By introduction, I am a graduate of The College and Darden. I continue to believe the University is the most special place in the world, for all the reasons that I’m sure you and your friends & colleagues share.
My oldest son is a junior in high school, and is interested in UVa. We went to Charlottesville this past weekend and naturally, signed up for an Admissions Tour. I still remember my tour in the Fall of 1992, which was hugely important in conveying the “specialness” of UVA and what Mr. Jefferson created. I walked away this past Friday thinking “This was nothing like the tour I remembered, nor what I expected.” Some high (low) lights:
- Tour began in Newcomb Hall (I understand they’ve moved the starting location from the Rotunda due to size and other considerations, which is unfortunate). All tour hosts introduced themselves first & foremost with their pronouns. There is a HUGE difference between Newcomb Hall and the Lawn, as you know. Felt like I could have been at any large state school.
- Meandered through Clark Hall, the McIntire School and ultimately ended up on the West-facing Porch (it was raining all day, so that created some difficulties).
- It was at that point that our guide first mentioned Jefferson’s name, to make the point that Jefferson contributed “some” to the founding of the University. WAIT!!! WHAT??? But she then went on a 5- to 10-minute diatribe about the 300 to 400 slaves who were housed in the basements of the pavilions, with walls tall enough to hide them, that really built the University.
- She tied this into the 2017 Unite the Right rally, and then most shockingly, gave us her view that the University leadership knew and implicitly approved of what went on, because they should have done something to stop/avoid it.
- And that was that. Ninety minutes of my life that I unfortunately can’t get back.
We never heard/saw many things that I think make the place special:
- Why did Mr. Jefferson found the University? What is the Academical Village concept and why does the Lawn look like it does? Why is that important in the education of a 21st-century university student? The Jefferson Legacy, as you highlight it.
- We never set foot inside the Rotunda! (or went around the front to see that statue either!)
- No mention of the architectural genius Jefferson employed. I ended up meeting a professional architect there by the Rotunda and conversed with him instead.
- Secret societies, Greek life, 1st year experience
Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate that Jefferson and UVA have a complicated history and relationship with slaves. I read & discussed books about the topic while I was studying there — I get it. History is history and no one is trying to re-write it to diminish the truth. But without context, a lot of history can be misconstrued, as seems to be happening more and more. It sure seems like the U Guides (if they are still called that) have made a decision to replace conveying the excitement, wonder and uniqueness of UVa with a political agenda which would seem to value inflammatory opinions/radical views versus actual history & facts. I walked away sad that for a lot of people, that is their first impression of UVA. Given my background, I obviously was able to provide a different perspective than that with which we were presented, and provide context to a lot of what was said. But I was still fairly shocked at the tour and what I heard.
I live in a state where we’ve been a bit more sheltered from a lot of the “woke” happenings in other parts of the country. This was eye-opening for me. I mentioned it immediately to one of the folks who works for the Jefferson Scholars, who said “we are hearing this a lot and it is an issue.” I realize the Jefferson Council’s mandate is a bit broader, but as it pertains to preserving Mr. Jefferson’s legacy, I can tell you that the Admissions Tour I went on would seem to be working in the opposite direction.
— Name withheld by request