Long before “globalization” became a buzzword in American higher education, pioneers like Lucy Hale were taking risks and blazing paths for internationalizing their campuses. For U.Va., which is now engaged in a new, large-scale internationalization effort, Hale has left a rich legacy.
But it is one that almost wasn’t.
The year was 1960. Hale turned down the job offer not once, but twice. Only on the third try did Edward Younger, the history professor who served as the University’s foreign student adviser, persuade Hale to accept the position as his assistant. Little did she know how much her decision would change her life and, at the same time, transform the University’s inchoate internationalization effort.
A young mother of two, Hale was trying to put her life together after have received a devastating blow several years earlier – the sudden death of her 34-year-old husband, William Hale, from a heart attack. A graduate of U.Va.’s architecture school, William had made a name for himself locally as a serious historic preservationist and designer of elegant Colonial Revival homes. In an awful twist of fate, he had died the night before he was due to sign a life insurance policy.
Lucy Hale knew that she needed a job to support her family, but with little professional
experience, the outlook seemed bleak. Then came the call from Younger. She politely declined his offer, believing that she did not have the proper experience for the job. A few days later, Younger called again. She declined a second time. But he persisted.
Looking back, Hale recalled that Younger saw a potential in her that she herself didn’t see. “He had a way of seeing beyond what was readily visible in others. He said, ‘Lucy, this job will open up a whole new world to you.’ It may sound odd, but I felt a rushing sensation around my head. I realized at that instant who I was and what he was offering me.”
Hale immediately set about learning the intricacies of visa application and documentation
processes. She found the work challenging but stimulating. At the time, U.Va. hosted roughly 55 foreign students, many from India and China. One of the main challenges facing foreign students was the shock of being transplanted in a culture so different from their own. “You have to remember,” she said, “at the time U.Va. admitted only white students and very few females. And it was set in this sleepy southern town.” On occasion, the culture shock led to horrible consequences.
Only a month into her new job, Hale remembered, an international student who was having difficulty adjusting to American cultural mores shot his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself. The girlfriend survived; he did not. For Hale, the lesson was clear. She believed that the University needed to do more — much more — to anticipate and better serve foreign students’
needs. To complicate matters, Younger stepped down several months later as the foreign student adviser. Two more advisers came and went in rapid succession. Then Hale made a bold move. “I went to the dean and told him, ‘There’s been too much turnover in this office. We can’t be successful like this. We need continuity. And I want the job.’” The dean agreed.
Suddenly, Hale had become U.Va.’s first female administrator on a nonacademic track. As she worked to stabilize and expand the FSA office, she encountered resistance from some administrators in the University’s upper echelon. “Some administrators, like Professor Younger, encouraged me. But others, though they were not overtly hostile, did not pay any attention to what a woman was saying or wanted to do. I loved the University and felt that it was my university. But I began to feel that I was an alien in my own environment.
I could identify with the foreign students.”
Despite those obstacles, Hale plunged headlong into her new role. She audited Professor Walter Hauser’s course on the history and culture of India. She joined the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors, gleaning as much information as she could from attending conferences hosted by other U.S. universities. She absorbed what her counterparts were
doing and took risks, many of which paid off.
Hale developed U.Va.’s first English language program for non-native speakers. At the invitation of the Taiwanese government, she led a trip to Taiwan for administrators from Rutgers University, Notre Dame University and other American schools. And she established an international center on Grounds that would serve as a meeting place for foreign students. “I
worked with Mary Brush, a secretary, but we had no other paid staff at the center,” she said.
To raise awareness of the University’s international student community, Hale wanted to hold a 150th anniversary celebration of the admission of U.Va.’s first international student — Fernando Bolivar, the nephew and adopted son of the famed Venezuelan leader Simon Bolivar. The
effort failed when top administrators didn’t provide financial support.
Undeterred, Hale reached out to the Charlottesville community. “I talked to civic groups and churches because I wanted to involve them in knowing our international students.” She asked local families to host foreign students for holiday meals when the University was on break. It’s a tradition that continues to this day. She also developed U.Va.’s first host family program in
1964, now known as the International Host Program.
Of her many accomplishments, Hale was especially pleased to have created the University’s
first handbook for international women students. It included what she described as a “subversive” touch – a graphic rendition of the Rotunda adorned with women’s turban-clad heads.
Between Hale’s acceptance of Younger’s job offer in 1960 and her retirement as director of the International Student Affairs office in 1986, she had presided over a time of remarkable growth in U.Va.’s international community. With 750 foreign students representing 75 countries, this
community at last had a defined presence within the larger context of the University.
“My goal,” Hale said, “was to internationalize the University of Virginia.” Pausing a moment, she smiled at the thought of it. “It seems now like such a presumptuous, radical statement.”
The international center that Hale established in 1972 is known today as the Lorna
Sundberg International Center. Located on University Circle close to Grounds, it provides various educational and social programs for international and domestic students, scholars, faculty, family members and local residents. Thanks to Hale’s far-sighted approaches and resourceful leadership, U.Va.’s international community is thriving.