Years later, Lundy incident casts long shadow

Four years ago today, the University was rocked by reports that Daisy Lundy, then Student Council presidential candidate, had been assaulted in an apparently racially motivated incident. A wave of tension and confusion crested that night, leaving a transformed university in its wake. The alleged attack continues to cast a long shadow over the University as those affected by the alleged assault search for answers.

Election 2003: Clashing coalitions

Even before the alleged assault, the 2003 race for Student Council president was particularly heated. Lundy's primary opponent was Ed Hallen, a three-year Council veteran and chair of Student Council's racial and ethnic affairs committee, who pledged to help Council play an active role in addressing the University's looming cut in state budget appropriations. Lundy's campaign flyers emphasized her desire to bring a "fresh perspective" to Council, add more reading days throughout the school year and add lounge space in buildings such as Cabell Hall.

David Wasserman, Lundy's campaign manager, recalled an election that he thought pitted a coalition of the Greek organizations around Grounds against a competing coalition of minority groups and the University Democrats. All of these groups were rallying around their respective candidates with campaign tactics that included phone banks and e-mail blitzes.

At the time, Student Council administered its own elections. When the first round of balloting ended Friday Feb. 21, Lundy had received 2,006 votes and Hallen 1,830. The tallies reflected a controversial decision by Council's Elections Committee to dock Lundy 2 percent of her original vote total because of campaign violations. Regulations in place at the time stipulated that a runoff election be held if the leading candidate did not muster a majority of the votes or have a 5 percent margin of victory over the nearest competitor.

Sitting Student Council president and current second-year University Law student Micah Schwartz also recalled a particularly "enthusiastic" election season. While allegations of misconduct were leveled by both sides, Schwartz recalled no dirty campaigning.

"I thought the campaigning was stepping up to, but not crossing the line," he said.

Still, that Sunday, after revelations that some members of Council may have improperly accessed election returns while the polls were open, Council agreed to allow a member of the Honor Committee to oversee the runoff election.

Ultimately, the results of the 2003 election were audited in a process commissioned by Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs.

The 36-hour runoff election between Hallen and Lundy began Tuesday morning.

Reported Election Eve Assault

By midnight Tuesday the campaign was in the final stretch. Wasserman said Lundy picked him up at his first-year dormitory, and they drove to Poe Alley, where they planned to briefly recoup in the nearby Lawn room of Tim Lovelace before bringing pizza to students in the library on behalf of the campaign.

"I had a physics test the next day; this was kind of the breaking point," Wasserman said. "I was ready to fail out because we'd gone so far."

While the trio was chatting, Lundy left Lovelace's Lawn room, No. 13, to look for her cell phone. She stopped briefly in Lawn room No. 21 before returning to Poe Alley shortly before 2 a.m.

According to Jim Lamb, Charlottesville senior resident FBI agent, Lundy reported that she was searching for her phone on the floor of her car with the door to her sedan open when she heard footsteps coming from McCormick Road. She then heard someone walk up the few steps leading to the Lawn, before turning around and approaching her from behind. At that point, she reported, her alleged assailant grabbed her by the back of her hair, lifted her up and forced her head to the floorboard area of the car. Lamb confirmed that Lundy reported her assailant said "Nobody wants a nigger to be Student Council president" during the attack. She told authorities she then began honking her car horn, and the individual who assaulted her bolted from the scene.

At that point, Lovelace left his room to check on Daisy and ran down Poe Alley to look for the assailant while others came to her aid.

Among them was University Senior Vice President William Harmon, who lived in Pavilion III. After hearing someone call for the police, Harmon came outside and saw Lundy.

"I saw a young woman who was very distraught and she appeared to be injured, because they called the emergency squad, placed a brace on her leg and it appeared that she had several abrasions on her upper body," Harmon said.

Wasserman said he still remembers the scene as well.

"That's one of the things you never forget seeing, going out to Poe Alley and seeing someone writhing on the ground like that."

