Dawn of the Lawnies: Academical Village’s Newest Residents Move In

August 11, 2023 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

Cyrena Matingou remembers the first time she considered applying to live in one of the rooms on the University of Virginia’s venerable Lawn.

She went to an event on the Lawn hosted by the Black Student Association during her third year, where she got to talk to Black Lawn residents, room-hop and make s’mores.

“I felt like, ‘Oh, what have I done to deserve a room on the Lawn?’” Matingou said.

Her friends and girlfriend knew that she had done a lot. She was an Echols Scholar, a program director at Madison House, led an Office of African American Affairs book club focused on literature by Black women and served as a resident adviser. They knew she was qualified, so they encouraged her to apply.

“Then I thought, ‘Why not go for the senior resident position, too?’” Matingou said.

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She had served as a resident adviser since her second year, but that was always for younger students. After her senior resident application was approved, she’s going to be creating a community of peers.

“I want the Lawn to feel like home for the fourth-years, who have all had different journeys to get here,” Matingou said. “I want to encourage people to be confident in their place at UVA and for that confidence to radiate outward into the community.”

As the head “Lawnie,” it’s her job to make sure the Lawn residents feel welcome in their new home. Each year, hundreds of rising fourth-year students apply for the 54 rooms on the Lawn. It’s one of the highest honors for a UVA student, even if lucky Lawnies must brave the elements and tourists just to use the communal bathrooms. They get to be part of a community of their high-achieving peers, alongside several distinguished deans and faculty members who reside in adjoining pavilions.

Cyrena Matingou portrait
Cyrena Matingou wants to make everyone who visits the Lawn feel as welcome as she did. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

On Friday, this year’s Lawn residents started moving in. Family and friends, bearing houseplants, record players and roller skates, helped out.

“It felt like there were so many genuine connections that could be formed that were really irreplaceable,” said Karen Sun, a Jefferson Scholar from Houston. “Plus, when else will I be able to live on a UNESCO World Heritage Site?”

When Kayla Simpson was in high school, her father went with her to a prospective student event, where he learned that some fourth-year students get to live in the rooms around the Rotunda. He thought the Lawn was so special that he would gush about it to his friends and co-workers before his daughter was even in her third year. He was the first person to learn she would be living on the Lawn.

“I was sitting at this Mexican restaurant in my hometown waiting on my dad when I got the email,” Simpson said. “I was in shock, and my dad was so happy.”

Manny Kenscoff’s friends found out before he did that he would be living in Room 15 – the Gus Blagden Memorial, or “Good Guy,” room. Blagden Room residents are nominated by their peers for their service to the University and the community. Kenscoff’s friends unveiled the surprise when they asked him to come to the Lawn to grab his missing backpack. They didn’t have his backpack, but they did have cheesecake, candy and juice – some of his favorite things – to celebrate his selection.

Ava MacBlane, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, stops outside of her Lawn room with her family dog, Eleanore. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“I definitely did not expect it, myself,” Kenscoff said.

This year’s Lawnies started college during the pandemic, when students were still learning on Zoom instead of on Grounds. Joseph Kratz said he knew once he was accepted to UVA that he wanted to live on the Lawn.

“I really was not able to be a part of the larger community for a number of months, so the opportunity to end my time … by being a part of the community, in basically the most intense way I could, was something that I really wanted,” Kratz said.

Many of this year’s Lawn residents said they just wanted to pass along the mentorship and support past Lawnies had given them. Jonathan Swap, who grew up in Charlottesville, had a tough time transitioning from his parents’ house to living and learning on Grounds.

Manny Kenscoff bringing in stuff to his apartment
Manny Kenscoff found out he'd be living in Room 15 – the Gus Blagden Memorial, or "Good Guy" room – at a surprise party. His friends learned first and set up a celebration. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

“They would always celebrate me, if a test went really well or they would offer to bring me medicine when I was sick,” Swap said of previous Lawnies. “I wanted to emulate their impact.”

Matingou stayed busy Friday handing out room keys and helping her fellow fourth-year students move in. But she’s already looking forward to the year ahead.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “I can’t wait for what’s coming.”

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications