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09 Aug 2017
Audio Overview

Oral History Interview of Susan Gravatt, third year student at UVA October 4th 2012 by Albert Tabackman at UVA as part of the Course MDST 3558 Documenting UVa's Future; The Ouster and Rehiring Of President Teresa Sullivan

 

 

 

Albert.  I need to thank you for agreeing to partake in this project of documenting what happened this summer at the University of Virginia. We are at the University of Virginia, this is Albert Tabackman recording an

interview and it is October 4th 2012. And I am speaking with, and I will have her introduce herself and spell her name. #00:00:54.7#

 

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Susan. I am Susan Gravatt  #00:01:02.9#

 

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Albert. Susan, where do you live, or where are you from? #00:01:06.1#

 

Susan. I have pretty much lived my whole life where I was born, which is in Buena Vista Virginia, Lexington ?  born there, it's like 7 miles from home for me.So I grew up actually living in Buena Vista. There for ever. #00:01:26.1#

 

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Albert. Buena Vista is not far from Charlottesville. #00:01:26.1#

 

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Susan. No. #00:01:29.6#

 

Albert. How did you get to Charlottesville. And what is your relationship to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia? #00:01:31.9#

 

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Susan. So, I'm currently a third year Media Studies major at UVA.  And I guess I always kind of wanted to go here, for a couple of different reasons.  So, when I was in  middle school the summer before seventh grade eighth grade and then in high school, ninth and tenth I attended UVA's summer enrichment program  as A.P. because I guess my parents sent me here because you got opportunity, I come from a small school, so we don't really have any real programs like that, and there are aren't any colleges near me There are  very few major things near me. Very much a small town. So from a young age I obsessed with UVA,I loved coming here in the summer I thought it was great and then when I got olderI became more serious because I was looking at the school because maybe as a contender for college and I knew that it was pretty prestigious.  I had family members an aunt, an uncle,the my dad feel like someone, another uncle all came here. And so I kind of had a legacy going for us. So I came loved it, didn't want to break that so... It's been good stuff ever since.  #00:02:58.7#

 

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Albert. So, this summer in June how did you find out about what happened  with the resignation of President Sullivan? #00:03:11.3#

 

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Susan.  Well. I was actually at a church function in June, the day that the initial e-mail came out. And Just enjoying lunch, it was a typical day, whatever, and all of sudden someone sends me a text message, it was actually my boy friend, saying that he had, it didn't really say too much actually just that "oh Teresa Sullivan isn't the President anymore." I was like wait what and so I am not that into the twenty first century, I guess, I don't have a smart phone so I couldn't immediately look up, like what all was he talking about So it wasn't till about an hour or two later that I even first processed what he had said and second did so by reading the e-mail that we'd been sent from Helen Dragas.  Um.. ya it was from Dragas to begin with.  So I read it and I, like so many other people said I thought it was very interestingly worded to the point of being awkward and a little mysterious.  "philosophical differences of opinion". I don't really know what that means and like in real life terms it seemed like jargon  that would sound good in an e-mail, but ultimately was more confusing and so I guess there was my initial response though was what, where did this come from. Like I had just finished my second year at UVA and Teresa Sullivan had been the only president that I knew. So for her to just suddenly be gone with no warning or, I mean it was just bizarre.   Very atypical.  #00:05:00.5#

 

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Albert. How did you feel when you got  #00:05:08.3#

 

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Susan. Well, I'm a pretty inquisitive person I guess, so my natural response was to kind of like check out you know any context I could find for this, so I immediately I went to Facebook to see what other people at UVA were saying, since the school year had ended we were all broken up It was like how else am I gonna really talk to other people about this? And so I guess I gave a lot of my reaction was probably based off of other people's  because I didn't really know what to think.  And even like the day "of" there were already, I remember one girl, her Facebook status had sixty likes on it because it said "well that was an awkward email at UVA" which it was it was very odd and so in some ways  it like made me feel better when I looked at all these other people who were also in the dark. But at the same time I was like how come nobody knows about this, like there's no precedent, no warning, like why? So from that point onI tried to just always take it a step further in what I knew, and I would read lots of articles that people posted like, someone would sayI'm so so mad with UVA for doing this, or I can't believe that , whatever, and they would post a link and were a lot of people in the student body  may not have pursued that I was like always,"wait theres a new article, I should read it" even though it may have been 70% of what I had just read there is always like the little extra bit that will maybe make this make sense. Because it just did not make sense to me. #00:06:56.5#

