The Underground Refuge

Cover of the Summer 2021 issue of Virginia Magazine, featuring 'The Underground Refuge' story

Thank you for this interesting, helpful article. I was at UVA in the late ’60s; I knew a few of the Black students who were here, but unfortunately not well enough to talk to with any depth—and I suppose they may have been a bit wary of sharing any challenges with a white student. Things are better now, but not where they need to be.

Charlie Sutton (Col ’69)
Uxbridge, Massachusetts

 

Now in my early 80s, I received a master’s degree in education at UVA in 1963. If I remember correctly, there was only one Black student, named John Gordon, who was seeking an advanced degree at that time.

I remember that a few of us befriended him and went off-Grounds with him. We would go to the local movie theater, where we would sit in the balcony. We would join him at meals on Grounds as he was not allowed seating service downtown.

I shall always remember one restaurant ironically named The White Spot. Blacks would stand against the wall and wait for takeout food. The owner would sing to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” and use the words “John F. Kennedy is going to set us free.” He then laughed. 

Being a white student from Massachusetts, I was taken aback. I went from Charlottesville to New Hampshire, where I taught in a prep school for nearly 40 years. 

Stephen B. Bishop (Educ ’63)
Greenland, New Hampshire

 

This was a wonderful article and a great tribute to those early Black students who persevered—and to the people in the community who offered their support and encouragement. Thank you for writing this!

Dan Vick (Col ’84)
Englewood, Florida

 

That’s very informative. As a UVA student (Engr ’78), I’m amazed that this time period was only 10 to 20 years prior to my time at UVA. Thank you.

Joseph E. Myers (Engr ’78)
Clinton, Maryland


The Cost of a Telegram

A copy of the telegram the UVA Alumni Association sent in 1970 to try to cool student unrest

Thank you for a wonderful article in the Summer 2021 issue of Virginia Magazine. I graduated in 1965 from the College and have been a Life Member of the Alumni Association ever since. I was not living in Virginia when the events described in your article took place, and this is frankly the first time I have heard about them. (I didn’t read the alumni magazine when it came around in those days.) 

The article was a real eye-opener. The only incident I remember from my days there was a protest held in Mad Bowl to show solidarity with the free-speech protests on the West Coast. An old car was purchased, dragged into Mad Bowl, and set afire on a party weekend. Our (imported) dates were impressed, as were the Charlottesville Police, who arrived with sirens and tear gas to break up the riot. I’m still convinced we were only doing it to show our dates that we could be radical, too.

Douglas D. Miller (Col ’65)
Houston, Texas

 

The eight pages dedicated to the spring of 1970 including Telegramgate in the Summer 2021 magazine were a melodramatic rewrite of history for the most part. Sure it was “unique,” especially for UVA, but many of us used the beautiful weather as a brief excuse to skip a day of classes and play golf. 

The big life-changing drama for us third-year men came earlier on Dec. 1, 1969, with the first U.S. military draft lottery since 1942. That was an evening of high anxiety as one by one 366 blue opaque plastic capsules were opened and the enclosed printed birth dates were read. 

With the assignment of a lottery number ranking, each of us had a strong understanding of our status. This changed the lives dramatically for those with numbers 1 through 183 and for many with higher numbers. Options most often selected were to try to get into your home state National Guard (typically already booked with long waitlists), to enlist into “high-end” officer programs, to flee (Canada was the top choice), or to gut it out. 

It would be of great interest to know how many of us served and what the survival stats were.

Jay Westendorf (Col ’71)
Honeoye, New York


Two Commissions Take On a Complicated Landscape

Statue of Thomas Jefferson. UVA appointed a group to reassess names and memorials on Grounds.

I am encouraged by this significant effort at a community conversation that is not easy but that must be engaged. Truth, justice and reconciliation are sequential. If our community, our entire community, is engaged in telling and knowing the entire truth of our unique institutional history, as well as history in general, we can move more confidently into the future. I am confident that the great institutions of the future will be the institutions that have engaged in this work now, beginning at the University after multiple false starts that date back more than 30 years.

Bruce David Rieder (Arch ’77)
Arlington, Virginia

 

Thank you. This must be an ongoing conversation with actionable outcomes. For all commentators worried about erasing history, that’s exactly the legacy this University is trying to address. It can no longer contribute to false narratives while ignoring honest ones.

