Unseen Bodies and Unspoken Names

Unmarked grave sites in Charlottesville raise questions about the people buried there and the history that left them behind 

Words by Vani Agarwal. Photos by Denise Brookman-Amissah. Graphics by Alyce Yang.

Every day, barring unusual times when there is an ongoing pandemic, the 600-plus students living in the Gooch-Dillard Residence Area would rush to their classes, eat meals at Runk Dining Hall, procrastinate on their laundry, walk across the open balconies and spend time with suitemates and friends. These students also occupy the space of a former plantation, where a few hundred feet from their dorm rooms — just beyond a small patch of trees — lies an overgrown gravesite containing forgotten bodies of enslaved people. 

“Most [first-year residents] do not know about the [Maury] cemetery… They are not actively engaging with the history… [and] we’d love for it to be something that every first year gets educated on,” said Kyndall Walker, a first-year College student and co-founder of the Gooch Dillard letter committee. In November 2019, the student committee created a petition to include the history of the site on the Housing and Residence Life website that currently has over 300 supporters. The petition was well received by the University administration, and the team is now working with architects and educators to implement some of the ideas it laid out. 

“The cemetery just doesn’t encompass the humanity of the people that reside in this space,” Walker said. “These people had families, they had hearts, they had faith, they had spirits, and they deserve to be memorialized in a way that encompasses that.” 

She brings the University community’s attention to a question that is difficult, but to many, imperative — how do we acknowledge these people and reckon with a history that allowed for the theft of their personhood?

Bodies Ignored  

The Maury Cemetery, minutes away from Gooch Dillard dorms, houses at least nine unmarked graves of enslaved people who were held in bondage by the Maury family. When the University purchased the land in 1947, Alice Clark, a descendant who was selling the plot, recalled that there used to be a gravesite somewhere on the land. In 1983, archeologists tested a limited area of the land, and nine graves were identified. In an effort to acknowledge and conserve the area, the University blocked off the land and installed a plaque which reads, “This area contains unmarked graves believed to be those of slaves of the Maury family, owners of piedmont in the nineteenth century. University of Virginia 1984.” 

However, the gravesite became overgrown, and therefore hidden, due to a lack of conservation and maintenance by the University. In 2019, Student Council’s Building and Grounds Committee worked with professors on the President’s Commission on Slavery to install two interpretive panels detailing the history of the gravesite and conservation efforts at the University. Currently, the team is working to make the panels more visible by better matching the walking paths of typical visitors to ensure that they see both panels while walking near the gravesite. 

Panels detailing the history of the Maury Cemetery were installed in November 2019.

The cemetery is on land once owned by the Maury family, who also owned the people buried there. In 1809, Reuben Maury purchased a 290-acre swath of land that would later become the Piedmont plantation. Although very little is known about the Piedmont plantation, it is estimated that the Maury family owed about 17 to 20 African Americans. 

“To put it in perspective, Rueben Maury is a relatively large slaveholder… just by the fact that very few people own 10 or more [slaves], but [Thomas] Jefferson owned 200 [slaves] at any one point in his life, so there is a real issue of magnitude here,” said Kirt Von Daacke, associate dean of history and co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery.

But the reality of gravesites like the Maury cemetery is that the stories of these people will never be uncovered. In fact, according to von Daacke, archeologists do not even know if all of the gravesites have buried bodies — families would occasionally fake burials due to concerns of bodies being dug up for medical study. These fears were not unsubstantiated. The University’s Anatomical Theater, later destroyed in 1939, was used for anatomical study and the storage of cadavers — most often stolen African American corpses.  

The Maury Family Cemetery is just one example of unmarked graves on University grounds. Another unmarked gravesite containing a total of 67 unmarked graves was discovered just north of the University Cemetery, located on the intersection of Alderman and McCormick Road, in 2012. This unmarked gravesite contains the gravesites of people who were enslaved laborers of the University, professors and hotelkeepers who owned the places where students lived.

Beyond the University, the use of forced labor was also deeply entrenched in Charlottesville, and thus there are other gravesites for enslaved and formerly enslaved laborers throughout the city. The Daughters of Zion Cemetery — founded in 1873 as a secondary burial option for African Americans in opposition to the segregated cemetery in Charlottesville — is one of only 34 historic African American burial sites in the country. However, the cemetery eventually fell to disrepair — marred by overgrown weeds and vandalized grave stones. 

In 2015, a group of historians and preservationists from the Charlottesville community presented a proposal to detect, document and preserve the graves of those who had been buried in the Daughters of Zion cemetery. The team’s first aims were to reach a more accurate estimation of the number of people buried in the site as well as to determine the exact bounds of the cemetery. The site has a capacity of 2,000 graves, but only 218 are currently recorded — there are likely hundreds more people buried in unmarked gravesites. The reality of black communities at the time meant that they often did not have the financial resources that many white families had to maintain their own gravesites

The Daughters of Zion Cemetery is one of only 34 historic African American burial sites in the country.

However, in addition to resource inequality, legislative funding has also disportionately supported the preservation and documentation of historical white cemeteries. Before February 2017 — when the Virginia legislature passed a bill that subsidized funding for the preservation and documentation of historical African American cemeteries — only cemeteries with the graves of Confederate soldiers were eligible for government funding for preservation. 

Unmarked grave sites are ubiquitous — with sites being on Grounds, in Charlottesville, in Virginia and throughout the United States. While the number of enslaved African American gravesites that have been forgotten or destroyed is unknown, many more are being uncovered, either through archeological digs or during construction. Just recently, 145 gravesites were discovered underneath a high school in Florida — where the local community is having a similar conversation as the Charlottesville and University communities about the acknowledgement of African American history.

Bodies Enslaved 

These unmarked gravesites tell a story about the systematic efforts to reduce African American people to their physical worth — an unmarked grave implies a lack of personhood by removing someone of their name and historical legacy. 

But the graves also tell another story — one of scale. Slavery was everywhere in Charlottesville. There was neither a street nor school nor shop where slavery was not present in one form or another. All white people, regardless of whether they personally owned enslaved people, benefited from the practice of slavery either through leasing, the purchasing of products made by enslaved laborers or the establishment of nation-wide white supremacy. 

In Albemarle County, in 1860, 52.2 percent of the population was being held in forced bondage. Compare this to the greater Virginia area — where 30.7 percent of people were enslaved — and to the greater United States — where 12.6 percent of people were enslaved — it is clear that slavery was truly pervasive in Albemarle County. Places like Charlottesville and Virginia are described by historians as slave societies — societies in which every aspect of their functioning utilizes enslaved labor to some capacity — and the University was no exception.  

Although Thomas Jefferson did not allow students to have their own enslaved laborers, slavery was an intrinsic part of University life — professors, hotelkeepers and, as is well-documented, Jefferson himself utilized enslaved labor. It was a University rule that hotelkeepers needed to keep at least one person in bondage for every 20 students. Those enslaved people worked and were housed in the basement of Hotel A on the West Lawn — just one floor below the dining hall for the white, male student population. 

Hotel A on the West Lawn

Beyond the ownership of people, the Charlottesville community, like many in the South, also participated in the leasing of people. “Because a slave is human property, that person, that slave can be commoditized in any way the owner sees fit and that includes leasing,” said Assoc. History Prof. Christa Dierksheide. “That’s a big way that whites are making a profit off of slaves in Virginia.” It is a practice that is less known but worked to strip enslaved people of any sense of personhood by reducing them to an object that could be traded and shared. 

Charlottesville, from the onset of its settlement, actively participated in the enslavement of people, but not everyone fully understands this truth. When the Confederacy lost the Civil War, so began the Lost Cause movement, which sought to essentially rewrite the story of the Civil War and the Antebellum period which preceded it. The new history that the movement aimed to tell was characterized by the adoration of Confederate Generals, the creation of the Antebellum image with novels like “Gone with the Wind,” and the contextualization of the Civil War as a conflict about state rights.   

The Lost Cause movement also created an image of slavery that implied the locality of it. Although slavery is often perceived as having been limited to plantations or farms, it was truly everywhere. 

“Institutions [such as the University] are able to marshal a slave labor force because of a much larger system at work,” Dierksheide said. “And it’s not actually just Virginia. It’s the Cotton South, its global financial markets, particularly Britain …. It is a global system. But I think that, in focusing just on institutions, [the ubitquity of slavery] gets lost.”

Furthermore, slavery is just one piece in a long history of racism in this community — the eugenics movement and, later, Jim Crow-era segregation are also incredibly relevant. Eugenics was an emerging psuedo-science in the early 1900s, and the University was at its epicenter. Eugenists sought to study and reaffirm the supposed superiority of the white race on the basis of emotional, physical and intellectual traits. They worked to justify their theories as preventing genetic mixing that would cause the destruction of American society — particularly affluent white society. 

