MDST 3559 – Documenting UVA’s Future – Fall 2012
Interviewee: Grace Aheron
Interviewer: Alicia Moreland
Alicia Moreland: Hi, I’m Alicia Moreland and I’m going to be doing the interview today. Umm, and you are Grace Aheron. Can you go ahead and spell your name for me.
Grace Aheron: Sure it’s G R A C E, A H E R O N.
A: Great, so before we start I just want to say thank you for coming in and doing this interview. Umm, and I just wanted to double check and make sure that you are ok with doing this interview and us to be here recording it.
G: I verbally consent.
A: Ok great you verbally consent. Grace, can you tell us a little bit about your position here at UVA? Are you a student? What year are you? Anything like that.
G: Sure, I’m a fourth year majoring in religious studies. Yea the general identifiers.
A: How did you decide to come to UVA?
G: I transferred to UVA my second year. I went to Overland College my first year which is a small Liberal Arts College in Ohio near Cleveland. I was recruited to swim there so I swam there for a year and I guess we’ll talk a little bit about the transfer process. I didn’t want to be swimming anymore and I guess that was part of the reason why I left. It took up too much time and I wanted a different college experience. So I wanted to explore things that I hadn’t done before. Also, I realized that I wanted a bigger school. I didn’t even apply to UVA my senior year of high school. It was the last place on the planet that I would have thought that I wanted to come. I guess because I thought that I wanted a smaller school, I thought that I wanted that smaller community and sort of what I perceived to be a more intentionally academic community, but I think that part of the reason why I left is that I found Overland to be incredibly “homogenous.” In terms of lots of things, the socioeconomic status, race even most people were from mostly liberal states and were very liberal. That just felt limiting and I think I wanted to come to a place where I knew there was a lot more diversity and a lot more opportunities for students. UVA is the only school I applied to transfer to so I thank God that I got in and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the decision to be here. I think I love UVA just as much as anyone who’s been here all four years. I’m just now sad that I…I’m great with my experience at a small school but I’m kinda bummed that I didn’t get that one more year at UVA.
A: Great, well we’re happy that you’re here at UVA. How exactly is UVA a little bit different than your other school? You say it’s in Ohio. My family is actually from Ohio so I’m a little bit familiar. How is it just overall different as far as the experience with the people that are here and as far as with the different things that you named as far as socioeconomics, race and everything like that.
G: Yea, oh my gosh I could probably do and entire interview on just how UVA and Overland are different but I’ll try to hit the high points. I spoke about diversity umm I think its just a different college experience. It’s crazy to walk around and see the same people every day. It’s incredibly small, Overland as a town is incredibly small. All that’s there is the university and its incredibly insulated. People eat on a meal plan all four years, people live essentially on campus all four years. It’s funny because you would think that it would make it like a tighter knit community, but I think people end up getting burnt out by that and I was even feeling that at the end of my first year like oh my God get me out of Ohio. I can’t leave, there is nothing here. So that logistical stuff is a huge difference I think people here are more independent and more almost like living less like your stereotypical college existence, like I pay bills. You know I can drive my car here. I can drive wherever I want, I can even go to the downtown mall and not see a single student you know that is so attractive to me. I feel like an independent person. But, also I think the just the student here at UVA are very different than at Overland. My roommate for instance at Overland my first year, like our whole first year didn’t get involved in any clubs. Actually that’s not true she played Quidditch which you know, is that a club? It’s hard to imagine someone at UVA not being involved in a single thing, and I think that culture perpetuates itself but, Overland students hangout a lot more you know, you get done from class and you just go chill in the common room with someone and there is a lot more idol time which I think, you know, certainly there are benefits to that, but also at UVA its just a culture of achievers, and maybe at Overland there is a culture of hanger-outers and thinkers, you know, but through that those are two huge differences, umm yeah
AM: Ok, well as far as, you know, different groups, are you involved in any groups here at UVA, you know that have helped shape your experience here?
GA: Yeah, definitely. Probably the two biggest groups that I’m involved with are two that have impacted me, I guess, are my work with Sustained Dialogue and Dialogue across UVA. So, sustained dialogue is an organization that creates these intentionally diverse groups of students that meet once a week throughout the semester and participate in facilitated discussions to explore aspects of identity and be able to express themselves with certain issues, be it socio-economic status, race, the Teresa Sullivan issue, a living wage, what have you, with the intention of sort of raising your awareness about certain students experiences at the university, and sort of making friends that you never would have maybe met before because as we all know your friend groups can be very insular and you will end up hanging with that are like you, which is a good thing, but it is good to be challenged. And, Dialogue across UVA is that same idea, but the dialogue is comprised of faculty, students, and staff. So that experience is so special and has shaped the way I understand this community. Having friendships with people who work in HR and people who never see a single student every day, but make this experience happen for us or people who work in the dining halls come and talk about how race or power affects their life here. I could also talk forever about that but, so those two dialogue groups, I think, have been incredibly formative in my experience here, and really shaping my worldview I think too, and I’m like so grateful this institution provides those opportunities with those two groups.
AM: So, this summer, you know, this situation with Teresa Sullivan and the resignation, Can you just let me know where were you when you found out? How did you find out? And, what were you thinking as a student being involved in all these different organizations, you know, where your very vocal, which is perfect, how--- How did you feel?
