Jefferson identified his own role in securing religious freedom for the state of Virginia as among his greatest achievements above all other personal endeavors. A man who valued freedom for his posterity more profoundly than any of his other legacies is worthy of enshrinement for that alone. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom — along with Jefferson’s several other founding achievements — deserve memorialization for their far-reaching impact on American politics throughout history and to this day. Values we take for granted in the United States were once widely denounced as radical and unrealistic during the founding period, and continue to be unattainable in many parts of the world.

The Jefferson statue stands over Grounds as an emblem of the liberal values that our founder tirelessly aspired to secure for generations to come. Each stage of United States history served a crucial role in moving the nation closer to the promises of liberty and equality consecrated in the Declaration of Independence. None of these stages have fulfilled its perfect embodiment. Progress demands that we embrace the groundwork laid by a long and complicated history of progress, rather than shirking that progress for its failures. When the statue was unveiled at the University’s Final Exercises in 1910, then-President Edwin Alderman pronounced that it would stand proudly as a “sermon in stone” of Jeffersonian ideals that have so powerfully influenced the course of history. Hopefully the University community can embrace the transformative power of Jefferson’s life’s works that Ezekiel sought to emblematize.


More statues, not fewer

Thomas Jefferson is an inextricable part of the University’s past, as are a number of other inspirational figures who should be honored as well

Words by Thomas Ferguson

Historic institutions often inherit mixed legacies from their predecessors. The University community has recently examined ways to celebrate the many accomplishments of its founder Thomas Jefferson — while also acknowledging his own shortcomings and those of his time. In response to this challenge, some have condemned Jefferson and his legacy. Examples of such sentiments include outrage concerning President Teresa Sullivan’s quotation of Jefferson in an email and the Black Student Alliance’s condemnation of his statue as an emblem of enduring white supremacy. In order to tell a more complete history of the University and its founder, the University community must find a balance between recognizing Jefferson’s accomplishments and failures. Given his contributions to religious freedom, political philosophy, the United States and the University — his legacy is overwhelmingly positive. The University should continue to examine Jefferson’s faults in order to shed greater light on parts of its historical record that have traditionally been repressed. However, members of the University community must stop the outright dismissal of Jefferson. Such sentiments set dangerous precedents of historical erasure and prevent the recognition of a complete historical narrative.

In order to add more context to the University’s history and celebrate the legacies of Jefferson and others, the University should continue efforts to add to its historical landscape. Such initiatives include the construction of amemorial to the University’s enslaved laborers, the dedication of Pinn Hall to medical school alumna Dr. Vivian Pinn — the first woman and black student to graduate from the University’s medical school — and thededication of Yen Hall to W.W. Yen, the University’s first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree. Individuals such as Pinn and Yen have contributed much to our nation and world, from advancing women’s health to fostering diplomacy as the Premier of China. Likewise, the recognition of enslaved laborers at the University corrects the traditional underrepresentation of such individuals in the historic record and acknowledges the role that slavery played in University life before the Civil War.

While some reject Jefferson and his legacy, in doing so they reject the role he played in advancing freedom and democracy in the United States. His immortal words asserting that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence provided our fledgling nation with an ideal to strive towards, and are embodied by his University. Jefferson himself contributed towards that end by penning the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777. His work contributed towards religious freedom in Virginia — a right too many around the world still do not enjoy — and his precedent helped make religious liberty standard in America. The University should take pride in inheriting that legacy, and its work in advancing public education in Virginia reflects the goals of its founder.

Jefferson’s wisdom and foresight, etched into documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, continue to prove their relevance. His work on advancing freedom and democratic principles — though imperfect — remains a part of the evolving process of the expansion such freedoms in the United States.

The contextualization of history on Grounds should remain an active discussion that members of the University continue to engage with in the future. It will not be completely addressed with one single decision or initiative, but instead will require an evolving process of dialogue and action. Students must be involved as much as possible with these decisions, and the University’s Advisory Committee on the Future of the Historic Landscape’s public input session provides an effective framework for soliciting students’ perspectives. The University should rely on student input — as well as other stakeholders such as alumni — to guide its decision-making in the future.