Adrienne Dent (Col ’98)
Charlottesville

 

Both of these committees appear to be on a fool’s errand and are just another political tool used to bow to temporal passions of the day. Let’s hope that as they write their succinct statements, labor with re-contextualization, and rename whatever statues and physical properties to undo the work of those past, they consider how the same committee, 100 years or so in the future, will redo their work of redoing the work of those 100 years or so in the past.

Jim Grogan (Col ’66)
Torrance, California


UVA Invites Class of 2025

I was interested to see statistics regarding admission offers in the most recent issue. However, I was dismayed to learn that 37 percent of legacy applicants were offered admission, compared with 21 percent overall. It is long past time to abandon this discriminatory practice, which serves only to advantage the already privileged. I say this as a white UVA graduate, along with my sister, father and mother. No doubt many legacies go back much further than ours. Families with multiple generations of UVA graduates are most likely white, given historical restrictions on enrollment by Black applicants and other potential students of color.

Giving legacy applicants preference only serves to perpetuate these disadvantages for non-white students who may be first-generation college attendees or the children of parents who graduated from more accessible institutions. I know I am not alone in having suggested that the legacy element be dropped from the admissions equation. I have seen no evidence that serious consideration has been given to changing this policy, in spite of purported institution-wide equity goals. I now propose an even more radical and equitable solution: Provide legacy “points” in the admissions process only to applicants of color whose parents attended the University. Break the generations-long favor of white alumni families and consider it a start at reparations.

Judith Wood (Arch ’81)
Seattle, Washington


Letters to the Editor

I read the UVA Alumni magazine in order to keep current with what is going on at the University. Obviously, the University has changed a lot in the 51 years since I attended. However, I am offended by the tone of two letters in the Summer 2021 edition under the headline “Racial Equity.” They imply that we didn’t have respect for minorities and that we were antiquated and destructive in our thinking. This certainly wasn’t the case, as President Edgar Shannon could attest if he were alive. 

Robert McKenna (Col ’70)
Virginia Beach, Virginia

 

The Alumni Association saw fit to publish letters to the editor in the latest issue of Virginia Magazine that characterize views expressed by other alumni on the Equity Plan as “antiquated” and deserving of “opprobrium.” I didn’t realize that the purpose of the Letters to the Editor section was to enable alumni to take potshots at each other. It saddens me that this is the level of discourse that the leadership of my alumni association sees fit to foster.

Halvor Adams (Com ’79)
Garden City, New York

 

I was prompted to send my first letter to you after reading the Summer 2021 edition of your magazine. Two letters in the “Racial Equity” section of the Letters to the Editor caught my eye. Both of them were commenting on previous letters, and both of them made the race and sex of the authors of the previous letters a point of their comments.

An idea has to be evaluated on its face for its merits. The race, sex or other personal information about the author should not be relevant. In both of these letters other arguments were made, making the personal reference unnecessary.

The concern is why I have become a strong advocate for the University’s adoption of a code on freedom of expression at least similar to the one adopted by the University of Chicago [See related story]. 

The University needs to be committed to “free and open inquiry in all matters,” guaranteeing “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”

This freedom has to include the concept that we will not engage in ad hominem attacks on a speaker or author. It takes discipline to stay focused on the idea when we disagree. But we have to be up to the challenge.

Bethany Beck (Arch ’13)
Williamsburg, Virginia


Starvation for Wages

I was inspired to read in your latest issue about the student-led Living Wage Campaign that has persisted since 1998, and in particular about the details of the 2012 hunger strike. The article also notes that the roots of this movement date back to a 1971 protest at the Rotunda organized by the Black Student Alliance.

In fact, the roots go back a little further, at least to the spring semester 1969 protests at the Rotunda and elsewhere organized by the Student Coalition. These were the peaceful “coat-and-tie demonstrations” that are often overlooked after the noise and violence involved in the May 1970 antiwar protests.

While most of the students’ 1969 demands concerned the recruitment and retention of Black students at the University, employee pay was also a key concern. In fact, in the notice that invited students to join us in the walkout protest at the grand celebration of the University’s 150th anniversary in Cabell Hall, the first listed grievance was “Our University is paying its employees salaries that start near $3000 a year—well below the poverty level.”

I extend my commendation to all the students who have continued their efforts to address this over the years!

C. Randolph Ross (Col ’69)
Cortland, New York


The Rise and Fall of a J-School [Spring 2021]

I enjoyed most of the article you published on the rise and fall of the journalism school at UVA.  However, I found the conclusion unsatisfying. It failed to give the full picture of journalism education at UVA in the 21st century.

