Design Strategy: Carving Their Names

Posted: May 29, 2019, 12:45pm


The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers will honor the lives of the enslaved by displaying their names on the inner wall. The MEL design team has worked closely for several months with a “names commission” of faculty and staff to find as many names as possible of the estimated 4,000 people of the enslaved community. This commission poured over ledgers and letters to piece together knowledge about the enslaved women, men, and children who built and lived at the University. The memorial will feature the approximately five hundred known names of the members of the enslaved community, carved into the granite. In the case of those for whom the commission found a reference but no name, the memorial will remember them by an occupation such as brickmason, painter, laundress, or cook, or by a kinship relation such mother, son, grandfather, or cousin.


Each individual, including the remaining 3,112 people whose name we do not know, will be remembered through a “memory mark.” Each “memory mark” makes the statement: “I was here,” and collectively proclaims: “We were here.” To be absent in the archival record and erased from history is one facet of the violence enacted in enslaving another human being. The accumulation of “memory marks” on the memorial is a way of representing this complex history, including the silences in the archive, across the surface of the memorial. The shape marks the labor of those who made the University. Its linear trace evokes the chisel markings of the stonemason, the furrow of the gardener, or the stitch of the seamstress. Each “memory mark” will offer visitors a tactile way to connect with those whose names have been deliberately forgotten. The markings draw attention to the collective effort necessary to repair a difficult past.

- Mabel O. Wilson, Memorial to Enslaved Laborers Design Team


Three people look down at a piece of carved granite stone.

Above: Devon Henry of Team Henry Enterprises inspects a slab of granite with carved names that will be used for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.

Below: Another view of one of the granite slabs being prepared by Quarra Stone Company for the Memorial.


A man stands behind a slab of granite.

Exhibition to Highlight Artifacts from Foster Site

Posted: May 29, 2019, 12:32pm


Following a Spring 2019 student anthropology class project, this summer we are excited to launch a small exhibition highlighting artifacts from archaeological excavations of Kitty Foster’s home site adjacent to campus. Sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Bicentennial Commission, this effort has increased our knowledge of the University’s relationship with the local African American community in the nineteenth century and allowed us to responsibly catalog and store important these historical artifacts for future researchers.
The Foster Site Collection relates to archaeological materials discovered and safeguarded during various construction projects on Venable Lane in the 1990s and early 2000s. The collection is named in recognition of Catherine ("Kitty") Foster and the members of her family who lived and worked in "Canada," a historically African American site just south of the University’s historic boundaries.
The exhibit will feature objects that reflect daily life in Canada, including children’s toys, buttons and sewing equipment, architectural fragments from Kitty Foster’s home, and evidence of the family’s connection to the local community, the regional area and nineteenth century burgeoning national trade. Taken together with the history of the area, these artifacts shed light on the humanity of the site’s residents. Generations of free black women and children lived and worked in those spaces, supporting the University community and nurturing their own careers and domestic spaces.

Below: Marbles and shoe fragments were among the items uncovered during archaeological investigations on the Catherine Foster home site. Undergraduate students participated in a semester-long course to catalog and responsibly store these historical artifacts.

Nine marbles excavated from the Catherine Foster home site.

shoe fragments found on the Catherine Foster site.

A student holds a bag of artifacts over a cardboard box.

Powerful Portraits for a Powerful Site

Posted: May 14, 2019, 4:19pm


Under the supervision of University of Virginia history professor John Edwin Mason, portraits of African Americans in Charlottesville taken by Rufus Holsinger in the later 1800s and early 1900s were installed around the construction site that will become UVA’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. (SEE PHOTOS)

Source: UVA Today (Sanjay Suchak)

Class of 2019: UVA Law Student Has Fought for Rights of People of Color, LGBT and Others

Posted: May 6, 2019, 12:00am


A dedicated civil rights advocate, Akande will graduate May 19 from the University of Virginia School of Law with an even stronger voice for representing others. He will be an advocate with a law degree. Akande, who is transgender, has been an activist since coming out as lesbian at age 13. Starting at age 15, he began lobbying the Virginia General Assembly for workplace nondiscrimination policies, an effort that he has maintained over the years. He majored in political science at the University of Richmond, where he organized literal busloads of students on behalf of LGBTQ rights. (READ MORE)

Source: UVA Today (Eric Wiliiamson)

Letter from VPCODE - April 30, 2019

Posted: April 29, 2019, 3:14pm


Greetings, Friends,

As we approach the end of the spring semester, I would like to take this opportunity to review with you recent initiatives.

I officially retired on January 1, 2019 and, after a 30-day sabbatical, returned in a temporary faculty wage position during the search for the new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The 2019 Community MLK Celebration was very successful. This year’s calendar included about 20 programs, all of which were executed collaboratively, including numerous pan-University partnerships. The timely theme “Women in the Movement” was incorporated into many of the events.

