Dr. Vivian Pinn (Med ’67) says she will never forget her first day of medical school—when she sat in the back of her class and waited for another woman or person of color to arrive. “I thought they were late,” Pinn recalls, “but then the dean called roll and everybody was there. That was a shock. I saw it was just me.”
After finishing some introductory comments, the dean instructed the students to break into groups of four for anatomy lab. Pinn was terrified. She doubted that anybody would want to team with her.
“I was near the front door, and I thought maybe I should just give up and go home,” she says.
Just at that moment, Pinn was approached by two classmates, who asked if she wanted to be their partner.
“That really started my integration and acceptance into the class,” Pinn says. “Sometimes a really small gesture like that can make a difference in someone’s life.”
It helped propel Pinn—the sole female and minority member in the UVA School of Medicine’s Class of 1967—to an illustrious career at both Tufts Medical School and at Howard University College of Medicine, where she became the first African-American woman to chair Howard University’s Department of Pathology.
In 2005, Pinn became the first African-American woman to give UVA’s commencement address, and in 2010 the School of Medicine named one of its advisory colleges for medical students after her.
In September, the Board of Visitors approved the renaming of Jordan Hall in Pinn’s honor.
“It was a shock to my system,” says Pinn. “It’s humbling.”
Previously named for the former medical school dean Harvey Jordan, the building has been home to the School of Medicine since 1972. Jordan was prominent in the eugenics movement, but UVA Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Richard Shannon says that wasn’t an overriding factor in the renaming.
“For us, it was more about looking ahead to the future of the School of Medicine as we get ready to celebrate UVA’s bicentennial,” says Shannon in an email, “and identifying someone who embodies the attributes that students in the School of Medicine both today and in the future aspire to emulate.”