Four years ago, almost to the (very rainy) day, I walked down the Lawn with my mom. I remember peeking through every open door, turning away before I could make awkward eye contact with any of the occupants.
Back then, I could only guess what those students had done to earn their rooms and what was going on inside of my mom’s head on our third tour of UVA. You see, I fell in love with UVA’s prestige and breathtaking fall leaves, but my mom was not so easily sold. I dragged her to Charlottesville over and over (and over) again, trying to prove to myself more than to her that I belonged here. And on each visit, a less than friendly interaction with a White student, a White tour guide, a White alum, reminded both me and my mom that I was not going to be welcomed with open arms.
Nineteen West is not a room that I won, but a space I am reclaiming.
Four weeks ago, almost to the day, my mom helped me move into my room on the Lawn. She reminded me of the way I used to look with admiration inside these rooms, asking if I could ever do enough—if I could ever be enough—to follow in their footsteps. It is clear to me now that living on the Lawn is not about the tangible things I do, but about the person I am. Nineteen West is not a room that I won, but a space I am reclaiming.
To be completely honest, living on the Lawn and intentionally inhabiting a space that was never intended for me has been quite the painful adjustment. I spent the entirety of my first week tossing and turning, repeatedly waking up in the morning knowing I didn’t manage even an ounce of genuine rest. I listened to the original wooden floorboards creak, felt them shift slightly beneath my feet, remembered my ancestors who laid them.
I filled the room with pieces of myself—my band posters, my books, my plants, my friends— but I just could not bring myself to call the space “mine.” I was suffocating under the weight of “my” room’s history. An eerie feeling, one I just could not shake, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end each time I crossed the threshold.
And somewhere between the smell of burning sage and the silent mantra—release all that is stagnant and stuck, fill my home with positivity and light—echoing in my head, I found peace.
So, naturally, I carried out the next logical step—I ordered some sage on Amazon, lit it, and let the smoke float up, into every corner of the 200-year-old brick box I occupy. And somewhere between the smell of burning sage and the silent mantra—release all that is stagnant and stuck, fill my home with positivity and light—echoing in my head, I found peace.
While I have been getting much better sleep, I am not naive enough to assume that living on Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn will not be an ongoing adjustment, characterized by complex emotions and messy conversations.
Yet, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that one day I will be able to call Nineteen West Lawn my home without hesitancy. I am hopeful that Black high schoolers walking through the Lawn on a rainy day with their skeptical parents will peer through my door and be able to envision their future selves in my place. Most of all, I am hopeful that I will never stop feeling the weight of our history.
We exist in a community defined by tradition. Brick by brick, our Jeffersonian “Goodnights”, our whispering walls, and our tendency to call the Rotunda “his” rather than ours, reinforce the possessive grip Jefferson’s legacy has on this University. But, traditions reinvent themselves all the time and so do physical spaces—depending on their inhabitants.
One tradition I recently became a part of empowers Black Lawnies to don Black bathrobes on our trips to and from the outdoor restrooms. Another tradition provides us with the option to have the words, “Jefferson’s Nightmare,” embroidered on these robes.
Here, as an inhabitant of this figurative space, I would like to propose a new way of thinking—we are not manifestations of Jefferson’s worst nightmares, but the fulfillment of our ancestors' wildest dreams.
I would carry the weight of the world again and again to embody their hopes.