Out and About: Looking Back On an In-Person Semester at UVA

December 15, 2021 By Caroline Challe, cfc8ev@virginia.edu Caroline Challe, cfc8ev@virginia.edu

The fall semester brought back some of the University of Virginia’s favorite clubs, events and traditions, thanks to vaccines that helped blunt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fralin Museum reopened after more than a year and a half, University Guides led in-person tours of Grounds, and intramural sports teams got back on the field. These scenes were quite different from last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced UVA and universities around the country to hold most of their classes and events online.

The pandemic continues, but high vaccination rates among UVA students, faculty and staff allowed for students to return to full, in-person classes for the first time since the spring of 2020. The Lawn resumed its traditional role as a meeting place, libraries had students and staff back at work, and the Grounds felt alive.

We caught up with five students and staff members to look at how things have changed.

Maggie Dunbar: The Fralin Reopening

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Maggie Dunbar headshot, left, UVA building, right,
Student Maggie Dunbar began working at The Fralin her first year and now, after a long hiatus, is welcoming guests back inside.

Maggie Dunbar is a fourth-year student majoring in French and art history with a minor in studio art. She serves as a student docent at The Fralin Art Museum on Grounds.

“I trained for the docent program in spring of my first year,” Dunbar said. “We give tours of the museum to school groups, University students and community members.”

For more than a year, the Fralin had been closed to visitors, clearing the docents’ usual busy schedules.

“We were closed for 17 months, partially for renovations, further delayed by COVID, and then also because of safety concerns. We were giving all our tours on Zoom – which was a nice substitute, but not the same thing,” Dunbar said.

This semester, The Fralin is welcoming patrons with exciting new exhibitions.

“Being back in the museum has been great. There’s a new exhibition up, and it’s just a lot more engaging than online,” Dunbar said. “The big exhibition is called ‘Skyscraper Gothic,’ and it examines 19th- and 20th-century architecture.”

After a long hiatus, The Fralin is resuming some of its beloved events.

“My favorite thing about The Fralin are the events we hold. There’s Final Fridays, which happens on the last Friday of every month. There’s music, food trucks and drinks, and you can walk around the museum with your friends or take a docent led tour.”

Learn more about The Fralin’s activities.

Caro Campos: Reimagining Historical Tours

Caro Campos giving a tour on the Lawn
Caro Campos gives tours for the University Guide Service and is the organization’s historian.

Caro Campos is a fourth-year student from Richmond majoring in political and social thought with a minor in urban and environmental planning. She is also the historical chair of the University Guide Service, the organization that leads historical and admissions tours of UVA’s Grounds.

“My role in the guide service is to engage the history of the University within its context in Charlottesville,” she said. “We look at the histories that have been marginalized or haven’t been framed as critical to the founding of the University. This can include the histories of enslavement, of native and indigenous communities, the history of student organizing, or the history of women at the University.”

This work informs student-led historical tours, which came back this fall after screeching to a halt in March 2020.

“So last year during COVID, there weren’t historical tours,” Campos said. Instead, “we spent the time growing as an organization and creating new kinds of tours.”

Historical tours leave every day from the basement of the Rotunda at 10 a.m.; no appointment is required. In addition, the University Guide Service also offers specialty tours cultivated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A group of Black women from the class of 2023 created a coalition called HEAAL, or History of Enslaved African American Laborers. They worked with several guides and led the effort to get almost all first-years in the class of 2025 on a HEAAL tour,” Campos said. “This summer, we also worked with the Community Engagement Committee of the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA to produce a tour of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.”

Tours of the memorial will be available to the public next semester.

Historical tours attract people from all over the world who come to learn more about the history of UVA.

“It is always such an exciting opportunity to engage with visitors from all around the world,” Campos said. “It further solidifies the responsibility to tell marginalized histories and think critically about them in our current context.”

Members of the UVA community are also encouraged to come on tours and learn more about the space they inhabit.

“I think it allows students and faculty and staff to be more aware of how the fields they’re engaging with, whether it be politics or medicine, intersect with history,” Campos said.