The study of history allows for us to reflect on the past and build off the work of our predecessors. Jefferson helped our Commonwealth and country start its journey towards equality for all by contributing to the intellectual and political revolution that resulted in the foundations of our modern day democratic republic. Jefferson’s statue in front of the Rotunda — sculpted by Jewish artist Moses Ezekiel in recognition of Jefferson’s contributions towards advancing religious freedom — serves as a testament to the enduring relevance of Jefferson and his work. Since his time we have made much progress towards recognizing the fact that all men and women are created equal. That does not mean we still do not have more to do to achieve that end. Without Jefferson, however, we would be even further from that goal.


Jefferson’s legacy is more than a statue

In debating Jefferson’s legacy, the community must look past mere optics and consider the day to day conditions of marginalized students on Grounds

Words by Zari Taylor

President Teresa Sullivan came under fire last year for her quotation of Thomas Jefferson in an email following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In response, Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted a letter to Sullivan that was ultimately signed by 469 students and professors. Signees felt that invoking Jefferson as a symbol of unity actually did nothing to that effect. In her response, Sullivan endorsed their right to speak on issues, but also emphasized that quoting someone does not imply and endorsement of all their beliefs. What followed was a conversation across the University community about quoting Jefferson andhis legacy on grounds. To address Jefferson’s legacy, the University should look beyond the statues that physically represent him and turn to the basics — adjusting what comes to mind of those in the University community when his name is invoked.

There are many ways to commemorate significant historical figures. Their life and accomplishments can be recorded in textbooks, remembered with holidays or awards in their name or honored by a statue erected in their image. Statues are the most physical representations of this honor and have been the continuous site for both protests and counter-protests over the past few months on Grounds and in Charlottesville. After the white nationalist protest in August, City Council ordered that the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson be covered by tarps, and in a student protest last semester, students covered the statue of Thomas Jefferson outside of the Rotunda. Evidently, the statues of these men serve as the focus of intense frustration — so much so that they are covered or hidden from sight. They have also, however, spurred conversations between the University community and Charlottesville at large, around the naming of things like City parks and University buildings.

This kind of discourse around statues and naming emerges from the idea that figures should be commemorated on the basis of their beliefs. Some people disagree on the commemoration of Confederate heroes because they do not agree with the ideals they held, specifically regarding race. Those values, they argue, do not align with the values of Charlottesville as a whole. The same thinking is present in the conversation around Jefferson, who had a vision for the University that strictly excluded women and people of color. While he was envisioning a University for southern youth, he had slaves working his plantation and building the very Grounds we walk everyday. It has been proven that Jefferson fathered the children of one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and historical context provides room for speculation on the non-consensual manner of their relationship. This negative picture of Jefferson is all that some remember when they see his name.

Sullivan argued that evoking the name of someone does not mean a full endorsement of their character and beliefs. While this is true, the University still struggles with Jefferson’s legacy because we are living in the full fruition of his initial vision. Yes, the University currently admits African Americans and women, but it remains a majority white institution. Those who criticize the statue refer mainly to the fact that he never envisioned the University’s current level of diversity. If the community is against the use of his name and words, then of course they would be against a statue in his image. Removing the statue from its current location does nothing to address the issue with Jefferson’s legacy. Instead, it hides the problem and allows it to exist somewhere else. The issue of his beliefs and legacy will still be up for debate.

The conversation around Jefferson is different than the conversation around Confederate generals because of his relationship to the University. The school would not exist without Jefferson, and as the founder, his image rightfully belongs on Grounds. Though Jefferson would never have given them credit, the University also would not exist without the slaves that built it. If the University is to continue to invoke and dwell on Jefferson’s legacy, the administration needs to work out a way to demonstrate that his ideals are the foundation from which this institution developed — and that his problematic beliefs of exclusion can not be applied to the present.

The focus on tangible entities like statues seems important, but this is more of a debate on the intangible and the beliefs of those in power at this institution. Is the University stuck in the Jeffersonian past of exclusion, or is it open to a future that includes and appreciates the very people to whom Jefferson denied educational access? For the University to properly address his legacy, it needs to address the goals of the University’s founder, while also make solid efforts to ensure that the University denounces the exclusive elements of Jefferson’s vision. Statues are a natural place to start, but the backlash against President Sullivan demonstrates that conversation should start at the basics — Jefferson as symbol for his beliefs and, by extension, the beliefs of the University.