Edwin Alderman, president of the University from 1905 to 1931, worked to recruit and support eugenics researchers from across the United States to create eugenics research programs for the University. Those researchers and educators contributed to laws and policies that maintained a power structure in Charlottesville through housing discrimination, healthcare discrimination, sterilization programs and much more. 

At the same time, Charlottesville systematically and efficiently used Jim Crow and other unique Virginian laws to deprive African Americans of any rights offered to them by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

Virginia would implement poll taxes in 1902 to reduce the state’s black electorate. Charlottesville would wait 61 years after the Civil War to establish the first high school for African Americans — a segregated school that would be named Jefferson High School. In 1914, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors would approve the forced removal of African Americans from McKee Row in order to establish segregated neighborhoods. Those laws and other Jim Crow legislation worked to create systemic inequalities in education, health and wealth that continue to affect the black community in Charlottesville today. 

Bodies Known 

A long history of enslavement and segregation has worked to erase black accomplishments, people and families. “Slavery is an erasure of personhood, and through that erasure of personhood is an erasure of history,” Dierksheide said. “That really gets to the heart of what slavery really was … it’s theft of a person and a theft of their past [including] access or knowledge of [familial] connection.” 

However, thanks to the work of archeologists and conservationists, either in the Charlottesville community or at the University, we finally have access to some of these stories of black history. One of those stories is of Free State — a rural black community with over 450 residents that was established when Amy Bowles, a free black woman, bought 200 acres of land. However, the land was purchased by a development company in the 1990s and is now the Dunlora neighborhood — a wealthy suburban community. 

In 2010, while anthropologists Aaron and Jillian Wunsch were walking around the Dunlora neighborhood, they stumbled upon surviving homes from Free State. They then convinced the community, and later the developer of Dunlora, to conduct an anthropological review. The review found that Dunlora and another proposed, but not yet built, neighborhood constituted a majority of Free State. 

During the review, a cemetery with 60 to 70 unmarked graves was found on the property — only one gravestone is legible, reading “Mary Bowles, Died Dec. 6, 1882.” Development of the new community continued, but in an effort to acknowledge its history, all of the streets were named after members of the original Free State community, and the gravesite was set aside as parkland. 

Another story to which historians currently have access is that of the Catherine “Kitty” Foster Site on Venable Lane. The story came to light  in 2003 after the University funded an archaeological report that compiled research about the site and its history. Kitty Foster was a free black woman who purchased land in 1833 for $450 on what is now University property. However, the area surrounding the site — called Canada — was occupied and owned by other free African Americans. The Kitty Foster site was discovered when a construction worker saw a discolored rectangular patch of dirt and refused to continue construction work. 

The patch was an unmarked grave, and the discovery of that grave quickly led to the discovery of another 12 in 1993 and another two in 2005. The Kitty Foster house and the Canada gravesite forced the University community to recognize the story of freed black people who were enslaved and later employed by the University — one of many factors which would ultimately lead to the design and construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers on University Grounds that was completed in April but was not unveiled as originally scheduled, due to the coronavirus pandemic that effectively shut down Grounds. 

Far more is known about the Free State and Canada communities compared to other similar communities. These specific congregations of freed black people after the Civil War were able to record their names, establish familial connections and bury their people freely. However, the inequality of wealth and education meant that the Free State and Canada communities were never able to fully record their own stories. While there is knowledge of some of their stories, the historical record will always be incomplete. 

Bodies Acknowledged

There still remains the essential question of how to acknowledge and reckon with the theft of personhood experienced by both enslaved and formerly enslaved peoples. The answer is deeply complicated and multifaceted, but one might begin with the auction block that was stolen from Charlottesville’s historic town square just a few months ago. As reported by C-ville Weekly, a small bronze plaque which read “Slave Auction Block: on this site slaves were bought and sold” was stolen by an Albemarle resident and activist, Richard Allan. The plaque, which was inlaid into the ground, was often unseen by those who walked past it. This, to Allan, was unacceptable, and thus he stole the marker as a form of protest. It is also notable that Allan, as a white activist, has incited a larger conversation about the people who are shaping the narrative around black history. 

The theft of the plaque is indicative of frustration with the current insufficent acknowledgement of slavery both at the University and also in the greater Charlottesville community. 

“There are a lot of problems with public history at this university right now,” said Spencer Goldberg, a second-year in the College and historian for the University Guide Service. “The first thing that comes to mind is the lack of public history, but we can also talk about the public history that exists.”

A monument in the Daughters of Zion cemetery was dedicated in December 2017.

Public history refers to the methods historians use to get history to reach the public. One of the most common methods is the creation of structures, such as plaques, monuments and statues. The plaques currently in place in Charlottesville have been deemed, by many, to be inadequate. As such, there is now a movement to establish new monuments to recognize the role that enslaved people have played in the Charlottesville community. 

However, a conversation about public history in Charlottesville is not complete without also acknowledging the Confederate statues that are prevalent in the area — whether it be the Robert E. Lee Statue that sparked the Unite the Right rally in August or the other statues on street corners, in front of courthouses and in town squares. 

“[Plaques to enslaved laborers] are very inadequate, particularly when you compare them to the Confederate statues and their plaques, because not only do you have marked graves with the Confederate statues, you have this big monument. With slave labor, you have no monument and you have no grave sites — they’re not even marked,” Goldberg said. 

A combination of both a lack of monuments to enslaved laborers and the miniscuality of those which exist, especially in comparison to other public history in the area, has created a sense of frustration with the handling of stories of black history. 

To understand the current conversation surrounding the acknowledgement of slavery, it is useful to start at the beginning of historical discovery, which is most often during the construction of new buildings. As a way to prevent the conundrum all together, “you [have] got to … take a breath and do the archaeological survey [first] to make sure there’s not another story there that you need to tell,” von Daacke said. 

If something is found during the initial archaeological survey, the next step, according to von Daacke, is to “make [the site] visible, interpret it and document it,” whether that means installing a panel or fencing off the area to ensure that the area is respected and acknowledged. Community organizing also plays a role in these efforts. For example, the petition addressing the Maury Cemetery near Gooch Dillard was written by a group of first-year students — including Kyndall Walker — and was circulated and signed by members of the University community.  

According to Elgin Cleckley, professor of architecture and creative director of _mpathic design, design plays a crucial role in successful interpretation. Cleckley is currently working on the installation of a memorial in Charlottesville to John Henry James — a black man lynched in Charlottesville in 1898. In collaboration with the impressive National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., columns commemorating the nation’s victims of lynching are being sent to communities around the U.S., including Charlottesville. 

The thoughtful orientation of the memorial puts the viewer in direct view of the Monticello Hotel, in front of the Stonewall Jackson statue and between two trees. 

“I wanted to create an environment [where] you should start to question the landscape that you’re in,” Cleckly said. “All of a sudden now, with architecture and design, you start to rethink how things are built, how spaces are built, who built them, what are their origins? …. I think design is incredibly powerful because it can set up this space where it makes you question and also educates.”

But once an archeological survey has been completed and its history has been documented, interpreted and displayed, is this enough? Is it enough to have one site commemorated like this? Or two? Or three? When can we say that we are done? 

To von Daake, the answer lies within another question — “Can you be a casual visitor to the University and leave here never encountering anything that acknowledges [slavery]? …. My measure is how do you make it dispersed interpretation and memorialization so [that there are] little things everywhere?’”

Dierkshiede emphasized that when only grand structures are established, students or visitors can choose whether they want to acknowledge this history, but it also implies that the use of enslaved labor was limited to institutions like the University or Monticello when, in actuality, it was everywhere and touched everyone. 

“You can’t just make a grand memorial to talk about this one era of history and excise racism or address it,” Dierksheide said. “If [slavery] is in every building on every piece of Lawn… [it] needs to be recognized in the landscape for people to recognize it as a seminal part of the past, but also the history of present.” 

Dierksheide described stumbling stones used in Germany to commemorate Holocaust victims. Small bronze plaques embedded in the ground in front of victims’ last known places of residence are present throughout neighborhoods of Germany. Neither a local nor a tourist can walk around without seeing some sort of commemoration of those people. She wants to see something similar done to commemorate enslaved people at the University. Such an endeavor would solve the fundamental problem that both von Daacke and Dierksheide see with current efforts to acknowledge enslaved people’s history, as stumbling stones are universal, but small, commemorations that force people to reckon with the history of spaces everyday. 

However, the push for small commemorations is not to take away from the value of larger structures such as the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers or the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. These buildings and monuments have the power to speak loudly. 

“[The Museum is] a building that speaks monumentally, but it also is a space of education,” Cleckley said. “It’s also [a] space that makes everyone understand that it’s all of our history…. When you’re there … you start to understand by its design what it’s saying about culture and African American culture.”  

Beyond community interaction with enslaved people’s history, student interaction is another obstacle. However, it is one that allows for unique solutions since the University has the capacity to enforce a level of interaction with the history of slavery on this campus. 

