New ‘Dialogue Across Grounds’ Forum Touches on Community and Bridging Differences

October 13, 2021 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

William Truong opted to spend last year attending the University of Virginia virtually. But even then, he managed to form a lifeline to Grounds – or what he called a “bridge” – with fellow student Gabriela “Gabby” Hernandez, who spent the year in Charlottesville.

Speaking quietly at the first of five new “Dialogue Across Grounds” luncheons created by UVA’s Office of the President, Truong said that friendship is what brought him to Wednesday afternoon’s event at Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

He and about 50 other students, both graduate and undergraduate, filtered into the grand room to grab boxed lunches and drinks and dive into the day’s discussion topic: building bridges.

Jess Harris, a presidential fellow in the office of President Jim Ryan, was one of several facilitators in the room and guided the discussion at the table with Truong and Hernandez.

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People seating at round tables talking to other colleagues from across grounds
The first ‘Dialogue Across Grounds’ drew undergraduate and graduate students.

In introducing the topic, Harris punctuated Ryan’s emphasis on building bridges. She then simply asked, “What does building bridges mean to you?”

She got lots of answers. One student defined bridge-building as getting to know the Charlottesville community. Another said that for him, it was important to think about the impact of his actions.

Hernandez said it was important to acknowledge spaces that need repairing and take action.

“I can speak from my own experience. I’m a third-year now. I have seen in my time here … in a lot of institutional ways, UVA has harmed my own community and other communities of color within the University,” she said. “So, I think one of the first things is just acknowledging that that harm has happened.”

Adrian Mamaril, a third-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, responded to Hernandez’s remarks. “When you mentioned action, there is more than just the words that you say to build up that relationship. You actually have to follow up on that,” he said. “And it’s going to be a long process.”

Fourth-year student Benjamin Trombetta said when he thinks of building bridges, he thinks of connecting two areas that otherwise would not have been connected. “I think in a UVA context, a lot of times I think about when people take the time to not just be in UVA for three or four years, but take the time to participate in the community,” he said.

Beyond volunteering through the independent student volunteer center, Madison House, Trombetta said it’s also important to explore Charlottesville. “Taking the time to get to know community members, I think is the largest way I’ve thought of building bridges here. And I think it’s something that honestly not enough people do,” he said.

In announcing the dialogue series earlier this month, Ryan said the goal is to bring students with diverse perspectives together to hold meaningful conversations around important topics.

Person looking at a paper taped to the wall that reads: how can we effectively build bridges with all University & Charlottesville Community Members - both on and off Grounds?
William Truong regards some of the student input that was gathered during the lunch.

“This is a student-centered event, and we want to encourage listening and understanding among all who participate,” he said. Dialogue Across Grounds is one of several presidential initiatives designed to seek common ground within the UVA community and foster more engagement among and with students.

The program revives the original Dialogue Across Grounds series, which brought together students, faculty and staff for facilitated conversations on topics of day from 2010 to 2017. It complements other dialogue-based work on Grounds, such as the Hoos Connected program and student organizations like Sustained Dialogue.

This semester’s talks will touch on topics that foster connections across difference. The next event takes place Oct. 28 at 12:30 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. Those interested in attending can RSVP.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications