—– What We Need from UVA Faculty —–

UVA LogoWHAT WE WANT FROM YOU, OUR FACULTY —- an open letter (in the form of individual comments) from one class of UVA students in response to the attack on Martese Johnson on the UVA Corner.

In class on 3/19/2015, our class discussion touched on the lack of support students feel from faculty in the aftermath of the brutalization of Martese Johnson and at other times of crisis here at UVA, especially when those crises center around race. We took the last ten minutes of class and wrote out what we wanted to tell our faculty. These comments are excerpted from those 27 students’ in-class responses. Who are we? We are women and men. We are Asian, black, Latino, white and multiracial. We are from a variety of cultural, national, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender and sexual identities and backgrounds. We are UVA.

(Feel free to leave your own messages to faculty in the comments.)

* * * What do you want from your faculty? * * *
* * * What do you want to tell them? * * * 

  • Many of us are far from home and you are the only adult that we can trust.
  • You have the wisdom and power that you can use to enlighten students about situations like this one.
  • The same way you tell me to step out of my comfort zone in my intellectual journey, I need you to do the same. When you say nothing, you take the side of the oppressor.
  • The African American students in your class are not experts on African American issues all the time – they should not be pressured to lead discussions revolving around race (and it should not be assumed that they represent all African Americans, that they are comfortable discussing race, or that all African Americans are unified in their beliefs and understandings about the world).
  • Sometimes, I feel like you don’t care.
  • To make change, we need you!
  • To “not see color” is to ignore and invalidate my history.
  • I care about your well-being and I hope you care about mine!
  • We need you to be here for us.
  • I want faculty to be supportive of forums and events that impact their students. I want them to encourage their students to attend events that discuss race at this university. I just want my faculty to care about me. And show up!
  • Your discomfort or uneasiness around the issue of race does not excuse you from providing your students with the space they need to engage in a pivotal conversation and true learning moment that we all need and deserve. If we cannot use our academic spaces to come to new understandings and enlightenment on a fundamental issue of our nation, where will we learn to fight through our own discomfort and confusion without fear of ridicule? Your classrooms should serve as spaces for learning of all kinds. Your silence lets us all down and is a detriment to our education.
  • I want my faculty to care about me as an African American student. And I want them to be aware of their privilege.
  • I wish my faculty would stop pretending that there are no problems once we step into the classroom.
  • I wish that faculty would be okay with talking about situations that make them uncomfortable, because I feel uncomfortable every day.
  • When faculty don’t bring up topics like this in class, it confirms to many students who don’t want to be bothered that race / racism / racial inequity is not a serious issue. That it is not an issue that deserves consideration or conversation. It’s not just that you don’t bring it up and that’s that. In your silence, you, in fact,  confirm to students who don’t want to deal with race and racism that they don’t have to — that it’s not pressing or relevant or important.
  • Acknowledge what is going on. Open up to your students and talk to them. Even if it is uncomfortable for you, it is still something that is needed. Voice your thoughts. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. Let yourself be educated! Give your students a place and opportunity to express their feelings, emotions and thoughts about this issue. DON’T IGNORE CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES. Use your class, office or any other meeting space you can obtain for discussion. Voices need to be heard. Change has to happen.
  • I am frightened. I respect you as a mentor and as a leader. Please mentor and lead me AND my classmates. At least an e-mail. Please do not avoid the subject, just because politics make you uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable, too.
  • You may not consider yourself “racist” or bigoted or even discriminatory toward black students. But we want you to think long and hard about your implicit biases, about every time you thought negatively about a black student of yours, whether you intentionally wanted to or not. Now, multiply that to every faculty member, cashier, coworker, acquaintance, etc. that we ever have to face as black students.
  • All African Americans don’t think the same, act the same, or come from the same place. They are not one homogeneous group.
  • We are not getting the emotional support we need during trying and upsetting times. We understand that the curriculum is important and time sensitive and sometimes these conversations are not appropriate in classroom settings. Please at least acknowledge the existence of this type of event. Encourage us to visit you after class or in office hours if we need someone to talk to.
  • Professors are ignoring this issue because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. But, by doing this, they are offending many students and ignoring their concerns.
  • When students make inappropriate or offensive comments in class, respectfully shut them down. It is not easy to call out your students. But it is right.
  • Even if your class topic – or even your discipline – does not seem to deal with issues of race, gender, class and human rights, know that yes – even the sciences, nursing, engineering, architecture, mathematics are all profoundly impacted by these topics. Look at the numbers of women or people of color in your discipline. Why are there fewer people of color and fewer women than white and Asian men in the E-School? Is it really about intellectual capacity? You should be thinking about these things and talking and teaching about them, too. And, particularly when events like the brutalization of Martese Johnson happen on the Corner or there is sudden awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and rape on grounds – this is when you need to discuss this in and outside of the classroom. It is not just with African American students and female students that these topics need to be addressed. Even more so, they need to be addressed with students who are not already predisposed to take classes in programs such as African American & African Studies or Women, Gender & Sexuality. Talk to the students who need it most!
  • Having an open space in tense times like this is essential; silence on the issue is in many ways forms of acceptance. The fact that I saw very few faculty members present at the forum last night worries me – especially for the simple fact that one of your students was hurt and abused in this manner. Just allowing an open and safe space for your students is a great start. Just start/open the conversation. Thank you!
  • I would like my faculty to acknowledge the events within their lecture or class that impact their students. I would like them to educate themselves as best as they can on events that affect their students. I want them to realize that academics, curriculum and learning materials are not the most important things. The well-being of your students is.
  • I wish faculty would realize that personal stress impedes academic performance.