“I don’t see any reason why we don’t make it at least heavily suggested, if not mandatory, that students attend a history of African Americans tour — or the other alternative is creating a movie or some sort of film,” Goldberg said. 

To reckon with history, especially a history that is so rooted in the suffering of others, is difficult. But it may be a far greater disservice to continue ignoring the hands, voices and names that built the University and the nation. As Dierksheide emphasized, “We have a moral obligation to make sure that the world knows about this [enslaved] person and these [enslaved] people… and we have a real obligation to absolutely respect [these people].” 

Fighting for a Space for the 6%: The Student Perspective

The Latinx Student Center is the product of generations of students demanding the University provide marginalized students with the resources they need

Words by Ria Aguilar Prieto. Photos by Riley Walsh. Graphics by Alyce Yang.

The new Latinx Student Center is a bustling hub of interactions. As soon as you walk in, you encounter groups of students studying, relaxing or simply hanging out, listening to the vibrant music somebody is playing on the speakers. A mural of a tree adorns one wall, and messages written by students on whiteboards and post-it notes are scattered around the room. The study spots are furnished with plenty of seats, with many chairs and comfy sofas, and the space is well-illuminated by the various windows that allow sunlight to enter the space — a big change from the former Multicultural Student Center, located in the basement of Newcomb Hall with no windows before it was relocated.

The Latinx Student Center, inaugurated in early February, is the product of generations of students demanding the University provide marginalized students with the resources they need. Located on the third floor of Newcomb Hall, its opening was accompanied by that of the renovated and relocated MSC, LGBTQ Student Center and the new Interfaith Student Center. Though the University’s decision to create this student space was officially initiated in June 2019 as part of University President Jim Ryan’s 2030 “Great and Good University” plan — which intends to amplify diversity and inclusivity — the student push for this project had been in the making for years.

According to University data, the undergraduate Hispanic-American population currently stands at 6.62 percent, with approximately 1,100 undergrads identifying as Hispanic or Latinx. That number — along with the fact that multicultural students make up over a third of the entire student body yet had a student center that could only accommodate 49 people — made the aforementioned expansions and additions long overdue. While current members of the Latinx community on Grounds played key roles in its creation, the LSC is the product of both past and present students at the University.

“[The LSC] is not just the achievement of one person or the achievement of people at U.Va. currently — this is the achievement of generations of marginalized students pushing for the services and resources they deserve at the University,” said Kayla Dunn, a fourth-year College student and former president of the Latinx Student Alliance.

The new Latinx Student Center was inaugurated in early February. 

Dunn and Natalie Romero, a fourth-year College student and the co-founder and co-president of PLUMAS — a “radical group aimed towards justice, education, and equality” within the Latinx community — have been working on the push for a Latinx student space since their first years at the University. Romero’s involvement in the LSC effort began even before PLUMAS was founded, while she was a member of LSA’s advocacy committee her first year. 

In the fall of 2016, Romero began looking into the possibility of a center for Latinx students with the advocacy committee, making phone calls and researching existing student centers within the University. Though the work then did not amount to much, Romero now had the idea of a center in her mind. During the spring semester of her first year, when she co-founded PLUMAS with now-alumna Paola Sanchez Valdez, Romero and Valdez picked up and continued working on the idea of looking more into Latinx representation — including the possibility of a Latinx space.

“[Members of the Latinx community had] beautiful ideas, but they weren’t really cohesive … [and] there was a lot of division [within the community],” Romero said, noting what the group needed was unity to enable them to ask for the resources they needed. 

During their second years, Romero also became the student director for the Multicultural Student Center, and Dunn was elected LSA president.

Shortly after assuming her role as president, Dunn created the Juntos Podemos — “Together We Can” — group that included members from Latinx-identifying and Latinx-serving organizations on Grounds. The group sought to identify the most salient issues faced by the Latinx community at the University and, after creating a list, found the need for a Latinx-dedicated space at the very top. 

Alex Cintron, then-third-year College student and candidate for Student Council president, included working closely with minority groups in his platform, becoming a key player in the push for the Latinx space. Because of this, PLUMAS endorsed him.  

“[PLUMAS] endorsed him with the caveat that he would include a Latinx proposal and … a Latinx Student Center,” Romero said. “Then the next year Ellie [Brasacchio] also added it to her platform, that they would be working with PLUMAS and advocating for a Latinx Student Center.”   

A group of Hispanic/Latinx students released the “Our University to Shape” proposal Oct. 22, 2018, written to bring attention to what could be done to make the University a more inclusive community. The very first issue identified in the proposal was the Latinx Student Center. The proposal committee argued that although the MSC provided various resources for students, it was insufficient to serve over a third of the undergraduate population. Moreover, the proposal asserted the Latinx community required its own center “to specifically address the socioeconomic barriers, cultural stereotyping, and institutional marginalization that often impact the Hispanic/Latinx college experience.”

“[Having a physical space is so important] because it gives us the opportunity to not only congregate as a community, but talk about our shared experiences,” Dunn said. According to Dunn, a physical space is essentially a piece of one’s culture physically embedded into the University. 

“Our University to Shape” was modeled after the “Towards a Better University” proposal written by members of the Black Student Alliance in April 2015. Solidarity across student groups was crucial for the movement for the LSC. 

“The whole proposal and all advocacy work we have done is on the shoulders of other multicultural students, especially Black students, and just taking off of their lead and taking off of their model of what advocacy at the University is like,” Dunn stated.

The “Our University to Shape” proposal was paired with an open letter which, shortly after its release, was defamed by white supremacists. Though the defamed letter was quickly taken down by LSA executives, they sent a copy of it to the University administration as an illustration of the aggression to which the Latinx community on Grounds is at times subjected. 

“Here is an example of why we’re advocating what we are advocating for,” Dunn said. “A lot of Latinx students, including students from all marginalized identities, at U.Va. still experience discrimination and prejudice and racism, and it’s important for us to feel like we have a home here at the University.”

The University administration was receptive to the proposal, leading to numerous meetings between Dunn and various administrators. Among those with whom she met were Dean of Students Allen Groves and Julie Caruccio, assistant vice president of student affairs, to specifically discuss a Latinx student space.

Also present at the meeting with Groves and Caruccio was then-Student Council President Cintron who, along with Dunn, elaborated on the need for the resources the LSC would provide students. Dunn said that the response at first was hesitant — although Groves and Carussio both said they understood the points that were being raised, they stressed the possible infeasibility of creating a new center for Latinx students specifically.

Nonetheless, Dunn, Cintron and the other students pushing for the space were determined to keep propelling the movement forward.

Third-year College student Stefan Lizarzaburu said that, for him, involvement in the University Latinx community has been rooted in what he describes as two worlds tugging at him — coming from a mixed Peruvian and white family in Yorktown, a predominantly white, rural town in southern Virginia, he grew up not knowing how to be both at the same time. Here at the University, he has been able to reconcile his identities. 

As a second-year, Lizarzaburu participated in the Latinx Leadership Institute — a student-facilitated leadership development program aimed at researching and finding solutions for issues within the University’s Hispanic/Latinx community. Throughout the program, Lizarzaburu worked with now-second-year College students Natalie Cordero and Samantha Santana and now-second-year Engineering student Stephanie Gernentz to conduct a research project about a potential Latinx space, and together they created a presentation for faculty and administration members. Although the idea for a Latinx space had been floating around, this group of students researched the necessary logistics in depth.

The LSC is located on the third floor of Newcomb Hall next to the relocated LGBTQ Student Center.

Through the research process, Lizarzaburu and his group came up with the idea of relocating the MSC — located at that time in the Newcomb Hall basement — to the spacious former Game Room, situated directly across from the dining hall. As for the LSC, they figured it could be built somewhere else in Newcomb Hall. 

Additionally, the group contacted comparable schools in the state — among them Virginia Tech and George Mason University — to gather information on the type of resources those universities offered their marginalized students. They found many of these other universities in Virginia were, in fact, providing designated spaces to minority students. 

“Space is really, really important,” Lizarzaburu said. “I am an advocate for everyone to have their own individual spaces.” 

Although the reception to the project after its presentation was generally positive, the plan was not immediately taken up by the administration. Lizarzaburu remained hopeful, but the road ahead was not without its obstacles.

When presenting the idea to Caruccio, the conversation was not as encouraging as Lizarzaburu had hoped it might have been.

“She more or less told me the idea was unrealistic,” he recounted. “She said, ‘If you all want a space, then everybody is going to want a space,’” to which Lizarzaburu responded, “Dean Caruccio, that’s kind of what I am getting at, I know.”

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Caruccio recalled the obstacles that stood in the way of making the LSC a reality — specifically funding, usage of space and staffing.

“As [the Student Engagement and Inclusion team of the Student Affairs Division] is largely student fee-based in our funding, we have to be as wise and frugal with those resources as possible,” she wrote. “[In the case of the LSC], we sought student input, looked at available data on need and projected use, assessed the impact of taking some general use space offline for more targeted use, worked with Dean Groves and Vice President Lampkin to identify new funding sources with President Ryan, determined the impact on current staffing, and attempted to ensure the space’s longer term sustainability.” 