Patricia J. West: Libraries as a Community Space

Patricia West working on computer
Patricia West, the director of information services and spaces at the University Library, works to make libraries inviting and comfortable for students.

Patricia J. West is the director of information services and spaces at the University Library, and makes sure five of the University’s main libraries operate smoothly.

“My job is anything related to providing library services to students and faculty, right from circulation to answering research questions,” she said.

Libraries returned to their regular schedules after modified hours last year.

“We only had two operating libraries last year,” West said. “This year, we have opened up the Music and Fine Arts libraries, and we’ve brought the libraries back to normal pre-pandemic hours. To keep students safe, we are still requiring masks in libraries, following University policy, and we kept our Plexiglass up for added protection.”

This semester, West watched the libraries come back to life.

“It’s pretty much business as usual, which I’m happy to report because it was so difficult for the students when they didn’t have access to the resources, equipment or library capacity that they normally had,” West said. “I think for students, a library is not just a study space, but a place where they build community. It’s a great meeting-up point.”

West recently witnessed the reopening of a cherished student study spot. “The first day we opened the Fine Arts Library, it felt amazing,” she said. “People really missed that library, and it turns out it has a very dedicated patron group. They love that place.”

Looking forward, West hopes to continue improving the libraries and making them comfortable for students.

“My goal is to make those spaces as good as they can be for students,” West said. “That means making them welcoming, clean, and upgrading the spaces as needed.”

John Carlton: English Language Partner

John Carlton headshot
John Carlton acts as a resource for English language learners through an organization called VISAS: Volunteers with International Students, Staff and Scholars.

John Carlton, a third-year student from Richmond majoring in linguistics, works with an organization on Grounds, Volunteers with International Students, Staff, and Scholars.

“[VISAS] is a volunteering program for UVA students to help English language-learners in the University community through conversational meetings,” Carlton said. “I am a language consultant, which means that I meet with my [language-learner] partner once a week, and we talk for an hour about whatever is going on that week or what we’ve been up to. It’s an opportunity for my partner to practice and for me to answer any questions that might come up, or if there are any mistakes, to help her figure them out.”

Carlton’s language partner recently moved to Charlottesville, and the pair have met weekly this semester.

“It’s been really fun, and I really like my partner,” he said. “She moved from Iran to Charlottesville two weeks before we started having our meetings because her husband is in grad school here.

“I think the program is very impactful, especially with COVID; it gave a lot of English language-learners the chance to interact with people even if it was on Zoom.”

This semester, Carlton can meet with his partner face-to-face, which opens a new layer of conversation.

“I think being in person makes a huge difference, because there are things that will come up in conversation based on when you’re walking around Grounds, and you both happen to see something,” Carlton said. “That shared experience will bring up topics that you wouldn’t necessarily talk about over Zoom.”

Addie White: A Soccer Team Reformed

Addie White kicking soccer ball left, Addie White  holding soccer ball right
Addie White hit the field this semester and joined her old soccer teammates for their last intramural season.

Addie White, a fourth-year student from Richmond majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish, started playing intramural soccer at UVA during her first semester on Grounds. 

“First year, I picked a team at random and just joined, and it ended up being super fun, and the team played super well. The fourth-years who organized it were great,” White said. 

The team stayed together during her second year, but when COVID-19 hit during the spring semester of her third year, the students had to stop playing together.

This semester, White managed to get the remaining team back on the field. 

“This year, I went on the intramural website and found my old team’s name and texted everybody that I know is still at UVA and hasn’t graduated from the original group,” White said. “I sent a message saying, ‘Are y’all down to play soccer still?’ and pretty much everybody was like, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”

The team meets once a week for games and quickly resumed its former bond. 

“It’s not a big commitment, but just enough playtime and just enough soccer to keep your skills up and have some fun,” White said. “The team has the same chemistry we did before, especially those that played first year and now are fourth-years. We are like, ‘Oh yeah, we know how to play with each other. We’ve done this many times before.’”

The players also welcomed some underclassmen to the team this semester. 

“We had a few first-years join, and I was really proud of them. It’s hard to pick a team and just join blindly,” White said. “Luckily, we have a great group, and it was amazing to play together.”

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