  • I want faculty to address crises even when they don’t know what to say or they are uncomfortable. Students are affected by these types of issues whether they are about race, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, suicide or murder. At the bare minimum, make yourself available to your students. Schedule one extra office hour as a safe space for students if they need a place to go. Join the Survivor Support Network and become Safe Space trained. It doesn’t have to take up your class time but recognize that students have emotions around these issues. If you’re uncomfortable, say so. If you don’t want to talk personally, find someone who will (CAPS, HelpLine, Women’s Center). Let students go to protest, rallies and events even if they interfere with class time. Students want to know that their emotions are validated. When crises are ignored in the classroom, we don’t get that feeling, nor do we see that our professors care. It creates a distance that most students don’t want.
  • I want faculty members to know that we need time to cope and try to comprehend and process what’s going on in the world and at the university. Our lives have been impacted so much this year. We are dealing with issues and things SO much bigger than any reading, quiz or test…. At times like these, I need teachers to understand that I can’t just go on as usual. …. Be sensitive. Offer support. Show us you care about us beyond our lives as students.
  • I want the faculty and the administration to sensitive to the difference in our understanding of and expectations of what constitutes timeliness of information. We acknowledge that we have grown up expecting instant information and that at times, this is an unreasonable expectation. We know that the majority of you feel that 24 -48 hours is more than reasonable for a response time. But, in a crisis, we want acknowledgement sooner rather than later.
  • Additionally, if an issue warrants an e-mail from President Sullivan, Professors should address it in a class. A discussion my not be necessary, but they should acknowledge events and make themselves available for consultation and support.
  • I want my faculty to be conscious and actively aware of what is going on in the black community, especially the black community at the university.
  • Being a black student at UVA means something! I have to work twice as hard and be extra careful. I’m ALWAYS aware of my blackness.
  • I want the faculty to know exactly what is being said on Yik Yak about black students that diminishes our authority, our value, and our worth as human beings.
  • I want my faculty to be able to address issues that concern me despite the fact that it may make them uncomfortable.
  • I want you to understand that issues about race effect my psyche in the same way that issues of sexual assault do. My mental health is important. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Some people feel that every day. Stay informed.
  • Dear U.Va. Faculty, Do you know how uncomfortable black students are made to feel on a daily basis when they can tell their professors and TAs don’t interact with them the same way as they interact their white counterparts? Do you know the distress, sadness, and confusion many of your students are feeling (white, black, brown, Asian) that one of our most beloved students was brutalized and demeaned on our Corner? A simple acknowledgement in class of recent events could go a long way especially when we feel minority issues are almost never addressed. Let your students know publicly and privately that you support them. If you don’t want to talk about it in class, at least let your students know that you’re available to listen in office hours. You are who we interact with every day and your silence hurts us more than you know.
  • Dear Faculty, over my last four years as a student here, I have longed for nothing more than to get my degree, for which I have worked so hard and then get the hell away – far, far away from this university. On October 31, 2010, I was assured of this notion. Upon trying to enter a frat on your prestigious Rugby Road, not only was I denied entry, but I was called “nigger” and almost assaulted. Similar incidents were repeated over the last four years. I urge you to end this culture and take action. We are human. We have worked our asses off to get here. We are tired and even after this, we will be resilient. The time is now. We need you. We came here to become great and we are leaving here tired. It is not right that our end goal has become to simply get our degree and get away.
  • We sometimes get reports of assaults from the University Police very soon after an incident. This time, the response from the University took too long. While the students were aware of the incident with Martese soon after they woke up in the morning, we didn’t hear anything official until many hours later. When a white lacrosse player went missing recently, we heard immediately. We understand that the upper administration was actively working on the issue from early on the morning. We know it was on your radar and that you were working on it. We just wish we would have known in this time of uncertainty.
  • I demand you acknowledge me and what I go through being not only a black minority in your classroom but also being one at this university and always feeling like I have to overcompensate to prove I’m worthy of being at this university. I demand you engage in conversations about race with your students and not shy away from issues that make you feel uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable every single day I walk around grounds. I’m forced to just suck it up and move on, and function as usual. This is not okay. Please realize that I should not have to explain to you why I am physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically drained. That there is nothing more relevant or important than making sure that the civil rights of my black brothers and sisters are protected. Please respect that I may not perform as usual on assignments and exams, because my mind is not in a place to discuss anything other than the systematic racism I encounter daily.
  • Please give us the time and space to heal! Last night at the rally, hundreds of students and community members took to the streets to protest. For the very first time at this institution, I felt like there was a space for me to voice my concerns without restrictions and have a space where I was surrounded by people to whom I did not have to explain what it feels like to be alone and misunderstood. Allow those who need it time to heal and come to terms with their emotions.
  • I need you to make your classrooms not only a safe space, but also an open and welcoming space. When there is an event like this, please talk to us about it (even if it does not seem to fit into class topics). Let us talk to you and to each other.
  • I would like faculty to understand that I am a student, but I am a human being first. Upon learning about what happened to Martese, I was not in the right state of mind to focus in class. It would be nice if faculty acknowledged things that occur outside of the classroom. I remember my physics professor sent out an e-mail during a snow storm in an attempt to relate what was happening in class. A student is brutalized by the police and class goes on as usual. Faculty need to show that they care and understand that students are affected by their community and require support.
  • I wish that the nursing school had addressed the issue of Martese Johnson’s arrest yesterday. It is a very important issue for the school to address to all the students. Especially because the School of Nursing can be very isolated from the rest of the university. We have been told to think of patients and to focus on patient-centered care and how we can best heal people. The disparity in healthcare that minorities receive within the healthcare system is a huge issue. This IS relevant!

