Student Vignettes: Why They Come; Why They Stay

Sarah Gatsos, a fourth-year student from McLean, Va., spoke with a selection of African-American students about their experiences at the University of Virginia. Her stories are below:

Phillip Jackson
Class of 2006
Major: Commerce
Hometown: Yardley, Pa.

When Phillip Jackson arrived at the University of Virginia in 2002, he did not find the activity he wanted. So, he created it. Jackson established Oluponya Records, U.Va.’s only student-run record label. Aside from recording music for students and student groups around Grounds, Jackson makes his own music as a member of Black Voices.

He followed his older brother to U.Va. But once he became acclimated to U.Va., he extended his family to include his peers. His role as one of the senior peer advisers for the Office of African-American Affairs’ Peer Advisor Program allows him to act as a resource and a guide for younger African-American students.

“I recognize the benefits I had from my peer adviser,” Jackson said.  “Having a peer adviser was one of the best things for me.”

Isaac Agbeshie-Noye
Class of 2006
Major: Sociology
Hometown: Fredericksburg, Va.

The University of Virginia’s high caliber of excellence attracted Isaac Agbeshie-Noye to Charlottesville. He had heard about the school’s exceptional reputation from members of his community and local high school alumni. After becoming more familiar with U.Va. through the Days on the Lawn orientation program and Spring Fling, a first-year African-American student orientation, Agbeshie-Noye said he knew he could excel at U.Va. and that he could become involved in student life.

While at U.Va., Agbeshie-Noye has served as president of the Pan-Hellenic Council, secretary of the Class of 2006 and president of his fraternity Phi Beta Sigma. Through his leadership roles at U.Va., Agbeshie-Noye said he saw opportunities where he could change the atmosphere at U.Va. to make the environment a positive place for all students. Also, Agbeshie-Noye cited the African-American community of upperclassmen, peer advisers and faculty advisers as a significant support system that welcomed him into U.Va.

“The ability to do a lot of different things appealed to me,” Agbeshie-Noye said.  “I saw a way to change the community around me.”

Jequeatta Upton
Class of 2007
Majors: French, Sociology
Hometown: Richmond, Va.

Student Council president, member of the University Judiciary Committee, University Guide Service and Monroe Society, and Office of African-American Affairs Peer Advisor and Orientation Leader name a few of the many activities and organizations that appear on Jequeatta Upton’s résumé. Upton said she ultimately decided to attend the University of Virginia after she visited for a scholarship weekend and had the opportunity to talk with current students and faculty members.

During her time at U.Va., Upton said her relationship with upperclassmen helped her deal with stress and acclimate to the environment.

“The more I delved in, I was able to create a small community within U.Va. and find my niche,” Upton said.

Adom Getachew
Class of 2009
Major: Undeclared
Hometown: Arlington, Va.

During Jefferson Scholar Weekend, Adom Getachew solidified her decision to attend the University of Virginia. It was then that Getachew said she saw a different perspective of U.Va. than she had previously thought. She said the faculty at U.Va. seemed different than faculty at other schools in that U.Va. professors seemed eager to interact with their students. Also, Getachew said the African-American students showed her how she could become involved with the community.

Since matriculating in 2005 as a Jefferson Scholar, a competitive honor awarded to students who demonstrate the Jeffersonian ideals of leadership, scholarship and citizenship, Getachew has already involved herself in organizations such as Madison House, Sustained Dialogue, the Student Council Diversity Committee and Brothers United Celebrating Knowledge and Success. “I feel I fit in really well,” she said. “I see a place for myself at U.Va. where I can make a difference.”

Along with her activities, Getachew said the African-American students and faculty she met helped her feel comfortable at U.Va., citing her peer adviser and other students as creating a semblance of a family away from home.

“The black community is so close,” she said.  “It is nice to feel supported.”

Candace Simon
Class of 2006
Major: English
Hometown: Richmond, Va.