GA: I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts teaching 8th grade literature, through the summer, teaching program when I got an email when I was in the teacher’s staff room, and I just freaked out. I had an incredibly visceral emotional response, and there weren’t any wahoos that taught with me, which was unfortunate, and nobody really quite understood, I think, why I was just like, What!, Are you serious? It just didn’t sit well and it just felt so wrong, and it was interesting because people couldn’t really understand why I cared so much. And, I think, for me, part of that was just feeling incredibly betrayed by a community that I cared about so much, and also I just think that UVA students and like Wahoos in general have this like love of UVA like that borders obsession that other schools don’t have, you know, so when you mess with UVA and my community it felt like very personal. And, also I was just really a big fan of Teresa… I am a big fan of Teresa Sullivan. I think she is a fantastic leader and just a really smart and strong woman and an incredible role model for female students at the university and so I also, I don’t have a personal connection with her at all. I’ve only met her a few times, but I also just felt like so like I wanted to defend her and I felt like on her side immediately. So, it was like hard like being away from that and not being able to like, you know, to yell and scream about it in the face of the board of visitors.
AM: Do you feel as if other students felt your sentiment about Teresa Sullivan, you not only the situation but her as a president here at UVA, you know, her effect here?
GA: Yeah, um, you know it’s hard to say, I think probably most of the discussion’s that I’ve had about Teresa Sullivan with my friends, maybe, were surrounding the Living Wage campaign. And I think that like, I had, And, I have friends who were really involved with the Living Wage campaign that happened last year and I think I always found myself on the defense of Teresa Sullivan because her PhD is in labor., and, I don’t know I always, I think that caused my response a little bit too. People were very much antagonizing her through that whole Living wage campaign process and the hunger strike and all of that and making her kind of the enemy whereas I saw her like doing a lot of good. So, I don’t know, I would say maybe from my friend group for the most part was either ambivalent or you know, my friend group is self-selecting in like a feminist way, very excited to have a female president just because she was a woman, um, I mean plus she is incredibly qualified and brilliant, so yeah.
AM: What did you do after hearing about the situation? Um, I know you said you didn’t have any fellow Wahoos around you at the moment. (Laughing in the background). But, being away from UVA did you feel as if you wanted to start a group or when you got to school did you start a discussion about it? You know, what actions did you want to take to kind of rectify the situation where you felt like, you know, you were very disappointed?
GA: Right! Well I guess, and this was such a presence throughout this whole conflict was that I turned to social media. And, I think the first thing I did was a noticed one of my best friends was on G-chat, and I just, and she was in Charlottesville and I G-chatted her and I was like “is this forreal?” and she said, “Yeah, I just got this, let me do some investigating.” And then, I was constantly reading stuff on the internet. I was on Twitter tweeting about it all the time. The Facebook group was really helpful. So, I think that, like, really help me feel more connected to this community. Sort of, and after I got over the initial shock of it, and I think maybe more after she had been reinstated, my, what I wanted to do was use this event, which had galvanized this community, I mean like everyone, and I think that’s what interested me most because in this whole conflict is how 2000 people showed up to these protests, and like, school wasn’t in session, you know, those were people who cared enough to get out of their houses or offices and be there at this rally, who aren’t students at this university, you know, and so who were they? They were townspeople, they were staff members, they were faculty, and so I think what I saw in all of this was this incredible moment where our community was a real community of everyone comprised of this university was very visible. And like, sort of like active, made active through this event. And coming back, that’s when I emailed John Alexander, and I was like, can we do something about this? Like, how can we harness this energy for the better of our community? How can we take this issue that people care so much about and bring people together because of it? And I guess I’m sort of still figuring out how we can do that, but I just thought it was the most powerful thing about this. When I was watching that Board of Visitors meeting that was streamed online there were like sixteen thousand people watching at the same time as me, That’s insane! And it’s so cool! That like everyone, like that many people care that much. Now what? Let’s make something of our community because of that.
AM: Right, you mentioned social media a lot. Do you really believe that social media kind of was the median to kind of facilitate this discussion, and kind of rally people together to kind of make a difference while most students weren’t in session?
GA: Yeah, Absolutely! I think it just connected this national and global even, community of people who care so much about the school. I mean if you read like what alum’s have written about this issue, like, not at my university basically, and they have been graduated for decades and they still care that much. And I think, it helped people feel more connected and help people like me, who couldn’t be present feel like they were doing something and they were still a part of this community. Yeah, so, sometimes I get down on technology, but I was pretty grateful for all of what all of the stuff that happened this summer.
AM: Right, so when you say sometimes you get down on technology what do you mean by that?
GA: I mean, I just think that it’s, you know, making our culture overstimulated and distracted, and all of that. You know, I think it’s a lesson learned on my part, like, whatever I have an Iphone and a computer, it’s not like I abstain from using technology, but I guess this was a lesson learned of the power of good it can have for our culture.
AM: Well, what are the primary reasons you think that the situation happened between the president and the board of visitors? Do you know any of the main issues or even how Teresa Sullivan may be feeling?
GA: Yeah, If only I knew.