Despite the disappointment from that meeting, Lizarzaburu was still optimistic the center could happen. He continued disseminating the idea, working closely with Cintron.

Then, on May 19, 2019, Lizarzaburu, along with various other students, received an email from Dean Groves saying that the University was ready to move forward with the project. The Latinx Student Center, along with various other student spaces, was going to happen. 

“Earlier this month, Vice President Lampkin and I submitted a detailed proposal to President Ryan, requesting his support to move forward on all four projects,” Groves said in his email. “His response was immediate and enthusiastic, as these initiatives fully support his goal of a more inclusive and welcoming University.”

Lizarzaburu said it felt like a push in the right place at the right time, with Ryan’s 2030 plan right around the corner.

Students played a large role in designing the layout of the LSC.

The summer of 2019 was spent figuring out what the space would look like. Meetings were held weekly, usually on Fridays, on topics ranging from the layout of the center to the programming it would have and its mission statement. 

Though the meetings were generally facilitated by administration members — among them Program Coordinator Dean Sadira Glendenning — students had a significant say in what the center became. Third-year College student Jennifer Flores was one of the students involved in the LSC creation process over the summer. 

“Students really created the space,” Flores said. “Giving the feedback, looking at the layout of the space … [the process] was facilitated by the administration, but students made quite a bit of the choices.”

Romero recounted video-calling members of the community who were not in town over the summer of 2019, bringing in those who were critical to building the space but could not spend the break in Charlottesville. She also described a meeting in the old MSC once the fall semester had started, when she stopped random Latinx first-year students to ask for their input on the decorations being discussed.

Flores spoke about the significance of having a physical space dedicated to the Latinx community in which they can freely speak in their native languages and share their cultures with one another. 

“[Latinx] is a fairly large umbrella term. The thing is, at a predominantly white institution, you can feel out of place here a lot,” she said. “[The LSC is] a space for us to call home.”

With the LSC, Latinx students have been given a space on Grounds in which they can comfortably express themselves and foster community relationships.

“[The LSC] allows for a fluidity of different types of people,” Romero said. “It is a place to build community and strong love … and appreciation for one another. Representation actually really matters … and the more they give us, the more we can do — uplifting our community only helps the university.” 

The Keepers of Brick and Mortar

U.Va.’s historic masons keep the Academical Village structurally sound and traditionally beautiful

Words by Dan Goff. Photos by Margaret Wadsworth. Graphics by Alyce Yang.

Anyone who’s walked on the Lawn in recent months has probably noticed that several of the columns bordering the grassy expanse appear incomplete. Some of them are wrapped in sheets of plastic, while others look heavily eroded — their interior bricks exposed, unevenly sanded as though they’ve been subjected to severe weather. To the untrained eye, they might seem midway through a state of crumbling decay. The reality, though, is just the opposite. Just ask Daisy DeJesus Maine, one of the University’s historic masons — the unsung heroes who keep the most iconic buildings of Grounds pristine and in keeping with centuries-old tradition.

“There’s just so much more to it,” she said. This was in reference to historic masonry as opposed to the new construction that dominates Grounds, but it could just as easily be applied to the columns and other structures in the Academical Village being restored to more traditional forms — there’s much more than meets the eye. The columns might look like they’re being broken down, but only because they’ll eventually be built back up in a more accurate and lasting way.

In Maine’s eyes, the key to the work she and the other historic masons do is something called lime mortar. It’s a building material Jefferson used when first constructing the Academical Village and Monticello, but it has since fallen out of fashion. 

“Right now, everybody wants their mortar to be pretty much like concrete,” Maine said. This was the mentality popular among the masons working on the Academical Village buildings for much of the twentieth century, she explained. The result was that modern construction techniques were applied to historic structures — a dangerous mix that may initially look pretty, but ultimately spells doom for the buildings in question.

The most important way to guarantee these buildings’ longevity, Maine said, is to ensure that they can breathe. Modern mortars don’t allow for that. “And most people say that’s what they want,” Maine said. “They don’t want moisture moving in and out through the walls.” But the movement — or breathing — she explained, is natural and necessary for the bricks. Modern mortar traps the moisture within the bricks, which causes brick spalling, or deterioration.

Lime mortar, conversely, is vapor permeable. “It allows moisture to pass through it,” Maine said, citing this as a necessity for the long life of a brick. Much of the work she and the other historic masons do, then, first involves undoing. They must chip away at the harmful, stifling concrete applied by masons a few decades earlier and reapply the gentler lime mortar used in Jefferson’s time.

Maine is aware that her work as a historic mason is highly specialized — a niche within a niche. In the middle of her paean to lime mortar, she stopped to acknowledge that she was speaking of things that “most people will never know.” In fact, outside of the University’s historic masons, it’s doubtful who could even list the benefits of lime mortar. The tools and tricks of historic masonry are all held by the members of Maine’s team — and a tiny team, at that.

“There’s just six of us,” Maine said. “Seven, including a supervisor.”

In order to understand how Maine became part of such a small, highly specialized workforce, it’s necessary to go back — all the way to seventh grade, when she and her class took a field trip to Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center. At the time, Maine was more interested in auto repair than construction. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a mason,” she said. “I didn’t know what masonry was.”

Even after she learned the definition of masonry during the field trip, Maine remained wary of the field because of whom it seemed to attract. “I didn’t want to do it because all the kids that went to look at the masonry class were people I knew would not like me,” she said.

As a woman of Native American, Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage, Maine felt less than welcome. “You just knew there was going to be some kind of confrontation going on.”

But the masonry teacher at CATEC convinced her there was a place for her in the profession, claiming that one of his best students at the time was female. He also suggested that women were better suited to masonry in general, praising a greater attention to detail. “All the guys were sitting there as he was saying that she’s gonna be a better mason than you ever will be … I was like, ‘I like you! Okay, maybe I will take this class.’”

And she did, but not for several more years. Maine started taking classes at CATEC in tenth grade and remained enrolled for the next three years. Next, she went through the University’s Facilities Management Apprenticeship, a competitive, four-year program which, aside from masonry, also offers training in technical fields like plumbing and carpentry.

After graduating from this program, Maine became a new construction mason at the University, but the historic crew’s work held a unique allure for her. “It always seemed like they had a pretty cool job — definitely more specialized,” she said. She wanted to be able to work on the Academical Village’s buildings, but these assignments were limited to the elite group of six. So Maine did the next best thing and got acquainted with the historic masons. Then, when one retired, she sought to become his replacement — and soon enough, she was a member of the team.

Today, Maine has been with the historic masons for about five years. Although she made the process sound simple enough, she stressed that it requires a particular sort of worker to do what she does. “You have to love paying attention to tedious things,” she said. “You could find any mason on a construction job right now — like, new construction — and if you tried to get them to do what we do, they do not have the patience.”

The typical historic mason also tends to look a particular way, at least at the University. All of Maine’s coworkers are men, all “older white guys.” Maine, just shy of 30, is an outlier across several demographics. “Everybody looks at me funny when I first walk onto a job,” she said, but she doesn’t let it get to her — and the quality of her work speaks for itself. “They get over it once they see me laying.”

Maine emphasized that she had never felt out of place among the University’s close-knit community of historic masons, that none of them had ever made her feel ostracized for her differences. “We’re such good friends and we work so well together that it doesn’t even come up in conversation,” she said. “I’m one of the guys, for sure.

The University’s team of historic masons are responsible for the maintenance and restoration of the Academical VIllage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Regardless of how fair or representative one considers the University’s treatment of its history, the visual repercussions are impossible to ignore. Thanks to the existence of employees on Grounds like the historic masons, the Academical Village still remarkably resembles Jefferson’s initial vision. The efforts of the historical masons have been validated, and maybe even enforced, by the University’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honor bestowed back in 1987.

Despite this prestigious UNESCO label, the work of a historic mason — though always vital in the eyes of the masons themselves — is not always glamorous. Sometimes, it’s even thankless. Mark McGhee, Mason Plasterer Senior Supervisor — not the supervisor Maine mentioned, but rather her “boss’s boss” — acknowledged both of these aspects of the job. 

It was a Friday morning, and McGhee, Maine and the other historic masons were spreading sand over one of the brick walkways leading to the Rotunda — not a task indicative of a historic mason’s typical work, Maine said, but a good example of one of their more mundane duties. The day was achingly windy, but in their matching Facilities Management sweatshirts and muscling sand into the cracks of the sidewalk — a necessary step of long-term preservation, Maine explained — the masons seemed impervious to the chill.

As his colleagues pushed sand, McGhee recounted a much more exciting day of work. Back in 2015, the masons had been prepping the Rotunda for renovations when they discovered a hollow wall. They knocked a hole into it and Maine herself climbed in, finding what was later identified as Jefferson’s chemical hearth, possibly one of the first educational chemistry labs in the country. The hearth is now on display in the Rotunda. “We didn’t get the credit, though,” McGhee said.