University Police arrived within minutes and immediately began investigating. The FBI was contacted within days, and the investigation was ultimately handled as a joint investigation conducted by the FBI in conjunction with the University Police Department.

The incident, as reported, meets the requirements for a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

"We take all allegations of hate crimes very seriously," Lamb said.

Lundy met with a sketch artist and described her assailant as a while male wearing a black, bubble, down coat. Because her eyes never met his and Lundy said her confidence in the sketch was only a six out of 10, authorities decided not to release the sketch at the time.

"It might not have done any good," Lamb said.

That evening there was light snow on the ground and officials saw footprints heading from Poe Alley towards the garden that connects with Muse Alley, where Lundy's cell phone was found. Lundy told investigators it was possible she dropped her cell phone there as she was returning from the library earlier that evening.

Investigators also followed up on a police report Lundy filed that Monday about phone calls she said she was receiving at the dormitory where she was a resident advisor.

"The first few calls were hang-ups and breathing in the phone," Lundy told The Cavalier Daily for an article that appeared in the print edition the morning of the assault. "One of the phone calls specifically mentioned the run-off and used explicit language."

Lamb said Lundy reported she had been receiving these calls at home that week, but said the FBI was unable to trace the phone calls and added that the calls were one-on-one, between Daisy and the prank caller.

Lamb said the FBI began conducting interviews with anyone who might have pertinent information, including those who knew about the phone calls, lived on the Lawn or were involved in the race. Many interview subjects left Charlottesville at the end of that week when the University adjourned for Spring Break. From these initial interviews, investigators gathered the names of additional people who might have information pertaining to the case. The University also offered an award for information about the case.

"We spent a lot of time working on it and still do," Lamb said. "I continue to look at it a couple of times per month," by returning to Poe Alley and looking at reports in the hope of identifying gaps.

Despite this effort, Lamb said no suspects have emerged at any point in the investigation. Though Lamb said Lundy saw one or two people who might have looked similar to her assailant walking around Grounds that spring, none of the information was specific enough to be actionable. The investigation has been hampered by a lack of witnesses or forensic evidence.

"You are limited in what you have to work with in this case," Lamb said.

Based on the information Lundy provided to the FBI, including the assailant's remarks about the election, it is likely any suspect would have been a member of the University community at the time, Lamb said, noting that "The universe of people capable of doing this is phenomenally small; students don't appear to be predisposed to this."

Another possibility, raised by some who are suspicious of Lundy's account, is that the assault was contrived to win the Student Council election.

"It is an issue within the investigation that needs to be resolved," Lamb said, adding that, "With help from Daisy, a few months from now, we hope to put that allegation to rest."

At this point, the case remains open, and there is one year remaining on the federal statute of limitations for making a prosecution, Lamb said. Until the statute expires, the FBI will continue investigating the case until it is resolved. If the case is not solved at that point, it will be closed. Lamb said he hopes to resolve this case and cites his experience bringing an indictment in another case just days before the statute of limitations expired.

Breakdown in student self governance

The University community was shocked by the reported assault on Lundy and by Wednesday afternoon, hundreds packed Newcomb Hall for an introspective event featuring speakers and group discussion of the racial climate.

"We all had the same reaction, which was 'This was horrific,'" recalled Schwartz, who spoke at the Newcomb meeting.

According to The Cavalier Daily article about the meeting, Schwartz apologized for what he said was a failure on the part of all student leaders, including himself, to improve the racial environment at the University and for the events leading up to Lundy's assault. Other leaders and administrators, including former director of the Office of African American Affairs M. Rick Turner and University President John T. Casteen, III, also spoke.

"This was a deliberate effort to intimidate -- to drive out -- one student whose 'offense' was nothing more than running for student office while being African-American and female," Casteen stated in an e-mail this Saturday.

One group, Concerned African-American Students, called for a "Faculty-Student Exchange" by March 12, 2003, where they demanded the administration take action.