 

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Albert.  So you kept abreast #00:06:58.8#

 

Susan. Uh hum #00:07:00.1#

 

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Albert. And did you get involved in any of the other things that were going on here? #00:07:03.7#

 

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Susan. Like rallies and?  So it wasn't really intentional but I had already been planning a trip to Charlottesville. I think what, we received the e-mail June 10th?, was the 10th or 9th, I was coming here around the 15th or 16th anyways, my apartment had opened up and no-one else was there yet I was just wanted to break in move in some things, whatever and so, after that initial e-mailI was pretty excited to be he because I felt like you know, not a lot of people  would, at least student body wise. not a lot of people would be here but it was important that somebody was or a couple of somebodies were and so I was excited to see what UVA atmosphere would be like.  Cause it's very different in the summer.  Um, so when I got here um, like I said it was around the 15th or 16th-ish,  pretty much every day I remember waking up and I would check like my e-mail and there would always be new ones. And most of them were just as confusing as the initial one but me being me I kept reading them,  hoping for something and um, and a slew of emails from the official voices of UVA there were also ones from professors and faculty and people that weren't necessarily spokesmen for the school, and they would say like "oh, there's a rally happening today and you guys should go", or write, I mean I heard I read things like "write a letter to Bob McDonnell", like do something go out there. Go out there No I never addressed anything to Bob McDonnell.  But I did go to 2 of the rallies, I was definitely very proud of my school 'cause I mean, there aren't a lot of people here but  there definitely was  a pretty solid student representation too. And you could tell that the people that were there really wanted to be there because they were so intrigued by everything.  So,  #00:09:04.1#

 

Albert. You're a Media Studies student, so did your department speak to you? #00:09:16.2#

 

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Susan.  Um, I don't think that the department itself spoke to us,  #00:09:23.2#

 

Albert. Siva #00:09:23.2#

 

Susan. Siva did. And so he um, I think, (sigh) I wished looked at my e-mails ? before this In the midst of all of this he was a big voice for UVA which  was awesome, but it kind of made me nervous for him. Any professor who talks, speaks out like that, you never know. People are angry.  People are crazy.  Who knows were that will lead.  Um, but he alway had really pretty strong opinions about that were put out various web sites. news feeds, whatever, and so I think he did some kind of e-mail saying like it was pretty generic that something was happening, at UVA but but he would forward us what he had written and other people I think I read it from multiple email, other departments forwarded  that kind of stuff on.  Um, and I remember seeing on Facebook as well, people were "yah, Siva's the man!  cause look at all that stuff he's saying,. Take it Board"  That kind of reaction from students. But um. Also on that same note as Siva, one of the days I was here, I actually woke up one morning to a text message from my aunt, who also went to UVA,  and here name is Susan as well, well humm, wonder how that all worked out, but anyways so she and I stay in communication a lot via technologies , she's not too close and she had forwarded me a picture message that she had taken of a, like a still shot over a TV screen. And it was on MSNBC, and she said "do you know this guy?"  And it was Siva. Like frozen in motion. and i was like that's my advisor and actuallyI do know that guy, and he was my professor in the spring. Um, so it was really interesting that, I mean yes she's an alum, but she's not, I don't think she really comes back here a ton, yet she was reading the same things I was reading, was trying to figure out what was going on and communicating that with me. So that was cool. #00:11:34.8#

 

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Albert. What was her thoughts about it? Did she have any, did she  express anything to you about what she thought was the reasoning or the outcome should be or ? #00:12:04.1#

 

Susan. I believe she was also back home at about the time this was happened.  My grandmother lives near me, which is her mother, so she comes for visits ever month or two. And, she was there at one point over the summer and we talked about it. And she like the rest of my family, say it like a, I don't know, a big dent in UVA's reputation for at least a little while.   How long that kind of tainted image would last. At the point from then till now remains to be seen. But she definitely thought that it seemed, it seemed sketchy. The way it was done, the way that students were informed about it, uh.  It just did not feel right, the whole thing.  So, se just echoed that really.   #00:12:43.4#