Jefferson’s chemical hearth was unearthed by the University’s team of historic masons, but they weren’t credited with the discovery. // Courtesy University of Virginia

The vivid mental images McGhee created made the job of historic mason sound like a historically significant scavenger hunt in which the participants don’t know what they’re trying to find. He went through a list of other artifacts he and his coworkers have found in his eight years of working at the University — including a wishing well, a cistern with names carved into its blocks and an extensive network of tunnels branching through the ground under the Academical Village. 

McGhee pointed to the dirt under a tree to the right of the Chapel. “We found a big one under there.”

Before his time at the University, McGhee was in the private sector, working in construction in Orange County. When asked about his reasons for working in historic masonry, he cited similar reasons as Maine. “I want people 200 years from now to see what we do today,” he said, gesturing at the buildings and brick walls surrounding him and the masons.

Immersing himself in the historic side of the University has given McGhee a long-term view of life, and he used the span of two centuries to describe much of what he and the masons do. He described the deconstructing and reconstructing aspect of the job as fixing “what it took 200 years to mess up.”

He’s also become an expert in the minutiae of the job. He spoke of lime mortar with the same reverence as did Maine, and provided even more unusual details about their construction materials. Goat hair, he said, was used in their plaster mixture as a binding agent instead of horse hair — “it clumps less,” he explained, speaking as casually as though he were comparing two types of house paint rather than describing a building technique forgotten by most masons for centuries.

Although their main goal is, of course, preservation, in some cases that means extensive reconstruction or recreation to return a building to its original, Jeffersonian state. McGhee mentioned his first visit to the University, back in the 1970s, soon before a two-year renovation of the Rotunda. The iconic building as he described was vastly different from what students and faculty know today. For one, it had two floors instead of three. The ceiling, he added, was painted to mimic a night sky.

The renovation McGhee referred to was a significant period in the modern history of the Rotunda, as evidenced by The Cavalier Daily’s coverage of it at the time. When the building reopened in 1976, just in time for the nation’s bicentennial, the University’s student newspaper released a special edition themed around the Rotunda. 

The issue, published April 13, 1976, is largely dedicated to the Rotunda’s storied history — its initial use as a space for classes, the infamous “Great Fire” of 1895 — but at its center is an opinion piece of sorts, collectively penned by the editors of The Cavalier Daily. “Restoration At What Cost?” its title suggestively asks, and goes on to assert that this “cost” outweighs the benefits.

“While we are pleased that the plywood barricades have finally met their demise after two and a half years of isolating the center of Mr. Jefferson’s academical village,” writes the collective voice of the paper, “we wonder if some new forms of less obvious, but equally formidable defenses have been erected in their place.” This voice warns that the building’s present state “prevents many of the past activities that served to mark the Rotunda as the center of the University.” The voice laments that its “resemblance to a museum has increased” and worries that “beauty has triumphed over functionality.”

When considering that this article was written more than a decade before the University even received its World Heritage Site status, it’s interesting to question whether the “functionality” of the space has since increased or decreased. Even as preservation becomes more and more of a focus, modern concessions are made as well. An article on the next page of the same issue, far less ominous in tone, contradicts the preceding piece by arguing that “the Rotunda is indeed the compromise between old and new” and cites such amenities as water fountains and exit signs to prove its point.

The University’s historic masons have restored many of the columns and walkways of the Academical VIllage.

In the successive decades, several contemporary additions have been made to the Academical Village — perhaps most notably the accessibility ramps installed in 2018 and opened last year. The team of historic masons constructed the ramps themselves, even using the “same hand-striking techniques” as they would on the buildings in the Village, Maine said. 

While McGhee and Maine both agreed that the addition to the Lawn was much-needed, they added that making such an addition was a minefield of satisfying all parties involved — both those who needed safe access to the Lawn and those who wanted any new construction on the Lawn to be visually identical to the surrounding buildings. Just matching the bricks, McGhee said, was a painstaking process that took nearly seven years.

Both Maine and McGhee praised the construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, another significant construction near the Academical Village. They agreed that the University should acknowledge all parts of its history, whether praiseworthy or abhorrent. This perspective is likely strengthened by the intimate work done by the historic masons, and the complete, honest portrait of the University it grants them — included on his list of historical finds in the Academical Village, McGhee mentioned that they had come across slave quarters in Pavilion buildings on more than one occasion.

McGhee and Maine also suggested that the work of the historic masons is largely misunderstood or underappreciated by the majority of students and faculty. The location of their work at a university, unusual for a World Heritage Site, means that it can only be done at certain times of the day or the year. Noise complaints from Lawn Room residents, which McGhee said are common, must be honored — but they can totally stall a day’s progress.

“The majority of our work can only be done once students leave,” Maine said. “Summertime comes, and we’re doing 10-hour days, six days a week.” Never mind that, often, the work they do is to benefit the students themselves. Last summer, she said, they restored functionality to all Lawn Room chimneys. “We were on the roofs the whole time.”

Even though it may seem to students like the University takes an unusual interest in preservation, the historic masons themselves identify the major trend as new construction. “The University just stays building things,” Maine said. “You get used to it.”

And although Maine worries that historic masonry is “definitely a dying art,” she knows she and her fellow masons will at least stick around another five years — because that’s how far out the team is booked. “There are quite a few buildings that are in poor shape,” she said, laughing. Again, the University’s unique situation as simultaneously a World Heritage Site and a functioning university throws a wrench into the work Maine does. Not only do she and the other masons have to wait for classes to let out to truly get to work, the daily wear and tear suffered by the buildings and walkways of the Academical Village make the job of a historic mason an endless one.

Endless, difficult, tedious, maybe even overlooked — but Maine wouldn’t trade the work she does for anything. For her, it’s all in the details. With restoration, she said, “every step counts … Did you soak [the bricks] in water? Did you brush them off? Did you take the time to chisel off that little bit of extra mortar?”

She’s glad she wasn’t scared off from masonry on that first day at CATEC, but some part of her knew she was destined for this work — in fact, her interest predated the field trip. A couple months prior, Maine, waiting for her mother to finish shopping, went outside and found herself studying the store’s brick exterior. “I thought, ‘How does this even happen?’ Like, it blew my mind. How does it look so nice? How does it look so clean? I don’t even understand how this happens.”

Today, Maine’s understanding of “how this happens” extends much farther than the average mason. Not only does she comprehend how buildings are made today, she also knows how they were made centuries ago — and thankfully for the Academical Village, she’s not about to forget.

A Fossil Fuel-Free Future: The Push for Divestment

Students at the University have been organizing around fossil fuel divestment since at least 2013, but the University has yet to formally address the topic

Words by Alannah Bell. Photos by Margaret Wadsworth. Graphics by Alyce Yang.

Most everyone knows of the effects of climate change — of the flooding coastlines, intensifying storms and melting glaciers. These consequences will likely lead to what many climate scientists say will be the point of no return by 2030. In response to warnings from scientists, activists nationwide are calling for various forms of climate action, and among those mobilizing in response are student-led organizations on university campuses pushing for fossil fuel divestment in the education sector.

Divestment, “when you start really digging deeper into the literature [of it]… is an incredibly complicated thing,” said Phoebe Crisman, professor of architecture, director of the Global Environments and Sustainability Program and chair of U.Va. Committee on Sustainability. 

Fossil fuel divestment, specifically, involves removing assets specifically invested in fossil fuel companies whose practices further perpetuate the climate crisis. In the context of universities, student-led movements pushing for fossil fuel divestment are calling for institutions to be held accountable for the impact of their endowments’ investments.

In 2012, Unity College, a small institution in Maine, became the first American university to divest from fossil fuel companies, and movements led by students at other universities also began to gain momentum around this time. Organized efforts for fossil fuel divestment began at the University in 2013 with 350 U.Va., a chapter supporting a national Fossil Free campaign.

Before 2013, there had already been numerous campaigns for University divestment from various causes. Students have previously pushed for University divestment from apartheid in South Africa, the Sudanese government during the war in Darfur and the Burmese military junta in the early 2000s.

In December 2015, the Climate Action Society, another environmental student organization on Grounds and precursor to the University’s chapter of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, started the Divest U.Va. campaign. Tom Jackson, one of the members of the 2015 campaign, published an opinion editorial with The Cavalier Daily about their activities and motivations.

“Divestment signals to the world that the actions of companies that extract and combust fossil fuels do not reflect the values of our University, such as honorable conduct, data-driven science and the creation of a better future,” Jackson wrote. “A school’s decision to divest places the idea that fossil fuels are unethical at the forefront of public consciousness. It erodes the public faith in the institution of fossil fuels and their place in the future of this University and in the future of the planet.”

In September 2016, Divest U.Va. activists rallied outside of the Board of Visitors meeting to pressure the BOV to divest. However, the campaign struggled to get a public hearing on the topic and eventually fizzled out.

