Category Archives: Faculty profiles

UVA As a “Maze of Predatory Systems”

by James A. Bacon

If you visit the latest exhibit at the University of Virginia’s Ruffin Gallery, “EscapeRoom,” it takes no more than five or ten seconds for the artists’ message to sink in — the amount of time it takes to read the signage at the entrance:

The University of Virginia (UVA) is a site of reckoning. The legacies of slavery and white supremacy reverberate throughout its built environment. EscapeRoom confronts the frameworks of injustice that contemporary audiences inhabit and inherit in relation to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. … EscapeRoom charts critical routes through a maze of predatory systems.

Inside, the exhibits contributed by multiple artists elaborate upon the white-supremacy theme. Five 3D-printed pieces of porcelain, for instance, are described as giving “materiality, scale and dimension to the many ‘tools’ that mediate state violence visited upon Black victims: horses, batons, guns, tear gas, and more.”

A mobile made of steel sheet metal “examines violence visited upon Black people at the hands of the American state. It attends to the paradoxes of Black life and death in this anti-Black world.”

To set foot in the EscapeRoom is to enter a world of victimhood that would have been entirely justified a century or two ago but seems tragically out of date 60 years after the passage of Civil Rights legislation, the enactment of the Great Society’s war on poverty, and the dramatic transformation of attitudes toward race in America — not to mention the implementation of Racial Equity Task Force recommendations at UVA itself that made the exhibit possible in the first place. Continue reading

In Their Own Words: Jefferson, Whiteness, and Dicks in the Sky

Meet Marisa Williamson. The Harvard-educated assistant professor in the University of Virginia art department works in video, image-making, installation and performance art around themes of “history, race, feminism, and technology,” according to her UVA faculty page. Most recently, she co-curated the EscapeRoom exhibition at the Ruffin Gallery, which we highlight in a companion article.

Williamson, who has worked at UVA since 2018, was one of the first faculty members hired under the “Race, Justice and Equity” initiative made possible by grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

She described her approach to art in a 2021 conversation with Tori Cherry, a Charlottesville artist and UVA Grad, hosted by Charlottesville’s New City Arts.

“One of my big goals is to unsettle and to figure out how to haunt, how to keep things moving, how to agitate through these various forms of performance and monument,” Williamson said. Continue reading

In Their Own Words: Christa Noel Robbins

Christa Noel Robbins teaches art history at the University of Virginia. On Feb. 26, she wrote an email, which was forwarded to the Jefferson Council, explaining her reasons for canceling class. The art historian said she was motivated by solidarity with the “Yes on Divest Walkout.” The walkout organizers endorse a student referendum demanding that managers of the University of Virginia $14 billion endowment purge its holdings of corporations benefiting from business with the “apartheid” regime of Israel.

Dear Class,

I’m writing to let you know that I am canceling class today in solidarity with the “Yes on Divest Walkout” that the UVA Apartheid Divest coalition organized. I realize this issue is polarizing right now, so I want to take a moment to let you know why I made this choice. As we’ve discussed in class, cultural heritage and community integrity has everything to do with place. You just finished watching Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow, where you saw that Gaza (a strip of land around 25 miles long and no more than 7.5 miles wide at its widest point, that once held over 2 million people) has been under a blockade since 2007. You heard Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli LGBT and human rights activist, describe Gaza as a “Third World country on the way to collapse” and you saw a group of young students describing Gaza as a prison and expressing their regret that they cannot travel the world because they cannot freely move in and out of Gaza. Continue reading

In Their Own Words: Rachel Spraker

Rachel Spraker (she/they) is assistant vice president-equity and inclusive excellence at the University of Virginia, one of 15 staff members in the university’s Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Here’s how the web page describes her job (words in bold highlight rhetoric characteristic of intersectional-oppression ideology, colloquially referred to as wokeness):

Rachel develops, implements, and evaluates policies, practices, and programs which seek to advance the representational diversity, inclusive capacity, and sense of belonging of the University’s workforce and learning community. Rachel has previously served on the executive board of the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity and as an equity consultant for institutions of higher education.

Rachel grew up in a small town in rural Appalachia in what is now called Virginia, on the traditional territory of the Tutelo people. Rachel was a first generation student at UVA where they earned their bachelor’s degree in history and foreign affairs. Rachel holds a Master of Science in Sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University with work focused on landscapes of racial violence and is currently a doctoral student at UVA in the School of Education and Human Development.

Spraker has not published any academic articles, but her approach to diversity, equity and inclusion can be discerned by the ideological framework employed in her master’s thesis and articulated in several video recordings. Of particular interest are her thoughts about “environmental violence,” “dying of whiteness,” “white toxicity,” the “emotionality” of whiteness, and the justification of racial preferences. Continue reading

In Their Own Words: Lanice Avery

Assistant Professor Lanice Avery has a joint appointment to the departments of Psychology and Women, Gender & Sexuality at the University of Virginia. Her research interests, she says on her university profile page, lie at “the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and media.” In her LinkedIn page, she describes herself as a “board-certified sexologist.” This semester she is teaching one course, on Black feminist theory.

In this post we highlight her work in her own words, both in writing and on video. (We have highlighted key phrases to show how her work conforms to the intersectional-oppression paradigm, commonly referred to as wokeness, that is increasingly prevalent at UVA.) From Avery’s university web profile:

She is interested in Black women’s intersectional identity development and how the negotiation of dominant gender ideologies and gendered racial stereotypes are associated with adverse psychological and sexual health outcomes. … Her work examines how exposure to gendered racism impacts Black women’s psycho-social development, and the contributing role of media (mainstream, digital, and social) use on Black women’s identity, self-esteem, victimization experiences, and mental health outcomes.

Avery has co-authored numerous articles appearing in scholarly journals. According to Google Scholar, her articles have been cited 717 times. Here follow excerpts from the abstracts of articles published since 2020 and listed on her web profile. Continue reading

How Open Is “Political Dialogue” at UVA?

by James A. Bacon

There is widespread concern among critics of higher education in America that elite universities are squelching free speech and open dialogue in the pursuit of social justice. There is ample evidence that such is exactly the case. But institutions vary, and what occurs at Harvard or Yale may or may not be indicative of reality at the University of Virginia. It is incumbent upon us at the Jefferson Council to draw conclusions about the state of free speech and civil discourse at UVA based on what is happening at UVA, not what we read of horrors elsewhere.

Fortunately, in the age of the Internet, the partisan and ideological proclivities of college faculty are more transparent than ever — even if administrators are not. Professors leave abundant evidence in their writings and in digital recordings. Insofar as we have time, we will profile cases we come across.

We first became interested in Rachel L. Wahl, an associate professor of education at UVA who is affiliated with the Karsh Institute for Democracy, because she was one of eleven appointees to the Religious Diversity Task Force charged with addressing religious bias on the Grounds. If a purpose of the task force is to facilitate dialogue between hostile religious groups, appointing Wahl was likely a good idea. Not only does she encourage respectful dialogue, she researches what it takes to achieve it. Continue reading