 

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Albert.  Did she take any actions? #00:12:45.2#

 

Susan. I don't think that she #00:12:50.3#

 

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Albert. Since you have these alum family... #00:12:53.5#

 

Susan. I don't think that she,  its not like she is suddenly giving lots of money then she stops doing that for UVA. I don't think she had any overwhelming big response, but  it was something that she kept up with too. Which I think the average UVA alum, for someone that enjoy coming here a lot of them probably did the same things. So, just because it's weird to think that you attended a school back in the day, had a marriage, had a good time, you know people who are there now, and then like, what is going on with that place?  You know?  Um, How, but the only way you can connect with it is by keeping up with it. By watching MSNBC, reading Siva's articles and that kind of thing. I think it's hard, it hard for an alum to feel really like part of the experience even though it still matters to you because it's you alma mater. So what do you do?  #00:13:48.3#

 

Albert. So. You attended two rallies. #00:13:52.2#

 

Susan. Uh ha #00:13:52.2#

 

Albert. Um. Which ones were they and what was the outcome of that for you? #00:14:01.7#

 

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Susan. Um..So, the first one that I attended, ahh, I went to the one that was the silent rally, which is a weird word. I think it might have been called the Vigil. And for the bulk of that, um the bulk of that time, it was pretty because it was silent it was a somber tone over everything and I remember that, ummm, I believe this one happened before the other rally I attended, I think it was the Vigil,  then there was a third one, where there were more speakers and whatnot, but um, for the Vigil itself I just remember, you know, that everyone seemed low key until, I forget her name but, I believe she is a drama professor #00:14:51.9#

 

Albert. Gwyneth #00:14:51.9#

 

Susan. Gwyneth. Yes that's her name She spoke at the end of things just to say ok hey we're done with this event, officially, but linger as long as you want, whatever.  And she gave some kind of comments about I think this was around maybe the same day or a day or two after, um, Zeithaml had been deemed the interim president. And so she mentioned his name in passing, it wasn't, she didn't make any kind of attack on him, but I remember someone in the crowd was very, I mean honestly it seemed, it didn't seem warranted but someone said something like kind of rude about him. Someone flipped out, I don't know who it was, but it was like , "get him out of there", and so, maybe it was you, I don't know. Someone was very angry about him, I know that much.  And so, I was like feel like this guy is between a rock and a hard place. Like he really can't win, so by that point I knew I didn't want to be pointing fingers and being like oh he planned this all along, like he wanted to be president. I don't want to assume something like that cause you know it didn't seem like there was a lot of evidence to point to that.  And so I was surprised that someone did react that way.  And I remember because of that, I guess I was sort of thinking about this on and off throughout that rally, um, and when I first found out that Zeithaml was the, ah, new or temporary president because I know his son. I'm not super close with him or best friends or anything, but, I definitely met him on multiple occasions, um and so I kept thinking, oh wow, I just, I hate that, this is someone's dad. Like this is a family member.  This isn't just some robot of UVA, ya know.  He's a real person. And so saying things about him like oh you're just like stepping on so many toes and like very personal ways.  Because I remember after the rally, um, or vigil, I like walked around the crowd just to see how many people were there and I was on my way out when I saw that his son was in the back of the crowd. And, uh,  I mean he's a pretty tall boy, he sort of stands out in a group because of his height and also he because he just stood there.  Like the Vigil was officially over and most people were breaking up,  and he didn't move.  It was like he was just kind of rooted there. and so, part of me would have loved to know what he was thinking  at that moment, but part of me wouldn't have  because I felt like he, and I've heard since, that he received like personal threats, because of this, and I'm, like what does he have to do with anything?  Um, but yah, I walked away from him which to this day I still feel kind of guilty about because I feel like I should have said something but I didn't know.  What do you say, what do you say to a person in that situation.  Um, and so I went and sat on the, along the Lawn next to some  of the Lawn rooms, I think in front of one of the Pavilions. And I was just kind of like crowd watching I guess,and seeing how like the people that were still there and what they were doing whatever and I was getting ready to go somewhere else, waiting for someone to meet me, and so I think I probably sat on some of  steps for like a good ten minutes before his son moved an inch, I mean he was just stuck. And no one was really talking to him. I assume most of the people in that crowd were probably, in general they were probably Charlottesville people, and like some UVA community, but not a ton of students. So it's not like he came with anybody. He didn't really have anyone to be with. No one knew who he was but I'll just never forget how weird it was to see him out there.  I wanted to do something for him, but I didn't know, I didn't know what that would be.  #00:18:55.0#

