Housing demands holiday trees be removed

University Housing & Residence Life Office tells Lawn residents to take down trees


Lawn residents have taken down holiday trees outside their rooms in response to requests for their removal by the University’s office of Housing & Residence Life.

After more than two weeks of disagreement about whether the holiday trees violated the fire code, Assoc. Dean of Students Gay Perez, director of Housing & Residence Life, proposed a compromise in an email Wednesday.

“I have reached out to Facilities Management and requested that temporary power be provided in the alcove area where the Homer statue is located beginning tomorrow afternoon until Friday morning,” Perez said in the email. “This will provide the arena for you to display the trees as well as highlight your sponsorship of this initiative.”

The compromise Perez proposed ended what Owen Gallogly, fourth-year College student and Lawn resident, described as not only “a request to be allowed to have the trees for the holiday season, but also simply a request that we have a meaningful dialogue.”

The trees were originally placed outside rooms on “Bachelor’s Row,” lawn rooms 35 through 51, by Lawn residents Nov. 25 after students returned from Thanksgiving break. By Tuesday the entire row of decorations was complete.

Bachelor’s Row residents represent a full spectrum of religious affiliations, including students who identify as Christian, agnostic and Jewish, said Lawn resident Brad Whitwell, a fourth-year College student.

The community’s response to the holiday decorations was overwhelmingly positive, Whitwell said. “I was woken up by people talking outside my door,” Whitwell said. “Families were taking photos in the rocking chair outside my room with kids, and everyone, from U.Va. architects to professors to students, admired the holiday spirit. People told us they wanted to walk past this room because it cheered them up so much.”

Lawn residents took the trees down earlier this week after Housing threatened to charge residents for the trees’ removal if the residents didn’t remove them first.

“There was little flexibility about starting an appeals process for keeping the trees,” Whitwell said.
Fourth-year Commerce student and Lawn resident Andy Colberg said in an email he was frustrated by what he perceived as a disconnect between the student body’s desire to build community and Housing’s desire to follow the minutiae of every rule and regulation.

Housing policy permits Lawn residents to have only firewood, a hibachi grill, an ash bucket and a rocking chair outside their doors.

Emails between fourth-year College student and Lawn resident John Dreyzehner and Sarah Olson, an area coordinator for Housing & Residence Life, sent last week reveal disagreements about the significance of the Christmas trees’ presence outside the rooms.

“What I would like to propose is treating the holiday season like a tailgate,” Dreyzehner said in an email to Olson. “[My] tree takes up less space than a table and is only out for a short period of the holiday season, much like a tailgate table is only out on weekends.”

Olson responded that the tree was a “safety hazard.”

Student Council President Johnny Vroom responded to the issue by citing a Student Council resolution that passed Tuesday evening and aimed to promote effective communication between Lawn residents and University housing.

“We didn’t feel it was our place to vote on a bill when Housing hadn’t voiced the other side of the argument forbidding the Christmas trees, so we shortened the bill so that it promoted effective communication between the Office of Housing and students who live in University-sponsored housing,” Vroom said. “That’s something that can help bring about an effective resolution on this matter.”

Student responses to the tree removal have been largely negative. “It’s just killing the vibe of Christmas,” third-year College student Jake Pittman said.

Lawn residents in favor of keeping the trees recorded a YouTube video titled “UVa Lawn Christmas 2012.” It captured the many positive reactions of University students who walked by the decorations on Bachelor’s Row.

Housing & Residence Life was not able to be reached for comment on this story despite repeated attempts.

Emily Hutt contributed with reporting.

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