UVA Politics: “The Grim,” I Gripe

UVA Politics: “The Grim,” I Gripe

Kim Salac
Media Staff

This piece has been in edits and in and out of three cycles since October of 2021. Reader, I tell you this because our fantastic editing team has been unsure of how to frame this piece, and some kind hearts have been fearful for a bad reaction. We have wondered how to frame my ethos, which is that I am the President of The Class of 2022. My active term started in March of 2021 and will end after our first reunion, at which time I will no longer actively be holding meetings and leading the class. That’s a six year active term, and while I am not a senator, the things I have learned as a student leader over the past four years mean something, and here is that something I’ve got.

“Maybe I’m biased because I don’t like him.” “Maybe I’m also biased, but he speaks awfully.” Two white men said this in one of my politics classes last semester about a Black man. We were evaluating a speech he had given, as we had been doing all class. What got me was that the speaker we were evaluating spoke as the white man had before him, but the differences were their political parties and their skin colors. I tried not to think too much of it, but another woman came up to me after class and said, “Chloe, did you feel like they were being a little aggressive?” Yeah, aggressive is the word.

Actually, let’s list the things, in no particular order, that are absolutely awful about the grand old University of Virginia. And before people start yelling at me to just leave since I hate it so much, hear me out: no. 1. The Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, EOCR for short (maybe we should rename it the Scare Students Out of Making Reports and Make Everything So Incredibly Complicated for Students Who Are Already In Distress Office). 2. Our Administration (No, I’m not confident the BOV will get better under Youngkin, but the new student member is incredibly kind and intelligent, so, there’s hope). 3. The extreme uses of student leaders, to the point that I spent half my day today working on things that someone in the President’s Office would probably get paid $30 an hour to do. My payment? Zilch, but I did not run for president of my class and win for money, so, any naysayers have really got me there. Now, I worked incredibly hard to get to UVA, and I have spent every moment of my time trying my damndest to make it better, so I have earned the right to write this piece.  

UVA lets students claim I shouldn’t have rights. Let me explain: there is a group on Grounds that actively works to suppress the voices of women—and they are allowed to fight for this belief on public university grounds. Why? Free speech. And don’t get me wrong, free speech is great, and I’m not a politics major for just any old reason, but UVA lets these people hand out flyers in front of Jefferson’s statue, lets them step in my path when I’m just on my way to grab lunch. I am not out of place for thinking that is too much. But why else does UVA support these groups for any reason other than free speech?

The foundations of UVA were built by enslaved peoples, women were not allowed to enroll in an officially co-ed class at the University until 1970—the same year my mom was born—and within the last decade, Monticello has just begun to recognize the atrocities Jefferson committed on Sally Hemmings. The people that allowed all of the aforementioned things to happen are the same ones teaching students, perpetuating this idea of hierarchy based on sex, and race, and class. So, when you still have sexist professors, and racist professors, and classist professors, what makes anyone think that the Grounds we walk everyday would be free of those same things?

And then we have Jim Ryan receiving a raise and a contract extension from the Board of Visitors for his ‘great work.’ Yes, Jim works hard. Anyone can see that. But who he works hard for is a question I want students to start asking more often—and maybe to start looking past the nice photographs of his morning runs with students and look into his actual plans. For example, take a look at his latest “Great and Good” 2030 Plan. Shouldn’t there be more focus on how Ryan’s actions do or do not align with this plan?

In fact, let’s hop on that discussion for a moment. Jim parades around us ‘student leaders’ like he’s doing something for us. Many students unaffectionately refer to him as “Jimmy,” myself included, because of our frustrations with his, at times, seemingly lifeless reactions to our needs. At a reception on September 28, 2021, he said he wanted us all to co-lead. Co-lead us where, exactly, Jim? My friends couldn’t put their 122 Things To Do Before Graduation List on their Lawn Room doors, a long held tradition, until late last Fall because UVA donors were pulling money over a student writing “Fuck UVA” on their door which pushed UVA to implement a new rule where students could only put signage within a certain sectioned off area on their door.  