9 thoughts on “—– What We Need from UVA Faculty —–

  1. To those faculty memeber that support ALL of your students we thank you. Please continue to encourage YOUR peers to do the same. Support them so they can support us

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To the students telling your story. I value you, and learn from your words, emotions, and pain. Please continue your efforts b/c your voice, and voices will be that difference for those following your foot steps. “Black Lives Matters, and Your Lives Matter Too. Stand Strong, and Be Enourage. “Power To The People”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the most important things that professors can do is to create safe spaces for students within the classroom. I think also showing up to certain events, such as the BSA forums and marches, would also be extremely helpful. I cannot express how much respect and admiration I have for the few faculty and staff members who’ve consistently been present and who have marched alongside us particularly during the Living Wage Campaign and the March for Trayvon Martin. Also, like the list said, being open to discussing these issues during classes even if the class doesn’t directly focus upon certain issues. And lastly, if you’re comfortable, making yourselves available during office hours to listen to students and to accommodate for the emotional distress that often occurs by occasional leniency on assignment deadlines. Granted, some students will attempt to take advantage, but from what I hear, professors generally know when they’re being played. My motto is, if an assignment is going to be late, it should be ‘A’ quality work. Oh, and I’m not sure how feasible this is, but encouraging administration–particularly OAAA and the Office of Diversity and Equity– to give GENUINE responses to issues such as these. We know when they’re just ‘saving face’ and it doesn’t help the students to respect them any. Those offices are meant to serve the students and at least in my opinion, I rarely ever felt a genuine concern or even genuine effort to address these issues head on and/or to mitigate such situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so powerful. I admire you all for being willing to trust enough to ask for / demand what you need and what you deserve as members of this community. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with alumni, too, who might be able to be a support, especially through networks like Ridley or Serpentine Society. It’s not exactly the same as hearing support from your faculty, but we’re here to help you too. Keep up this important movement.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you. Just. Thank you. Makes me proud to be a teacher. I have shared this on FB and friends who are faculty at other institutions. They were so moved that they instantly passed this along to their colleagues. A manifesto for the ages, as far as I am concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are not alone- that is the message to students of all ethnic backgrounds. I think that all faculty believe violence is not the answer period- end of statement. As a faculty member I am heart broken that anyone was brutalized- damaged physically and emotionally. Everyone in the community should be calling for peaceful resolution of conflict large and small- better training of law enforcement to defuse instead of injure. Sadly it speaks to a lack of preparation to scale down intervention according to situations. I beg police and authorities to look at practices including in this case and make better decisions where possible. I believe these types of occurrences are the result of fear. Fear is understandable but not an excuse to use max force when not indicated. The particulars are still unknown but the injuries are not debatable. We appreciate and respect our police force and want to be a voice for constructive change. We need you and you need us. We can work together for a better day in our community and beyond.

    Liked by 1 person

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