 

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Albert. And your other rally was? #00:18:55.0#

 

Susan. Well the other one that I went to, ah, I think I stayed for about thirty minutes ?? but there were multiple speakers at the beginning of it. For the part that I was there at least. And, um, I want to say that who ever introduced, I forget, at the time names like George Cohen, still didn't mean a lot to me I didn't know who they were so I don't remember who was like necessarily behind the rally, but I know that they said, hey we have a lot of professors here and people higher up in UVA. And it was like the idea was that there was like one person almost from every department which I'm sure is not totally true but the had a good representation of faculty.  And a lot of it really echoed everything that I'd read up to that point about bringing Sullivan back.  And that's what most of the speakers said. And some of them were kind of like  not crazy but more rebellious that others and saying things like how Dragas and what she did was wrong, etc.But the person that stood out to me most was  Professor Elzinga. I believe I've never actually taken his class but I think he's an Econ professor  um, and from what I've heard from other people and from what I got out of him from that rally he's very um, he's a very like giving person interested in the people that he meets, so he teaches Econ which is a huge class , it's not like twenty people, I think his classes are sometimes between 200 and 400 people?  And I've heard that um, every, like before every start of semester he goes through the roster and looks at all the names and all the faces until he knows them.  And I'm so impressed by somebody who could do that and the reason that I know it's true for the most part that he does it is that I've had friends say "oh I'm in his class and I went to talk to him at office hours, never seen him like face to face like in a personal conversation before and he was like ' oh hey little Susie, how are you?'" And people are like , you actually do know who I am in the sea of people. So, even though I don't  personally know him, I'm interested by what I've heard about him from other people and so at the rally I became a huge, like so many people love this guy and I'm on the bandwagon too, just because he was one of the only speakers that was trying to not like condemn anybody.  And say like yes Teresa Sullivan is like totally like an angel and in the right or that Helen Dragas is.  Or that either one of them is innately bad. And that was so, at the time, like those ideas were like the main stream ones, but instead he talked more about how, ok we've had this situation at UVA, we all know about it. There have been bad consequences. We know that too. And obviously people made mistakes. But we, as like the public, don't necessarily have access to all that, or even if we did we still might not be able to understand it because we're not in the shoes of Teresa Sullivan or Helen Dragas or any of the other members of the board and that people who are really the  most involved.  And so his whole message was just like, what ever comes out of this, let's not point fingers because obviously there's already been enough of that. That hasn't really done anyone any good. It's gotten us all be at this rally and riled up, but beyond that how helpful is that?  Is that going to make like UVA's reputation be any better?  And so he just kept emphasizing like when, I think at this point, I don't think Teresa Sullivan had been reinstated, um, but at any rate he just said that when these groups are all together again, let's not like demonize anyone because like it's going to take forgiveness for both of these groups to work together.  And so we need to be supportive of that, and not be so negative about everything. So I thought those  really refreshing  and interesting because I don't even think I thought about it that way, but after he said it I was that makes so much more sense then like all these very angry articles I'm reading. Even though they have really good points, I don't think that the way they're making them is helping anything.  So... #00:23:33.9#

 

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Albert, So. So the outcome of this whole experience, has it been resolved or is it continuing? #00:23:48.2#

 