That 2016 rally happened during Joyce Cheng’s first year at the University. Now, as a fourth-year College student, Cheng serves as the logistics facilitator of the University’s chapter of VSEC. “I’ve been watching [the movement] change, and I think it’s going in a positive direction … but I think we can always move faster,” she said.According to a previous statement from Cheng, VSEC’s pursuit of a divestment campaign ended in 2017, and, since then, VSEC has shifted to a focus on community-based anti-pipeline advocacy. “However, we do [still] believe that UVA should divest from exploitative, extractive and destructive fossil fuel companies,” she wrote.

Students and community members gathered at the Rotunda for a climate strike in September 2019. // Riley Walsh

In September 2019, VSEC organized a climate strike at the Rotunda, where Cheng read aloud a list of demands, including fossil fuel divestment within five years, for the United States to take up more efforts for climate action and for the University to integrate a plan to be fossil fuel-free and completely carbon neutral. More than a hundred students were present at the rally to show their support for these demands and other forms of climate action.

Three months later, in December 2019, the Board of Visitors approved a resolution by which the University, together with William and Mary, committed to being carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050, among other climate-proactive goals. 

Following the resolution’s approval, anonymous messages written in chalk saying “DIVEST UVA” and “PEOPLE + PLANET OVER PROFIT” were found sprinkled around Grounds. Although the sustainability plan is written to achieve various environmentally conscious goals, it does not address investments in fossil fuel companies from the University’s $9.6 billion endowment

“U.Va. has committed to be completely carbon-free by 2050 which is a tremendous goal, but it’s only really one side of the equation,” said Jack Mills, first-year College student and member of Student Council’s Sustainability Committee. “The University has a sizable endowment of billions of dollars — while they can modify their actions as to how they’re impacting and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions within the atmosphere, another part of that impact stems from the money that they invest.”

He continued to deem divestment as being “the next step into showing that they are being proactive and not just ambivalent.”

In May 2020, The Cavalier Daily published an open letter to the Board of Visitors written by a group of anonymous students under the name of Divest U.Va. urging the University to publicly disclose its current fossil fuel investments and to completely divest these investments from the fossil fuel industry by 2030. The letter goes on to say the University must fulfill these particular demands in order to honor the futures of its students, to satisfy its commitment to be “both great and good” and to reinvest its divested funds into environmentally sustainable projects.

The reinvestment of assets into environmentally sustainable projects has been the recent focus of some climate activists who have attempted to reframe fossil fuel divestment as a push for “sustainable investment” — the investment of funds into more environmentally sustainable practices, such as renewable energy infrastructure and public transportation.Over the years, the University has funded and signed off on more and more sustainable investments around Grounds, such as the bike-share program, UBike — slated to be discontinued in May, as its usage had been declining in response to competition from new e-scooter services — that encouraged more sustainable transportation, water bottle refilling stations that reduce landfill waste and the construction of solar panels that provide renewable energy.

The University’s bike-share program, although slated to be discontinued in May, is one of the sustainable investments the University has funded around Grounds. 

However, supporters of the divestment movement argue that, in addition to the University’s responsibility of sustainable investment, the University is also accountable to the social sector and the entirety of the green movement. Willis Jenkins, professor of religion studies, believes the logic and credibility of divestment are based upon an idea he calls “delegitimization” — which he also references in his 2016 report entitled, “Should the University of Virginia Divest from Fossil Fuels? On the Ethics of Divestment”.

“When [the University of Virginia Investment Management Company] holds stock in a company, there’s an implicit, minimal faith that it’s a legitimate enterprise,” Jenkins said. “When divestment comes into play, it’s a statement that this is no longer a legitimate enterprise …. Fossil fuel companies that are not engaged in good faith efforts to respond to the impacts of their products … look less like legitimate enterprises and more like criminal syndicates.”

Jenkins deems delegitimization as one of the most fundamental reasons for any divestment movement. According to him, and in regards to the fossil fuel divestment movement in particular, delegitimization means to remove the University’s legitimizing financial backing of any company connected to fossil fuel consumption — to any company that consciously contributes to climate change and its disastrous effects.

Furthermore, Jenkins thinks that the question of to what extent the University should divest is a thorny one — that it’s a discussion “that the University community would have to have.” Once that question is answered, he believes that a set of principles by which a company currently funding fossil fuel activity can reinstate their eligibility for University funding after institutional divestment is important. This ability to re-legitimize themselves, according to Jenkins, should allow the company to restore itself from the blow of investors divesting so long as their practices meet updated moral conditions.

In Jenkins’ 2016 report, he further elaborates on arguments for and against divestment and ultimately concludes in favor of it. Since his report was published, his support for fossil fuel divestment has only grown stronger because of “the body of evidence that fossil fuel companies have not been good faith participants in efforts to respond to climate change” and the fact that the “climate crisis [is] clearly accelerating.”

Scientists say the climate crisis is clearly accelerating, but institutions continue to debate the financial advantages and disadvantages of fossil fuel divestment.

However, supporters of the divestment movement argue that, in addition to the University’s responsibility of sustainable investment, the University is also accountable to the social sector and the entirety of the green movement. Willis Jenkins, professor of religion studies, believes the logic and credibility of divestment are based upon an idea he calls “delegitimization” — which he also references in his 2016 report entitled, “Should the University of Virginia Divest from Fossil Fuels? On the Ethics of Divestment”.

“When [the University of Virginia Investment Management Company] holds stock in a company, there’s an implicit, minimal faith that it’s a legitimate enterprise,” Jenkins said. “When divestment comes into play, it’s a statement that this is no longer a legitimate enterprise …. Fossil fuel companies that are not engaged in good faith efforts to respond to the impacts of their products … look less like legitimate enterprises and more like criminal syndicates.”

Jenkins deems delegitimization as one of the most fundamental reasons for any divestment movement. According to him, and in regards to the fossil fuel divestment movement in particular, delegitimization means to remove the University’s legitimizing financial backing of any company connected to fossil fuel consumption — to any company that consciously contributes to climate change and its disastrous effects.

Furthermore, Jenkins thinks that the question of to what extent the University should divest is a thorny one — that it’s a discussion “that the University community would have to have.” Once that question is answered, he believes that a set of principles by which a company currently funding fossil fuel activity can reinstate their eligibility for University funding after institutional divestment is important. This ability to re-legitimize themselves, according to Jenkins, should allow the company to restore itself from the blow of investors divesting so long as their practices meet updated moral conditions.

In Jenkins’ 2016 report, he further elaborates on arguments for and against divestment and ultimately concludes in favor of it. Since his report was published, his support for fossil fuel divestment has only grown stronger because of “the body of evidence that fossil fuel companies have not been good faith participants in efforts to respond to climate change” and the fact that the “climate crisis [is] clearly accelerating.”

Phoebe Crisman — professor of architecture, director of the Global Environments and Sustainability Program and chair of U.Va. Committee on Sustainability — has been a dedicated supporter of student-led sustainable investment movements. Crisman has been working with students such as Abby Heher, a fourth-year College student and another member of Student Council’s Sustainability Committee, to uncover further information regarding UVIMCO’s investments in fossil fuel companies.

“One of the biggest challenges is transparency — actually knowing what it is that you’re investing in,” Crisman said. “I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but I think that it certainly is one of the biggest roadblocks to really meaningful divestment in that way.”

The specific investments of UVIMCO’s portfolio are not available to the public, and this secrecy is a common practice among other investment management companies as well.

However, Kristina Alimard, chief operating officer of UVIMCO, did reveal the potential extent to which the University’s endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies.

“Natural resources investments represented 5.4% of UVIMCO’s Long Term Pool as of June 30, 2019, and that allocation may be used as a decent estimate of the percentage of U.Va.’s endowment that is invested in companies associated in one way or another with natural resources including fossil fuels,” she wrote in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.

This information, Alimard added, can be found in UVIMCO’s 2019 Annual Report.

In 2019, U.Va.’s endowment was reported to be worth $9.6 billion. Based on statements from Alimard, it is a fair assumption that approximately $5.2 million of U.Va.’s endowment is invested in natural resources including fossil fuels.

While University divestment is considered by some of its supporters to be morally necessary, others acknowledge that the removal of the University’s assets from investments in fossil fuel companies would be financially disadvantageous.

According to Crisman, complete divestment from fossil fuel companies is considered difficult by many for predominantly economic reasons. Additionally, Crisman says it’s important to acknowledge the degree to which such removals of some assets might change the norms of academia, comfort and opportunity.

“From an ethical standpoint, investing in sustainable practices is the right thing to do,” she said. “At the same time, though, I understand that the role of UVIMCO, who invests our money, is to maximize return, and that return allows us to support student fellowships and scholarships and all kinds of other activities that we really think are important.”

Investments as managed by UVIMCO for the University contribute to a pile of funds that are distributed according to University needs as determined by the Board of Visitors — which currently includes Robert M. Blue, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer of Dominion Energy and president of Dominion Energy Virginia.