"The most recent and grave occurrence is not an isolated incident," the group stated in an open letter published for faculty and administrators at the time. "It is imperative for faculty and administration to understand that their lack of direct action will perpetuate ignorance at our University, and this should not be tolerated. University students should be able to look to faculty and administration to take action on improving the educational mission of the University."

The letter included 16 points, including a demand that the University publicly support affirmative action in cases before the Supreme Court and address issues of decreasing enrollment of African-American students.

"For a while when an incident like this occurs, there is a damning of the institution itself because someone within the University community felt it was OK to do that," Harmon said. "But in subsequent days, organizations and people rallied around Daisy; whether they supported her or not, they rallied behind her."

The event was particularly troubling because many black students had previously served as Student Council president at the University.

"What was significant about that event was that prior to her interest in running was that we have had African Americans who had served in Student Council as president," Harmon said, adding that three African-American males and one woman who could be classified as a minority served in that position in the decade before the Lundy incident.

Since the University admitted its first black students 57 years ago, the University has elected eight black student council presidents.

There had been controversy about party themes offensive to blacks in the year leading up to the attack, including a "Medallion Party" held by University students in March 2002 that featured a theme of "playaz and chickenheadz" and an October 2002 "blackface" Halloween party held at a fraternity.

Still, many were surprised when there were allegations that the hatred became physical.

"In a university community where you have a level of diversity that exists at U.Va., there are always going to be incidents," Harmon said. "What elevated this to a level of concern was that this was an alleged physical attack."

The lack of an immediate suspect or explanation of the event in the aftermath of the attack also confused many students involved in the election.

"It seems as if it was something that happened right under my nose and I still do not have a good explanation in my own mind of what happened or could have been," Wasserman said.

Lampkin said she understood how this uncertainty led to subsequent tensions that emerged after the assault.

"That is always hard for people, when you get into needing closure," Lampkin said. "When you don't have things resolved there is a tendency to resolve things in ways that are not productive."

This manifested itself in the increasingly heated and unresolved Student Council election. Students adjourned for Spring Break and Hallen withdrew from the race March 9. Lundy was officially named Student Council President, yet many felt issues from the election remained unresolved after the assault.

"It went from being a standard Student Council election to being a trial on the racial harmony of the University and obviously at that point was something much more then it was at the beginning," Schwartz said. "It took the stakes up a notch and made the election into something that a Student Council election should never be."

Administrators observed the situation with increasing concern. Casteen stated that when students did not act, he felt it fell on the administration to address the issue by making public statements, calling in the FBI, forming the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity in 2003 and implementing its recommendations.

"For several reasons -- the then-ongoing student election, confusion, probably a certain amount of reluctance to get involved in what many found a profoundly puzzling and disturbing event -- student self-government and the student media broke down in the aftermath of the attack on Daisy Lundy," Casteen stated. "In a different situation, students would have taken the lead with regard to the elements of the problem that had to do with the student culture, and the University would have dealt administratively with other elements. That did not happen four years ago. If we ever have to take the lead again, as we did four years ago, we will, but we will look first for student self-government to do its work."

Madison Hall Mediation Sessions

One step the administration took to heal divisions exposed by the assault was bringing the students involved in the election into a series of intense weekly mediation sessions, held in Madison Hall during a one-month period following the election.

The sessions were led by psychiatrist Anita Everett and Maurice Apprey, then a professor of psychiatry and associate dean of diversity at the Medical School and current Dean of the Office of African American Affairs. Lampkin, Dean of Students Penny Rue and Turner were all present at the mediation sessions, Apprey said.

The students involved in the sessions included supporters of both Lundy and Hallen, as well as the members of the Student Council executive committee, Schwartz said. The lines between these groups were further blurred as the sessions went on because they coalesced on Student Council under Lundy's administration, Schwartz added.