The last fifth of the story gives readers the strong impression that UVA offers no more than three journalism courses, that Media Studies is not interested in journalism training and that students lack interest in journalism as a practice or career. None of that is true. Every semester the Media Studies department offers multiple journalism courses. We have several accomplished journalists on our faculty. We have an exceptional record with journalism job placement for our graduates.

The story could have ended with a coda: That journalism education thrives at UVA despite the lack of a journalism school — maybe BECAUSE we lack a journalism school. We offer aspiring journalists a full liberal arts experience. That’s much more valuable than a journalism degree.

No one should assume that students need a journalism department or school to learn the craft and excel in the profession. I have had many long conversations with admitted students and their parents as they decide among UVA, Syracuse, UNC or Elon. I have succeeded in convincing many that studying at UVA would make them a better journalist—and citizens—than attending a traditional journalism school. 

I don’t want readers of the magazine to have the impression that UVA is not a supportive place to study journalism. Again, the opposite is true. 

Siva Vaidhyanathan
Robertson Professor, Department of Media Studies

 

I was delighted to read the article on the J-school at UVA. The article acknowledges that, after the Watergate affair, UVA offered journalism courses in 1976 within the English Department. Yet, as two former majors have already noted, the missing chapter in this narrative history is represented by Rhetoric and Communication Studies, which existed long before 1976 and was disbanded in 1991. RCS, in which I taught rhetoric from 1980 to 1989, was devoted to undergraduate education. We had hundreds of majors, and because we had no Ph.D. program we focused our energies on them.

Having done my Ph.D. in English and comparative literature, I was well-positioned to compare how RCS operated versus the other departments. The undergraduate education in RCS equaled any other department and excelled in nurturing students to develop their intellectual lives. Nonetheless, its lack of a sufficient number of senior faculty with University-wide influence resulted in its shutdown. 

Ultimately, much of what the department did was reconstituted in Media Studies. But the rich philosophical heritage of classical rhetoric was never revived, and except for an occasional course taught by a philosophy or classics professor, that remains a sad outcome of its demise. 

To this day, I remain proud and grateful to have taught in a department that gave far more than mere lip service to undergraduate teaching and interdisciplinary study—and that attracted such stimulating students.

John Rodden (Grad ’81, ’87)
Austin, Texas


BOV Blesses Racial Equity Plan [Winter 2020]

The article “BOV Blesses Racial Equity Plan” in the Winter 2020 magazine brought a couple of predictably polite responses in the spring edition. In thinking about UVA before this week’s Zoom call with President Ryan regarding “Honor the Future,” I reread the article and decided that a great deal is wrong with what the Racial Equity Task Force has to say, but one thing deserves particular attention.

In the “Bigger Picture, Longer Term” section we learn that the report called, preposterously, for “close to $1 billion in spending,” with $650 million as a “quasi-endowment.” Ian Solomon says that having this resource set aside would greatly aid his efforts to recruit faculty to the Batten School. You bet it would! 

If I were President Ryan, I would thank the task force for their thoughts and send them on their way. I’d re-form the task force with Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Jason Riley and Robert Woodson. I’m confident they would have much better ideas.

Keith Kearney (Col ’72, Grad ’75, Law ’77)
Darien, Connecticut


In Memoriam [Winter 2020]

In the Winter 2020 issue, you published a very fine obituary for my friend and fraternity brother David Maybank Jr. (Col ’54), who died in his native Charleston last winter. The obit has attracted much favorable comment in Charleston from those who knew David. As a kind of footnote, I want to pass on some excerpts from an obit in the Charleston Mercury of last February, written by Ben Schools (Col ’18), a young alumnus of the University. Ben’s grandparents, Nella and the late Rufus Barkley (Col ’52), were close friends of David and Louise Maybank, and thus Ben, from an early age, knew David well. 

Ben calls his obit “Remembering our captain, David Maybank, Jr.” The title “our captain” is an apt reference to David as a sailor and as a leader, principled and quiet but effective in so many things in Charleston and elsewhere. Without fanfare, for example, he helped several young men through the University, and he did much to preserve the natural beauty of his native low country and to pass on this love of place to his children and friends.

Ben says Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” particularly the following lines, was one of David’s favorite poems, and was read at his funeral last year:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time …

Alexander G. “Sandy” Gilliam (Col ’55)
Charlottesville