Sept. 12-25, 2003
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Casteen: Focus on student experience
Ovarian cancer, ADHD projects among FEST winners
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New welcome mat rolled out for graduate students

Casteen appoints three new vice provosts
Gomez sees blend of knowledge as key
Students’ voices add drama to diversity program
Valerie Gregory: Networking builds diversity
A new model: Architecture School combines disciplines
Book, program get children off to a great start in school
‘Roads Taken’ exhibit: 20th-century prints and drawings from museum’s collection
Tuesday Evening Concert Series opens season
Cyclist pushes her limits

Students’ voices add drama to diversity program

By Charlotte Crystal

The spotlight fell first upon Anna McCrerey, a pretty, blond-haired woman who says she never leaves the house without putting on her mascara and likes to shop for clothes. She doesn’t fit the stereotype of a tough lesbian who sports a crew cut and dresses in T-shirts and jeans.

“It’s the heterosexual assumptions I find most difficult and challenging at U.Va.,” said McCrerey, a fourth-year student in religious studies and women’s studies. “I can’t always speak up.”

The difficulty of always speaking up, and the need for sensitivity and tolerance from others, were among the common threads that bound the student and faculty speakers who shared their experiences in “Different Voices, Common Threads.” The program, which examines issues of diversity, was offered for the first time this year as part of the first-year students’ orientation to the University. Small group discussions followed the presentations on Aug. 26.

The program was developed by the Office of the Dean of Students in response to two racial incidents that occurred at U.Va. during the past school year. One involved a Halloween costume party at a fraternity last fall when three white students dressed in blackface. The second occurred in February, when Daisy Lundy, a student of Korean and African-American heritage who was then a candidate for president of the Student Council, reported being the victim of a racially motivated attack on Grounds.

The goals of the program were five-fold, according to Tabitha Enoch, director of the Office of Orientation and New Student Programs and chair of the organizing committee. They included ensuring that first-year students: gain a broad understanding of the meaning of diversity; recognize that an appreciation of diversity is important in developing a cohesive community; learn to respect others who are different; understand key aspects of University and Virginia history as they relate to diversity today; and expand their comfort zones, identify needed changes at U.Va. and take steps to make the needed changes.

The program opened with a slide show illustrating U.Va. and Virginia history narrated by Jacintha Tabalujan, a third-year student in architecture, and Spanish professor David Gies.

The students, most of whom were born only 18 years ago, in 1985, watched silently as history unfolded before them in the darkened hall. The chronology ranged from the first U.Va. class in 1825, which consisted of 40 students, all white males, to the establishment of the Office of Afro-American [now African-American] Affairs and the hiring of two new assistant deans in 1998-99 to help with Asian and Hispanic affairs.

After the slide show, the speakers representing the “different voices” took their seats on the stage, which was bathed in darkness. One by one, the speakers stood and were captured in a spotlight.

One of the most dramatic presentations came when Justin Steele, a fourth-year student in chemical engineering, stood and said: “F—k you, n——r.” There was shocked silence and a nervous titter in the audience as he paused, then explained that a carload of kids had pulled up and hurled that expletive at him in his second year as he walked home late one night after studying in the library for exams.

“How would you feel?” he asked the audience. “How would you react?”

Steele, whose mother is white and whose father is black, quoted Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in urging the students to work for racial justice.

Another student, Rebeen Pasha, a fourth-year student in interdisciplinary studies focusing on international health policy, grew up in northern Iraq and saw his father murdered before his eyes.

Pasha helped organize “Children of War,” a powerful presentation by U.Va. students who had experienced war firsthand. The success of that initiative inspired Pasha to seek other areas where he thought he could make a contribution. “We have a responsibility to educate each other and learn from each other and a responsibility to carry on this tradition.”


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