Nearly 100 University of Virginia professors and graduate teaching instructors met Aug. 14 near the statue of Homer to share ideas about how to discuss with their students the divisive issues of white supremacy and racism brought to the fore during violent demonstrations on Grounds and in Charlottesville a few days earlier.
The gathering was arranged when a group of instructors overseeing the College of Arts & Sciences’ civic and community engagement classes decided to broaden their small training session into an open meeting for their colleagues.
In addition, other faculty members shared what they have done, or plan to do, as the academic semester gets underway Tuesday.
Associate Professor of Music Bonnie Gordon; graduate students Katelyn Durkin from the English department and Rose Cole of the Curry School of Education; Peter Bussigel, a lecturer in the music department; and faculty administrator David Edmunds in the global development studies program are some of the teachers of civic and community engagement classes. They also shared resources and reference materials with those who attended the meeting.
“There’s no one right or wrong way” to talk to students about the events, Gordon said. She advised teachers to prepare what they want to say on the first day of class and to acknowledge the violence that happened, whether or not they decide if it’s appropriate to take class time for discussion.
Some of the Aug. 14 discussion participants pointed out that what happened is not limited to Charlottesville and reflects a national problem. Using some of the suggested readings, as well as University leaders’ official statements, can help counter hateful perspectives and provide a basis for discussion.
Classroom culture should emphasize mutual respect, shared values and principles of community, said Shilpa Davé, an assistant professor of media studies who is also an associate dean advising students.
She’s teaching a new course, “Asian American Media Cultures,” and later said she’ll “talk about how the keyword ‘foreign’ is used in Asian-American studies and how it relates to the intolerability and animus displayed last week.
“I am going to compare how we think about the themes of citizenship and immigration with regards to Asian-Americans (who can be left out of these conversations) and how that intersects with dialogues of diversity and inclusion in the U.S.,” Davé said.
Gregory Fairchild, Isidore Horween Research Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Darden School of Business, taught two classes last week to executive MBA students, who are enrolled in Darden’s program for full-time workers to earn their master’s degrees.
He had planned months earlier to discuss the case about an entrepreneur and Darden alumnus, Neal Hoffman, who launched a business with a series of toys and books about Jewish traditions, beginning with Mensch on a Bench. He then discussed the recent events and how they affected him personally.
“At the close of class, I spoke to students about the importance of businesses that have an important personal ‘why’ attached to them,” Fairchild said, “like the protagonist in the case, Neal Hoffman. I further mentioned that we as business leaders need to speak up when social issues ensue, and that indeed, business leaders are societal leaders. I mentioned that as an example I had been at the community rally last week in which we retraced the steps the prior protesters had taken.”
He had been on vacation over the weekend of the alt-right marches, but also mentioned the email he sent to the entire Darden community of students, staff and faculty on Aug. 13 when he was heading home.
“By the time I taught students, this mail had been out for almost a week. Many students, before class and after meeting me personally, thanked me for my note. It wasn’t intended to be a part of my first day of teaching, but there isn’t a way it wasn’t noticed (and was in the room),” Fairchild said. In his email, he described his mixed family that white supremacists generally don’t approve of – he is black, his wife (also a Darden alum) is white, and of their three children, one has Down syndrome.
Fairchild said he and his wife, Tierney Temple Fairchild, decided to return in 2000 to Darden and Charlottesville and have felt welcome here.
“Charlottesville, like the nation, has the challenge of dealing with pluralism,” he said. “There have certainly been concerning events before this one during our time here, though none with this level of violence. Charlottesville has been, and will be, a work in progress, and how we do that will continue to be about our ability to talk in open and candid ways.”
Lisa Shutt, director of undergraduate studies in African-American and African studies, is teaching several courses: “Black Femininities and Masculinities in the U.S. Media,” “African Worlds Through Life Stories” and a College advising seminar on “Food and Culture.” Knowing the events of Aug. 11 and 12 will be on students’ minds, Shutt said it’s best to bring that up.
“I think students will have questions, and I hope to answer them as best I can,” she said. She plans to discuss the broader, deeper reality of white supremacy and institutional racism in the U.S. and how it is evident in things like racial profiling and the denial of white privilege.
“White supremacy didn’t just show up for one day and then leave. There’s racism ingrained in everyday life. I plan to continue the conversation after the first day,” said Shutt, an anthropologist. Andrew Kahrl, an assistant professor of history and African-American and African studies who is teaching the year-long civic and community engagement course, “All Politics is Local,” said he has revised his curriculum due to last weekend’s violence. He wants to address the question “Why Charlottesville?” and give the local context to what is a national crisis, he said. He’ll have the class look at 20th-century history of racial and economic injustice in topics such as urban renewal and its effects on the African-American community, massive resistance in Virginia and the civil rights era.
For instance, he wants his students to look at moderates’ “insufficient reactions” to massive resistance, the Virginia laws intended to prevent integration of schools following the U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.
Professor Vanessa Ochs teaches a majors’ seminar in the Department of Religious Studies on pilgrimage.
“In the past, my students have often found places of pilgrimage to explore outside of Charlottesville,” she said. “Now, with sadness, I am sure, we will prepare, on our first day of class, for a pilgrimage we will take to the sites of terror in our own beloved and typically peaceful town. We will prepare to stand, as witnesses, to places where love triumphed over hate, and we will, as new pilgrims do, engage with the emerging narratives.
“The days to come will be a process of healing and sorting out many issues,” Ochs said.
History professor Kirt von Daacke, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, is teaching the commission’s course, “Slavery and its Legacies,” which has an enrollment of more than 60. He said the course was “designed to introduce new students to the long history of slavery, segregation, white supremacy, integration, and so on here at UVA and in town.”
“We will start the semester Tuesday with a frank discussion about this – I will open by explaining the birth of and mission of the commission, how the class came about, and then right into how this class is more important than ever in light of what happened this past weekend.
“I will let students know that we will start every class period with an opportunity for brief open discussion and that I will be available immediately after class for one-on-one conversations.”
Von Daacke plans to do something similar in a College advising seminar he’s teaching, “Hidden Histories of UVA.” He spoke to resident advisers during their training, saying we should be honest and open about the University’s past, but also that they “should know that faculty, administrators and the vast majority of their classmates are dedicated to a diverse and open University where we are safe.”