The University’s Academical Village attracts countless visitors, many of whom have the same question for students after peeking into their austere Lawn rooms: “So, where do you shower?” While a Lawn resident’s outdoor walk to the bathrooms may seem terribly inconvenient to passersby, Lawnies of today appear to have few qualms about the process. “It’s just not a big deal,” says Blaire Hawkins (Col ’09). Given that Lawn rooms date back to the early 19th century, “there are some things that you have to get used to,” adds Hawkins.
For most Lawn residents, the honor of calling Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn home outweighs a short walk to the showers. “Because most of our experience living on the Lawn is so positive, [the bathroom situation] does not even put a dent in what we get out of it,” says Christian West (Col ’09), head resident of the Lawn.
Besides a few short hikes to the bathrooms, a day in the life of a typical Lawnie involves frequent interactions with the public. “I absolutely love talking to tourists, especially when the weather is nice and our doors are open,” Vinu Ilakkuvan (Engr ’09) says. “They’ll just poke their heads in and ask us questions.”
Many Lawnies even leave their doors open while they run to the bathroom. Upon returning, it’s not uncommon to find that a curious family has wandered into one of their rooms. After this happened to Christina Polenta (Com ’09), she says, “The best part was that we had a 20-minute conversation while I was still in my robe, which was pretty awkward.”
Despite the many encounters with University tourists, “A day in the life of the typical Lawnie is really similar to a day in the life of a typical UVA student,” Evelyn Hall (Col ’09) says. “The only difference is that you feel a desire to have your Lawn room open all the time.”
Whether a tourist stops by to chat, a dog runs in or a squirrel oversteps its boundaries, life on the Lawn is nothing short of dynamic. “It is cool to watch UVA wake up in the morning,” Hawkins says. Once a Lawn resident opens his or her door, UVA comes right in.
“Because the Lawn has become the epicenter of the University, you feel like you are constantly involved and invested in the activities of the University,” Hall says. Those activities can range from people playing bocce outside to streakers sprinting down the Lawn, says Hall.
Some guests and their activities are less welcome than others. Such is the case with a certain squirrel, whom West calls the Lawn’s 55th resident this year. Named “Dr. Nibblybits” by Lawn resident Bowman Dickson (Col ’09), this squirrel has been known to wreak some havoc. After accidentally leaving the flue to her fireplace open one weekend, Hawkins returned to find that a squirrel had consumed apples, Fig Newtons and chewed at the wooden window frame. No evidence conclusively linked Dr. Nibblybits to the crime, but he’s at the top of the list of potential perpetrators. “There’s kind of a war going on, I guess,” says Hawkins. “I was just lucky he didn’t try to eat my bed.”
What remains unharmed by marauding squirrels are the traditions and history attached to each room. Some current Lawnies live in rooms once occupied by their parents. Living in her mother’s (Audrey Arrowood Hawkins, Col ’76) old room, Hawkins says, feels really special for her family. Though life on the Lawn has certainly changed, Lawn resident David Newsome (Col ’09) says it’s fun to be able to share this experience with his father, Kenneth Newsome (Com ’81, GSBA ’86).
Hall, who lives in her father’s (Curtis Hall, Col ’78) old room, says, “We lived very different lives at the University of Virginia, my dad and I—it’s nice to have this bond.”
Even those who are not related to a former resident of their room still maintain a connection to the room’s history. “When you start living in a room, you join a family, and that includes all the residents who have lived in your room before,” Polenta says. “Their stories become your stories.”
Another strong Lawn tradition is streaking, which, according to Lawn resident Zach Rowen (Col ’09), is “almost too normal” an occurrence. Some Lawnies have been known to spotlight, high-five and playfully chase streakers in a gorilla costume. “Part of the duty of having a Lawn room is to terrorize the streakers, and by terrorize, I mean make it fun for them,” says Bowman Dickson, a proud wearer of the gorilla costume.
Whether Lawnies are guarding their rooms from curious squirrels, running alongside streakers or just spending time together, the Lawn community is undoubtedly a special one.
“At the end of the day, it becomes a family,” Polenta says.