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Susan. Um.  For me I guess, in part because I'm taking this course, but also because of it really is true I don't think it has ended. I think that there probably for years  to come there will be problems like the ones mentioned.  For the ousting, there will be problems like that for UVA and other public universities for years to come. And I think what this situation in particular, I guess from the beginning, like not the beginning of the whole thing, but from the first time that Teresa Sullivan, when she she was officially reinstated, I was very happy.  But then when the Board, every one on the board was also put back in their same places, I thought well it's so bizarre because, like somebody within this group of people proved that he or she or they, they're not compatible to work together. And maybe now they are? I don't know but the problem is that the public doesn't really have much access to that.  Like even you as someone who films the board meetings, like there's only so much you can get out of something they say in the open and public.  So just I fear that something like what did happen I don't think would happen again any time soon because it was so, it did put UVA in a bad light and I don't think that those people involved want to relive that. But you know it doesn't seem, it doesn't seem very wise almost that they haven't, I guess this is also what I wanted them to do, but the fact that they never really made like a  or haven't made very many open statements together, and shown that they have like somehow in someway resolved the conflict, that led to this crisis. Cause I think that is what it was, a crisis of some form.  And it's like how, how are we supposed to prevent this from happening again?  Or how are we supposed to help problem with money, since that seemed to be such an issue.  How much money we receive from the state, and the way that Dragas wanted to spend it and the rest of the board probably too, the way that she wanted, those people wanted to spend it versus Teresa Sullivan is different. And so I just feel like, no, the issue isn't over because I have yet to see enough evidence to think that those problems, fundamental problems, aren't still underneath the surface, just because they are not talked about doesn't mean that they're not still happening. So,  #00:26:24.8#

 

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Albert. Is there anything else that's left hanging here that you'd like to talk about? #00:26:31.9#

 

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Susan. I guess, the one more thing I will say is that I'm kind of,  not really disappointed seems like too strong a word but, I would have and still would like to see that more students were concerned about this. This whole situation like post reinstatement. And I  know that it's different for everyone . I'm just a big news junkie and want to know what's going on so and it's fine to not be that way but at the same timeI feel like as UVA students there is some kind of we should be invested in this situation to some extent personally.  And I think the fact that even within our class what we have 15 people taking it and, what there are 14-13,000 undergrads at UVA. And I mean, people in the community can take it, whatever. So there's definitely room for more people in our class, yet it is small. Which is nice for being in a class itself, when you get to know other people, but in terms of like what that says about how students care, if they care about it. I don't know if that's a good thing that the number is low. Cause like I just said, I still I never saw some like reconciliation between Dragas and Teresa Sullivan and then like the community ant large still seems like in some state of turmoil.  And so, other students though, that doesn't seem to be an issue. And so I just wonder why that is the case.  What would it take to make them more involved. Like, why haven't they, why aren't they more concerned. Like what if everything that  happened this past June, happened again next year because the problems were never resolved. Like who am I to say that that couldn't happen. I doubt it, but I just think that if there were, there was more active involvement on behalf of students and maybe even faculty too, that it would lessen the chances of that happening.  Because the Board and Teresa Sullivan would know that, like, we all really care and like want to see this through. And I just think the more people that are on the bandwagon from this the better the outcome will be, whoever does stay and doesn't stay at the school. At least the school will be in a good place. So, ya,  I just wish that more people spoke up about it, and I think that's at the same time we have had a couple of different events that, like Hillary Hurd, she's only done, what , one or two, things at UVA in terms of like, like forums?  #00:29:28.8#

 

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Albert. She did the Honor Forum and she did the Humanities Forum #00:29:29.8#

 

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Susan. So at least two. And I'll be honest I didn't attend those, but if I had like a more open schedule ya know. #00:29:40.2#

 

Albert. They are on-line #00:29:40.2#

 

Susan.  See, there you go, so I can still sort of attend them. #00:29:40.7#

 

Albert. I filmed them. #00:29:40.7#

 

Susan. OK. OK.  So I mean it's, it's great that like people like you are out there filming and that those events are even happening to be filmed, but at the same time they're not very well publicized and there doesn't seem to be like a tremendous pull from the UVA community or I don't know.  But people who are in the higher ups at UVA to compel students to attend those.  Like it doesn't seem like a big deal, but to me it should be. To at least, I just guess i just find not attending those because I'm in this class and I'm learning about these events through other people and what not but if I weren't in this I would still be reading something, I would hope about what is going on, just to know like where UVA is right now. And from that, know where we're going. Is it a good place, or a bad place? So, that's it. #00:30:33.6#

 

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Albert. Thank you very much for this and we'll get it transcribed. #00:30:38.8#

 

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Susan. Thanks