Jamie Wertz, a fourth-year College student, has been working on a project with the Darden School of Business and the McIntire School of Commerce to address the argument that divestment is a financially advantageous move.

“Key investment management firms are phasing out funding for projects that pose significant financial and environmental risk,” Wertz continued. “Right now, fossil fuels pose financial risk to portfolios, as well as environmental risk …. It makes pure economic sense to divest.”According to a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in February 2019, non-fossil fuel companies have been found to outperform fossil fuel companies in terms of funds, and financial experts have denoted increased risk factors pertaining to fossil fuel investments. The financial sector has already begun to participate in a sort of climate action themselves, as the IEEFA has begun to urge investors to move away from fossil fuel investments that could lessen the value of their portfolios.

Since Unity College’s decision to divest from fossil fuels in 2012, numerous other universities have followed suit. In May 2016, the University of Massachusetts became the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels. Most recently, Georgetown University committed in February 2020 to fossil fuel divestment.

In April 2016, the University of Mary Washington, the University’s former sister school located in Fredericksburg, divested following pressure from the Divest UMW campaign.

“The Board of Visitors takes seriously its fiduciary responsibility to protect the foundation’s investment of UMW’s endowment,” said Holly Cuellar, rector of University of Mary Washington’s Board of Visitors. “At the same time, it is important that this university continue to be a leader on the sustainability front and that we remain vigilant in seeking additional ways to demonstrate our commitment to the environment.”

Divest UMW brought together students from colleges all across the state, including from the University, to participate in a sit-in that lasted three weeks in April 2015. Divest UMW garnered support from over one-fourth of their university’s student body and over one-third of their faculty, subsequently gaining the opportunity to give a detailed presentation on divestment to their Board of Visitors. However, Cuellar initially rejected the proposal.

One year later, the University of Mary Washington became the first university in Virginia and the first public university in the South to commit to fossil fuel divestment for its, at-the time, $41.4 million endowment. Although UMW has a much smaller endowment compared to that of the University, other institutions with more comparable endowments have also committed to divestment — in September 2019, the University of California system, an institution with a $13.4 billion endowment, divested from fossil fuels.

Now, in 2020, the University has yet to formally address divestment, and concerted divestment campaigns have lain dormant since 2017. 

Heher believes that the fights for fossil fuel divestment and other social movements have taken longer than they should at the University due to insufficient intergenerational conversation between student activists.

“A challenge to everything that students attempt at U.Va. is that a lot of movements and efforts sort of expire after four years when whoever was most passionate about them and the key leaders graduate — which is one of the fundamental challenges of student self-governance,” she said.

Jenkins believes that the key to building the divestment movement’s credibility lies in students developing a critical understanding of fossil fuel divestment’s advantages and disadvantages and of all its surrounding circumstances and consequences. He says that, if student activists do not go through these necessary steps of education, then their efforts risk appearing as “empty symbolic posturing.”

“My advice to student divestment efforts … has always been to show the University leadership and UVIMCO that you’ve wrestled with the tough questions around divestment — about the reasons why and the logic for how,” Jenkins said.

While knowledge is critical to the success of fossil fuel divestment efforts, or any social activism efforts, Crisman emphasized that gathering knowledge isn’t the only important thing – it is also important for there to be steady lines of communication between the students and University leadership.

“I think that the main issue is communication. For sure, research and knowledge are the most important things, but also getting all those different groups together to really talk about it in a meaningful way,” she said.

Jenkins also stressed the need for collaboration among groups working on sustainability goals. 

“There’s a real role for organized student action to show serious engagement with the reasons why to divest,” he said, referencing a way in which climate action efforts could potentially be more successful on Grounds. “We have so many green groups, and leaders from across them could do some coalition building around this issue … And then also just prepare for intergenerational conversation.”

While student activists’ efforts have been critical to building and propelling the fossil fuel divestment movement, students stress that the ultimate responsibility and power to divest lies with the University.

“Universities have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the divestment movement,” Heher said. “They’re not just an institution with a large endowment — they’re an institution with a large endowment that has a responsibility to their students and their alumni to answer their needs, their values and to uphold the values that universities are founded upon.”

Names Written in Light and Shadow

Each building on Grounds is named in honor of a figure, yet the legacies of those individuals are often left unexamined 

Words by Booker Johnson. Photos by Margaret Wadsworth. Graphics by Alyce Yang.

Alderman Library — named after Edwin A. Alderman, the first president of the University — is the main library at the University.

On a typical day, students, visitors and community members would walk around Grounds without knowing the complex histories of the very buildings they pass. Any tour of the University would be incomplete without a stop at the infamous Alderman Library, and hundreds of students live in the Bonnycastle and Gibbons residence halls. But who were Edwin Alderman, Charles Bonnycastle and William and Isabella Gibbons? Each building on Grounds is named in honor of a figure who had close ties with the University, yet the legacies of those individuals are often left unexamined. 

First-year College student and activist Zyahna Bryant described her experience attending a university with controversial historical ties in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. 

“I believe that racism and other forms of injustice reinvent themselves in order to manifest in new and improved ways that fit the current climate,” Bryant said. “When I look at the University, I think about decades of Black student organizing and resilience, and I am honored to be a part of a legacy of students who have done the work and laid the foundation for me to study here today.”

Overlooked Legacies

Alderman Library — named after Edwin A. Alderman, the first president of the University — is the main library at the University and perhaps the one most familiar to both students and the Charlottesville community. Alderman was an important figure in the University community, but his ties to the fallacious science of eugenics and white supremacy have made his legacy increasingly controversial.

Alderman made the University a hub for eugenics research by recruiting numerous eugenics proponents — such as Harvey Jordan, former dean of the medical school, Orlando White, former director of the University’s biological station and Ivey Lewis, former chair of biology and then dean of the College — to work at the University. Through the research conducted and classes taught by these individuals and others at the University, students and other community members were trained in eugenic racism and contributed to upholding a culture of white supremacy. 

Amidst preparations for the renovation of Alderman Library, English professor Elizabeth Fowler was one of the volunteers working to preserve its card catalog. Although the physical building itself and its resources are invaluable to members of the University community, Fowler stressed that Alderman himself had a problematic legacy.

“His considerable support for the fake science of eugenics was powerfully in the service of white supremacy — it was not just an unfortunate minor belief, but the direction he gave the University in hiring, in the curriculum, in his links with the community,” Fowler said.

Floorplan of Alderman Library // Courtesy U.Va Library

Alderman Library was constructed in 1937 because the Rotunda, which had previously served as the University’s main library, was no longer sufficient to fulfill the University’s needs as a growing research university. Alderman himself had proposed the construction of a new library in 1924, but the project was delayed by the Great Depression and completed and named after him six years following his death.

At the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester, amidst preparations for renovations in Alderman Library, various fliers advocating for the renaming of Alderman Library were anonymously posted around Grounds. Each flyer included the line “Change the name” and a quote from Alderman himself that highlighted his racist and discriminatory views. 

“It is settled, I believe, that this white man who has shown himself so full of courage and force, shall rule in the South, because he is fittest to rule,” one such flyer quoted.

In a meeting with The Cavalier Daily last September, University President Jim Ryan broadly addressed the idea of renaming Alderman and other buildings with similarly notorious namesakes. “We’re in the process of thinking about a number of names,” Ryan said.

University Spokesperson Wes Hester addressed Alderman’s past and confirmed that a discussion around the naming of the library was “ongoing” at the time.

“The naming of facilities on the Grounds is an important and ongoing dialogue, and Alderman Library is a part of that conversation, though no decisions have been made at this time,” Hester said last fall.

Since September, however, there have been no announcements about a forthcoming name change for Alderman Library. Hester stated that there are “no updates to offer on that topic at this time.”

While the physical structure of Alderman Library will see immense change, the building will retain its association to Alderman, and his eugenicist and white supremacist views, through its name.

According to Colin Bird, a politics professor and director of the Politics, Philosophy and Law Program, naming a building after an individual is similar to an endorsement. 

“Any time you’re naming a building or a public facility, it’s an honorific of some kind, and so it seems to me [that] it’s very difficult to divorce the naming [of] buildings or facilities from some kind of endorsement, from some kind of claim that this name is an object of commemoration, of a certain kind of minimal celebration, something of that sort,” he said.

Beyond Alderman Library, there are also other lesser-known examples of buildings named after controversial figures. Many of the Universities first-year dormitories are named after individuals who owned multiple slaves — Charles Bonnycastle, John Emmet and Robley Dunglison, likely among others — and outspoken segregationists such as Richard Dabney. Other dormitories are named after professors who served as advisors to the Confederate Army, such as Milton Humphreys and Socrates Maupin. 

While there are many buildings around Grounds that commemorate those who supported the advancement of white supremacy or were publicly known as slaveholders, there are few buildings known for the opposite. 