And what I really, really want to scream my head off about is UVA’s lack of protection for students. Let’s think back to that racist and sexist professor that I did not report because I was scared out of it. How exactly was I scared out of it? The EOCR representative I met with wanted to sit myself and the other student down with the professor to have a “conversation.” My professor would also know that I reported them and what I reported them for, while I was still enrolled in the class and receiving a grade for it. Imagine 19-year-old-me’s fear when thoughts of graduate school and law school started popping up. It was too difficult. The office was too sterile, its white walls too hospital-like. And so I left.  

I know of two sexual and physical assaults that happened on Grounds in the last few months that UVA knows about, and, while this piece was in edits, I learned of another through a text from one of my friends. The survivor had no idea what resources she had, and it made me angry. Not at her, but at the fact that UVA, a ‘first-rate’ school does such a ‘second-rate’ job at teaching students what to do when you or a friend has been raped or assaulted. I sent every resource I know of, of course, but the resources should be seen in every dorm, library, and academic building and spaces. But they’re not. It is still students protecting students, and with a lack of proper awareness efforts, violent students are indirectly protected by UVA.

UVA has their student leaders coming up with every fantastic new idea, fixing every issue, fundraising for each other and sucking our own life forces dry to try and keep each other afloat—but yes, let’s give Jim Ryan a raise for being a great fundraiser for the university and running every Thursday morning. I won’t lie, the running pictures are feel-good and that’s a great way to connect with students, but the disconnect between happily running in the wee hours of the morning while students are raped just hours before, left with little to no idea how to report or go on is frightening and sickening and saddening.

I also won’t take the point of “Well, meet with them and talk it out.” I have. Over and over again, I have. I met with the EOCR in December to discuss my concerns around reporting sexual and physical harassment and assault. Mind you, this meeting happened after they had emailed me because they heard I knew about sexual assaults on Grounds—this is still weird to me but you can take that as you may. I discussed with the EOCR representative that students were confused about reporting and simply did not know what to do because their resources were long winded and, in a crisis, no one is going to have the ability to read them. I felt good about that conversation. Until I didn’t. Not 30 minutes after that meeting I got an email from the same EOCR representative I met with that was filled with ‘Well, actually’s.’ It was to the gist of ‘Well, I know I said you can do anonymous reports but we actually can’t string any of them together unless you want to put your full name down and do more paperwork.’ So don’t ask me to meet with more people. They aren’t listening, or they are but know nothing will change, so they’ll just say things are good and then send you an email afterward, telling you they’re actually not.

Student self governance is operating how one would expect it to, frankly. That is, corruptly. Being on the voting committee for the new University Board of Elections (UBE) Chair and Vice Chairs caused me more stress than it should have last fall. For one, the growing email chain that needed to only be less than five emails and turned into eight, and ten, and so on. Add in threats from student leaders to bring in lawyers with the implication that other student leaders did not understand the gravity of their vote. Plus, receiving random phone calls slightly crushed my soul. In those phone calls, I had my identity questioned for the umpteenth time during my time at UVA, and I had my competency in being president questioned, too. The bright side, though, was that it was another student leader on the committee that kept my faith alive, and we pushed through. The vice chairs were approved, which pushed forth the petition, which pushed forth the students body’s vote, and now Honor can no longer expel students—specifically, they can’t expel students of color at a larger rate than they do white students. Don’t believe that they were racist? Go ahead and take a look at the Honor Bicentennial Report, Section 8.

And with all of this in mind, I don’t want to be paraded around anymore. My friends don’t want to be paraded around anymore. If UVA does not want to protect women, women will protect each other. If UVA wants to let racism permeate their classes, I’ll write about it. If Jim wants to invite us to another dinner where he thanks us for our hard work with no changes to the EOCR office or a plan to alleviate the amount of work The Univeristy puts on student leaders, well, I might be the one saying “Fuck UVA” aloud.
What I know, as a student, as president of the Class of 2022, as someone who loves so many people here—is that I, and the students I know, will continue to fight and grapple and gasp for air here. I do it because I do, in fact, love UVA. Deeply, and truly. I love the women who have affirmed my identity, I love the professors who breathe joy and wonder into every new reading and idea. I love sitting outside the Women’s Center, eating my lunch, and watching my friends stroll up with smiles. I love learning and trying and exploring, and I love fighting for what and who I love the most. Fuck UVA, Love UVA—they mean the same thing, if you ask me.