Apprey said he was asked by Lampkin to mediate the tensions between Student Council and the coalition of minority groups. Organized under the official umbrella of the Minority Rights Coalition in fall 2002, according to Lampkin, the MRC is comprised of the Black Student Alliance, the Asian Student Union, La Alianza, Queer Student Union and the National Organization for Women.

The mediation groups were supposed to heal divisions, Lampkin said. "It was true pain."

As an outside observer, Apprey said he felt the election had become a microcosm for playing out racial tension at the University and the broader community. By identifying what was going on, Apprey hoped to bring the situation into perspective.

"The advantage of having a succession of sessions is creating a process that allows you to see what sediments of history are being reactivated and extended to serve new and contemporary purposes," Apprey said.

Casteen also stated that he thinks the election drama was reflective of broader trends.

Issues that came up in the sessions included the perception by some that Student Council was grooming leadership from within its exclusive ranks and the concern by others that Lundy mounted a campaign against Student Council without any experience attending meetings, Apprey said.

"The long and short of it is that we used these mediation sessions to take the poison out of it so that they could create a new electoral system that could be fair to all parties and did not prepare a pre-appointed leader, among other problems," Apprey said.

Issues unrelated to the election also came up, specifically tensions related to housing preference in first-year dormitories.

"The question of the randomization of housing was one of the hot button issues that came up, and new leaders were desperately trying to deal with," Apprey said. "That was the last thing I had expected, but when we talked about it, it became clear that it was very important to them ... Housing is one of the ways that people practice segregation and desegregation, for playing out inclusion and exclusion."

Students who participated in the sessions said they were both memorable and helpful in moving forward, despite the significant tension many brought to the table.

"I considered them some of my more thought-provoking and useful experiences at the University," Schwartz said. "I thought it was greatly effective. It was tough going, the emotions were very high at that point and everyone felt like they had sacrificed a lot in the election."

Refining the Institutions

The one thing all parties agree on is that changes needed to be made to avoid the future confluence of factors that led to the Lundy incident and the subsequent unrest within the community. Perhaps one of the most significant steps was establishing an independent body, the University Board of Elections, to conduct student elections.

"It was dirty politicking," Lampkin said of the tactics employed in the 2003 election. "We then reviewed the whole process and changed it completely."

The resulting UBE was approved with the passage of a referendum in fall 2003 and incorporated the input of students and administrators. In February 2004, the UBE administered its first elections, featuring a more secure online voting system, a streamlined election procedure and a staggered petitions process, among other improvements.

"History has proven that UBE running elections is a better model," Schwartz said. "I don't think Council ever did anything wrong in running the elections during my tenure, but by running the election, it put itself in a position where it can be accused of impropriety."

Other changes aimed at improving the University culture were also implemented. Exactly one year after Lundy reported she was assaulted in Poe Alley, she cut the ribbon on the new Kaleidoscope Center for Cultural Fluency in Newcomb Hall. Though the Class of 1996 had allocated its class gift toward such a project, the Lundy assault played a significant role in spurring the University to complete it, Lampkin said.

"Nothing emerges from one incident," Lampkin said. "There have been a series of issues through our time, and this helped push us forward."

The change was evident to members of the community, said John Rosenberg of Crozet, Va. Rosenberg -- author of, a blog often critical of diversity initiatives in higher education-- said many of the University's steps were spurred by the Lundy incident.

"Campuses are super sensitive about race issues and that was true before this," Rosenberg said. "But it drove the decibel level way up. It appeared to an outside observer to contribute to a lot more effort and money being spent on diversity issues."

A proposal to form a Special Committee on Diversity was first floated at a Feb. 24 BOV committee meeting, two days before the alleged assault, Thomas Farell, II, current University rector and then-Board of Visitors member, said at a March 24, 2003 full Board meeting. Former Board member Gordon Rainey told the Board at the meeting that the Lundy assault demonstrated a need to move forward to establish the committee.

