“My reasons for choosing UVA were not quite the usual ones for selecting a college,” laughs Sandra Lewis (Col ’72). When she finished high school, the College of Arts & Sciences did not accept women as undergraduates. Born and raised in Charlottesville, she met her husband-to-be, Lemuel Lewis (Col ’69, GSBA ’72), while he was a UVA student. She attended Fisk University in Nashville while Lemuel was at UVA. They married a year later and she enrolled at UVA in 1969 as a second-year “day student.” Lewis was later accepted as a regular third-year student in 1970 with the arrival of full coeducation.
“I did not encounter any resistance from anyone that I can recall,” says Lewis. “I found that the male students were for the most part very gentlemanly.” Her perspective might have been different had she been single, she says. Lewis lived in married student housing and socialized with other married couples.
Lewis describes a somewhat polarized campus. “I was at UVA when the Vietnam War was going on,” she says. “We had very traditional, necktie-wearing students and then we had the ’60s radicals. UVA had its set of protestors, so there was a little more going on than just your football games and frat parties. It was a campus that was in an uproar.
“The only negative experience was that even though there were African Americans attending at the time, I don’t think there was a lot of integration of the group into the campus life,” she says.
Thinking back, she describes graduation as an especially meaningful day. Her father worked as a pharmacy assistant in the UVA hospital and her grandfather had been a groundskeeper for the University. “Even though they were not part of the academic setting, they still had pride in the school,” she says. “My father had grown up seeing all-white football games and students, so him being there made it very special for me, knowing how he felt about his daughter graduating from a school where he was in the shadows.”
Of the many reasons a teenager might pick one university over another, Tanya Lewis (Col ’00) had a special one for attending UVA. Both of her parents were alumni. Her father was among the first African Americans to graduate from the Darden business school, and her mother, Sandra Lewis (Col ’72), was the first African-American woman to graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences. “I was very familiar with the campus and the history and the reputation,” says Lewis.
“It was enlightening,” she says of her time at the University. “I came from a world in which I was sheltered—I’m an only child, so I had to do the roommate thing.” She was also torn about her decision to major in Economics and follow in her father’s footsteps. “I wanted to be sure that I was creating my own future,” says Lewis, “and for the first time I had to make a major decision independently of what my parents saw for me. I knew that fewer women chose economics as a major, which was really more motivation for me to stick to my own plan. Fortunately, my parents wholeheartedly supported my decision.”
If she has one regret, it’s that she was never able to strike the perfect balance between schoolwork and extracurricular activities. “I was strictly academic,” she says. “I wish I could have been more involved.”
Lewis got a B.A. in economics at UVA, and went on to spend six years in banking, then worked in real estate. Now she’s at Georgia State University, taking the prerequisite classes needed to apply to nursing school. “I’ve always been more of a people person,” she said. “I like the sales stuff, but not the highly competitive cut-throat sales that I was doing. I’m trying to bridge the business side of myself with the more nurturing side.”
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” she says, thinking back. “The friends I have now are pretty much the friends I made in college.” How did she feel on graduation day, continuing a legacy started by her parents? Lewis laughs and says, “Relieved.”