Distinctive qualities separated the University of Virginia from other institutions in the commonwealth, according to Candace Simon. She said she visited other Virginia schools and concluded that U.Va.’s sense of community and reputation for student self-governance made it stand out. Students’ ability to influence the U.Va. and Charlottesville communities struck her as unique and important.

Simon took advantage of the community spirit and student self-governance to participate in clubs and activities. She acts as the public relations chairwoman for United Sisters and has been active in Brothers United Celebrating Knowledge and Success, Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness, Impact Movement, Ellison Society and as a Kaleidoscope intern.

“The more I got involved, the more I wanted to stay, and the more I got attached to the University,” Simon said.  “Your voice really does count. You have a chance to make changes.”

Robert Jones
Class of 2009
Major: Undeclared

Hometown: Blackstone, Va.

Initially drawn to the University of Virginia’s reputation, Robert Jones decided to attend U.Va. after his visit for the Monroe Scholars Weekend. Jones said the students and faculty members he met finalized his decision. He said he liked the idea of meeting as many new people as possible and forming relationships with a diverse group of individuals.

A Monroe Scholar at U.Va., Jones participates in Brothers United Celebrating Knowledge and Success, Black Student Alliance and First-Year Council. Through these organizations, Jones said he met upperclassmen who provided him with guidance and advice he needed to feel comfortable at U.Va.

“The people make me want to stay,” he said. “I can balance academics and social life, and I can meet someone new every day.”

Bernard Harkless
Class of 2007
Major: Architecture
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

As a native Texan, the University of Virginia initially did not show up on Bernard Harkless’ radar. After he received a letter in the mail from U.Va., he said he followed up, intrigued with U.Va.’s excellent Architecture School. When he later visited the school, Harkless said he knew he would succeed at U.Va.

While his academic program keeps him quite busy, and his relationship with his professors have provided him with support and guidance, Harkless said his roles as diversity chairman of the Inter-Fraternity Council, peer adviser for the Office of African-American Affairs and member of the National Association of Minority Architecture Students have provided him with leadership positions that allow him both to find support and to offer direction to other students.

“There is a great sense of family here,” Harkless said.  “The peer advisers are like a family of people you can go and talk to — a support system.”

Jade Craig
Class of 2006
Majors: French, Political & Social Thought
Hometown: Hattiesburg, Miss.

Jade Craig decided to attend U.Va. after he attended a Darden Graduate School of Business program geared to high school students. During his visit, Craig said he fell in love with Charlottesville, and he enjoyed his interactions with professors and students who made him feel welcome. “There seemed to be a feeling of camaraderie and community at the University,” Craig said.

Since then, he has immersed himself in the community — enthusiastically showing potential students and their parents around Grounds as a member of the University Guide Service, leading a discussion on the history of students with disabilities for his group Trailblazers, or presenting on the history of African-Americans at the University of Virginia as part of his group Connecting Communities.

Craig said the students and faculty members he met through his extracurricular activities make him feel at home in Charlottesville. Also, his experiences have allowed him to take on leadership positions for activities such as the Office of African-American Affairs’ Peer Advisor Program.

“Getting involved in activities gave me the sense of being invested in the University,” Craig said.

Jessica Fowler
Class of 2006
Major: Political & Social Thought
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.

Jessica Fowler did not originally consider the University of Virginia, but after she was nominated for a merit-based Jefferson Scholarship, she decided to look into it and was encouraged by the people she met when visiting U.Va. She says the outreach from the Office of African-American Affairs played a major role in her staying here, and student groups, such as the Black Voices choir, have provided her with a family away from home. The Peer Advisors Program, housed in African-American Affairs, also gave her a support system, and she was eager to become an adviser herself to set an example for other students, she says.

Fowler has participated in many other activities, including Sustained Dialogue, The Young Women's Leadership Program, the Honor Committee and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

"The black community is so close. It is nice to feel supported. I see a place for myself at U.Va. where I can make a difference."