by Andrew Shurtleff
M. Davis is the director of the Residence Life program.
Angela M. Davis: This is my
By Anne Bromley
M. Davis joined the English
department faculty in 1975, began working for the Residence
Life program three years later and now directs it. A graduate
of Lincoln and Cornell universities, she also teaches a class
on African-American women writers. In this interview as part of
Inside UVAs Voices of Diversity series, she
reflects on diversity issues at the University over the past 28
What made you want to come here and stay here?
U.Va. was the type of place I needed to be, because white schools
were starting to recruit women and African-American students.
They needed to have faculty who looked like them, who had their
three years, though, I was making plans to leave, but John Casteen
[dean of admission then, U.Va.s president now] suggested
I talk to Robert Canevari [former dean of students]. Robert said,
Theres a need for you here. Think about applying for
this assistant dean position. So I applied for the job,
I got it and Ive been here ever since.
What kind of diversity efforts have you been involved in?
One of the things Robert wanted me to do was to diversify the
Residence Life program. Ive always tried to incorporate
all perspectives [in residence staff training]. I tell my students
of color, This is your university, you have to act like
it, you have to be active, to be engaged.
building blocks for me
[were] in 1978, I directed and produced
the first African-American play in Culbreth Theatre, for
colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is
enuf. For many years, I did diversity workshops with faculty,
bringing panels of students from their department to talk to them.
I started Culturefest in 1985 [part of Parents Weekend]. I helped
organize the University-wide apartheid simulation in 1990.
What kind of diversity issues come up in the residence halls?
In resident staff training, we give them hypothetical scenarios
on issues like alcohol and substance abuse, suicide and mental
health, and diversity. Theyll watch the senior staff role-play,
say, someone whos been sexually assaulted and how you deal
with that. One of the typical problems we see is someone will
say, My roommate has a Confederate flag on the wall.
We tell them to ask questions about it. If you get an honest answer,
you can give an honest response. It gets the people talking.
Are students different these days in their experience of diversity?
Yes. Students are coming out of more diverse experiences, so they
expect that here, and thats appropriate.
I see as the next big hurdle, unfortunately, is still the privileged
white students and Im not criticizing. Its
because they havent had to go through a minority-perspective
lens in which to see the world. But theyre going to have
to soon, because the world is much more diverse than this place.