The University can be seen as a physical remnant of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy with all of its accolades and controversies. Jefferson’s legacy has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years particularly in light of his relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves with whom he bore children. His ties to eugenics are also among other controversies surrounding his legacy — the presence of eugenics at the University can be traced all the way back even further than the early 1900s to Thomas Jefferson himself.

“It’s very difficult when you have [controversial] people who are woven into the founding of an institution,” Bird said. “I think it’s virtually impossible, realistically, for the institution to completely disassociate itself. I think the mature way to handle [the question of problematic commemoration] is that you continue to use the brand name and try to have an open and honest conversation about the ambivalent character of the personality involved.”

Changing Landscapes

Because they serve as physical markers and as a representation of the University’s community and values, building names around Grounds carry significance and weight. In the context of the larger ongoing local and national discourse about historic memorialization, students at many institutions — Georgetown University, Yale University, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill — are confronting their administrations about structure names associated with problematic figures. 

Georgetown University renamed a hall to commemorate the 272 slaves sold to the university in 1838, and Yale renamed a building originally named after white supremacist John C. Calhoun. Similarly, UNC-Chapel Hill changed the name of a building named after Klu-Klux-Klan leader William Saunders, and UC-Berkeley revoked the name of a hall named for a racist lawyer who argued for anti-Asian immigration policies and also expressed racist beliefs against Native Americans and Black people.

“The reason why these names are becoming controversial is because everybody implicitly understands that in naming buildings after these people, you’re honoring those people,” Bird said. “Since those people are being associated with problematic things, people are quite rightly raising the question, why should we be honoring these people if we could be honoring any number of other people who perhaps weren’t quite so malevolent?”

The University has in fact renamed some buildings previously named in honor of known eugenicists who worked at the University. In 2016, the Medical School’s Jordan Hall, named for Harvey Jordan, was renamed as Pinn Hall for Vivian Pinn, the only female African-American student to graduate from the University’s medical school in 1967. 

In 2017, the International Residential College’s Lewis House, named for Ivey Lewis, was renamed as Yen House for W.W. Yen, the first international student to earn a Bachelor of Arts from the University and the first student from China to graduate in 1900. Most recently, in July 2019, the Medical Center’s Barringer Wing — named after Paul Brandon Barringer, a eugenicist, former dean of the medical school and chairman of faculty at the University — was renamed as Collins Wing after Dr. Francis S. Collins, a prominent scientist who graduated from the University in 1970 and currently serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health.

“We’re drawing attention to these people’s names and honoring them in the form of buildings that we are continuing to name after them,” Bird said. “Since it is increasingly salient and people are increasingly drawing attention to the fact that this person was associated with nefarious, racist and white supremacist beliefs, it seems to me that it’s very, very difficult now for us to dissociate the willingness to continue to name these buildings after these people from the wider debate that we are having today about our relationship to racial oppression and slavery.”

Lisa Woolfork is an English professor and community organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and has advocated, among other things, for the banning of Confederate imagery in Albemarle County schools. She also recently wrote about an articled entitled “‘This Class of Persons:’ When UVA’s White Supremacist Past Meets Its Future” in the “Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity” anthology.

“There’s just something about how we measure and evaluate history, and a lot of historians have been doing work about thinking differently about history and thinking in more precise and concise ways that can capture this story [of enslaved laborers] that is really complex,” Woolfork said.

Gibbons House is named after Isabella Gibbons (pictured) and her husband William Gibbons, enslaved laborers at the University during the 19th century.

In March 2015, one of the houses in the Alderman Road Residence Area was named after William and Isabella Gibbons — a married couple and enslaved laborers who were owned by different professors at the University during the 19th century — based upon the recommendation of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University to name one or more buildings at the University after enslaved persons who had a close connection to the University.

Beyond Gibbons House, there are no other buildings on Grounds named after and in honor of enslaved persons, who were the main source of labor used to build the University and whose labor underscored all of the work and accomplishments of the University. 

“I think one of the dangers that we are facing now, is that there are a lot of people who have made contributions to this University who don’t show up in the archives, and if we only depend on archival records, we will only have the same people we have always have — and those are the people who have access to power,” Woolfork said.

Gibbons House is the only building on Grounds named after and in honor of enslaved persons.

However, according to Woolfork, there’s one “great exception” to this lack of commemoration of enslaved laborers — the African-American History Museum in Washington, D.C., which includes an exhibit about Thomas Jefferson.

“Something that I find so striking is that they have Thomas Jefferson’s statue, and he’s surrounded by all of these red bricks — the same red bricks that are used to build the walls here — the serpentine walls, the same red bricks that are used to build many of our buildings,” Woolfork said. “On the name of each brick is the name of a person, and I think they have records of some of the 600 people that Jefferson owned in his lifetime, and each of their names are on a brick.”

To address the lack of commemoration of enslaved laborers on Grounds, the University began constructing the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers in 2019, which was completed in April. Similar to the exhibit Woolfork described, the memorial also includes individual inscriptions of the names of the over 4,000 enslaved laborers who worked on-Grounds. 

The purpose of the memorial as stated by the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University is to “acknowledge and honor the 4,000 or more individuals who built and maintained the University.” Its unveiling was originally scheduled for April 11, 2020 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This discussion about the significance of names and commemoration extends further than just the names of structures around Grounds. Streets, statues, monuments, plaques and other physical forms of commemoration can be found not just at the University but also the entire Charlottesville community and beyond. According to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017, there are more than 200 “publicly supported spaces” dedicated to the Confederacy in the state of Virginia alone and over 1,500 spaces nationwide.

“I feel like we have held on to this idea … to celebrate the Old South [and] to celebrate the violence of the Confederacy as just a normal way of life for everyone, even for black folks who were oppressed, and tortured, and murdered, and raped — all for the benefit of the Confederacy,” Woolfork said. “[We have held on to this idea] that we too are supposed to accept that as normal, and I think that any step we can take to stop that is a good step.”

Here on Grounds, many are not aware that they walk past a remnant of Confederate history almost every day. Although not an official “publicly supported space,” Hume Fountain, more popularly known as the Whispering Wall, is located between Monroe Hall and Brown College. It was constructed in 1938 by Edmund Campbell, former dean of the Architecture School, to honor Frank Hume — a Confederate soldier who later went on to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. The wall reads, “A MEMORIAL TO THE HONORABLE FRANK HUME — A DEVOTED VIRGINIAN WHO SERVED HIS NATIVE STATE IN CIVIL WAR AND LEGISLATIVE HALL.”

Perhaps the most well-known example of Confederate commemoration in Charlottesville is the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, around which violence erupted during the white supremacist rallies of August 2017. 

In 2016, Bryant, then a student at Charlottesville High School, started a petition to remove the Lee Park statue. Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue back in January 2017 but ran into legal challenges because of a Virginia statute that prevented cities and towns from removing war memorials. 

New legislation passed during Virginia’s 2020 legislative session will enable the City of Charlottesville to remove this statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, around which violence erupted during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville of August 2017. // Christina Anton

During the 2020 General Assembly, the state legislature successfully passed a bill co-sponsored by University professor and newly elected Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, that would enable a locality to “remove, relocate, or alter any monument or memorial for war veterans located in its public space, regardless of when erected.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill into law April 11.

Bryant’s activism helped lead to the new legislation, and she has continued her work — notably as a member of the Virginia African American Advisory Board created by Northam’s administration in September 2019 — while also being a student. According to her, student organizers at universities face many obstacles. 

“[There] is the disappointing fact that these institutions have a way of draining students who do the work,” she said. “Everything from co-opting their ideas while failing to credit them to shutting vocal student leaders out of prestigious spaces simply because they pose a threat to the status quo.”

Bryant emphasized that there should be a push to see the change of names of these historical buildings around Grounds but that the effort shouldn’t end there. “I believe that the solution should be two-fold,” she said. “I believe that there should be a push to rename buildings and areas [on Grounds] that have been originally named after those who have fought for the oppression and bondage of others. I do believe that in most cases, simply recontextualizing racist symbols within their current spaces is not an adequate solution.”

Bryant also has a specific image of how the “two-fold” solution should work. “This looks like fully funding and resourcing spaces and departments that do the work of extending those conversations that center the histories that we have collectively forgotten,” she said. “There can be no reconciliation without the redistribution of capital and other resources.”

The first step to grappling with the complicated histories associated with the names of certain buildings on Grounds might be re-naming buildings after arguably less contentious figures. 

Woolfork suggests perhaps dedicating more public spaces in honor of black individuals, who were often victims of the violence perpetrated by the controversial figures after whom many buildings are currently named. 

“I think we need more buildings named for Black folks, more ways to honor and recognize the incalculable contributions that have been made by Black people in this community, as well as in Charlottesville city as a whole,” Woolfork said. “I think that that’s something I would like to see as part of a larger reckoning with the University history. There’s other communities and populations who I’m sure are also quite worthy of that type of honorific.”