On March 3, we celebrated Liberation and Freedom Day, commemorating the day in 1865 when the 14,000 enslaved people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were freed. Members of the Charlottesville and University community came together at the Rotunda to remember and celebrate. This year’s service was coupled with a Memorial to Enslaved Laborers blessing ceremony. Vials of the clay soil from the ground where the memorial is being erected were given to those in attendance as a memento.

On March 22, a luncheon was held to celebrate the 10th annual John T. Casteen III Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Leadership Award. The award is presented annually to a member of the UVA community who best demonstrates a dedication to leadership and a deep commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University and in the community. Congratulations to Valerie Gregory, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admission, who was the 2019 recipient of the award.

Black Alumni Weekend was celebrated on April 5-7, 2019. On April 6, I had the opportunity to speak at Old Cabell Hall about the past, present and future of diversity, equity and inclusion at UVA. The following are some comments from that talk demonstrating progress and opportunities for improvement in diversity, equity and inclusion.

We have tracked diversity at UVA diligently. The class admitted in Fall 2018 is the most diverse first-year class ever with over 34% minority students. African American students entering this past fall represented 9.2% of the class, second only to UNC among public research university peers in the 62-member Association of American Universities (AAU). The number of African American students that entered this fall is 34% higher than five years ago. The current total enrollment of African American students at UVA is the highest ever with over 1,400.


At UVA, African American students have the highest graduation rates of all public institutions over two decades. GPAs have increased in recent graduating classes and current classes are demonstrating elevating GPAs. For example, comparing first semester GPAs, 29% of the class of 2021 had a 3.4 to 4.0 cumulative GPA compared to only 10% of the class of 2005. The graduating class of 2021 is the first to lift a first-year cumulative average above 3.03. 

UVA is the number one public university in the country for the percentage of women earning undergraduate engineering degrees, with 33 percent women undergraduates compared to a national average of approximately 21%. The Clark Scholars Program provides opportunities to exceptional students from populations traditionally underserved in STEM fields. Funded by a $30 million gift from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Scholars Foundation and the UVA Bicentennial Scholars Fund, the program accepted its first 16 students in 2018 and will increase to a target enrollment of 60-75 diverse scholars in future years in engineering.

Total minority undergraduates increased 40% from 3,643 to 5,274 over the past 10 years, compared to a 10% increase in the student body overall for the decade. Total minority graduate students increased 40% from 907 to 1,304 over the past ten years. The UVA School of Medicine’s underrepresented minority (URM) students increased from 6% to 28% in a decade, averaging 23% over the past 5 years. The School of Medicine averaged 12% African Americans in each entering class the past 5 years, 50% above the national average; but we went down to the national average of 8% the past year following the events of August 11 and 12. 

Total minority teaching and research faculty increased 70% from 309 to 537 the past ten years. Total African American teaching and research faculty increased 30% from 86 to 109 the past ten years. Of our 62 AAU research institution peers including public and private, UVA ranks number 6 in percentage of African American tenured/tenure-track faculty with UNC again just ahead of UVA. Total minority staff increased 25% from 1,084 to 1,335 the past ten years.


As a result of the efforts of many at the institution, diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and initiatives have been advanced with momentum to continue growth. Although the overall percentage of minority undergrads, grads, staff, and faculty have increased in recent years ongoing efforts are needed:

  • More professorships, scholarships, and chairs
  • More minorities in key administrative positions 
  • More space for diverse student organizations and multicultural programming
  • More Native American students and faculty recruited and supported
  • Establish American Studies department
  • Establish Native American studies
  • Establish Asian American/Pacific Islander and Latinx studies majors


Considering negative events in our community in recent years, the annual student survey,

Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) has shown a downward trend in scoring for the question “I feel I belong at UVA,” especially for African American and Muslim students. We must continue to work diligently to improve the climate and sense of belonging for all in our community.

We acknowledge ongoing challenges as well as our progress, and the future looks bright. Our 9th President Jim Ryan, who himself was a first-generation college student, is creating a shared vision for the future focusing on community, discovery, and service. This fall, a record 25,126 students applied to the UVA class of 2023 via the early application process; about 17% more than last year. Overall, almost 41,000 students applied for admission through either early or regular admission. On March 22, the Office of Admission released its regular admission decision and 40% of those offered admission are minorities, an increase of 5% from last year. Offers to first generation college students rose from 10% to 11.5% this year. The 2019 entering class is on track to be the most diverse ever at UVA.

In 1970, the University instituted an annual tradition of planting a tree on Founder’s Day to honor an individual who has made significant and lasting contributions to the University. The tree is to serve as a living memorial celebrating the individual's legacy. This year, the tree was planted in my honor east of the Rotunda near Brooks Hall, overlooking the site of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.

The Office for Diversity and Equity would like to wish a warm welcome to Kevin McDonald, recently announced as the new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Kevin comes to us from the University of Missouri and will join the team this August.

Please see the featured articles below for news related to diversity, equity, and inclusion on Grounds. I wish you all a healthy and productive spring and summer.


Best Wishes,

Marcus L. Martin