In addition, Casteen convened his own advisory group in April 2003, the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity, which was co-chaired by Angela M. Davis, associate dean of students for residence life, and Politics Prof. Michael Smith. That committee presented its findings, which included the recommendation that the University create a new position for chief officer for diversity and equity, to the Board in June 2004.

Casteen announced in fall 2005 that William Harvey would be the first person to fill that position.

Casteen stated Harvey since then "has become a central figure in our ongoing effort to remember history truthfully and to learn from it how to make life here a topic of continual analysis and improvement."

The Lundy incident, a September 2004 report that a student's car was vandalized with a racial slur and a spate of five reported incidents involving slurs and racial epithets in a three-day period at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year also prompted the University to unveil a new bias incident reporting system in January 2006.

Last fall Harvey's office organized its first Symposium on Race and Society, which is expected to become an annual event.

Some think the extra emphasis on diversity exacerbates the racial tension it was intended to solve.

"All the extra effort, although well intentioned, has the effect of making the emotions rawer," Rosenberg said.

Administrators said they hope these steps have combined to make minority students feel safer and happier at the University.

"The comfort of all students is and should be an ongoing concern for everybody so that we can create a community of learning," Apprey said. "Tensions have eased up because steps were taken to ensure that the electoral system was fairer. Steps were taken to show that the faculty and administration was committed to change."

Moving Forward

Today, the majority of the students involved in the 2003 Student Council elections have left the University and the elections being held this week are relatively tame in comparison.

Apprey cited the example of a recent town hall meeting to discuss issues of race in University housing as a model for effective discourse.

"Today we talk rationally about some of these issues," Apprey said. "It was a very rational, thoughtful discussion between well-meaning parties to look at the pros and cons of those issues. That was not possible before."

The Lundy incident itself has become a part of the University's history and factors into the way African-American students negotiate their roles as students here, Apprey said.

"Students still feel they have to be cautious," Apprey said. "It is part of the African-American story to deal with the tension between what is my place and what it not. It is an ongoing story that has to deal with how an African-American balances risk and caution."

Since serving as Student Council president, Lundy has married Lovelace and returned to the University where she works as an assistant to Harvey in the Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity.

"That she turned out to be an effective president of Student Council is an important piece of the story," Casteen stated. "By actions rather than merely by words, she proved that she belonged where she was. In that sense, she may have created the more respectful, mutually tolerant atmosphere that has developed since."

Lundy declined to be interviewed for this story, but did submit the statement below via e-mail:

"For obvious reasons, the Student Council election is a deeply emotional and difficult topic for me, and it continues to challenge me each time I learn of racist incidents in our community of trust. Yet, despite these setbacks, I remain optimistic for long-term, positive change at the University. Each day we, as individuals and as an institution, must rededicate ourselves to making the University a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Through moral courage and critical engagement, I am hopeful that we will be able to build a University with a profound commitment to justice, civility, and equality."

Still, many feel today's calm is a product of what happened over the last four years in the fallout from this incident.

"I think it helped race relations over time," said Pat Payne, who worked in Newcomb Hall as an assistant to Student Council for many years. "I think it made people more aware of a lot of things: It made the administration more aware and students became more open."

Other measures, including graduation rates, indicate African-American students continue to be successful at the University, Casteen stated.

"It is interesting that graduation rates have continued to move upward," Casteen stated. "African-American students here have been tougher and smarter over time than have been those who have wanted to abuse them or to drive them out."

Many administrators and students contacted for this article said they feel that much of the tension that characterized the period leading up to and following the Lundy assault has dissipated and given way to a spirit of cooperation.

"At that time people turned against the University, blaming the University, the administrators," Lampkin said. "Where we're different now is that people understand that we're all on the same page of trying to move forward."

Still, despite all of the dialogue, institutional reforms and reported incidents of bias, Casteen cautioned that a situation like the Lundy assault could happen again today.

"Let's hope that the next time students see the problems as theirs and take action as thoughtful community leaders to heal their own community," he stated.

related stories