When I met fourth-year College student Logan Dandridge last week in Alderman Café, I put my hand out for an introductory handshake, but he was already leaning in for a hug. I was about to suggest we move to the Scholars’ Lab to talk, but Dandridge suggested we go outside and enjoy the beautiful day.
As we walked across the University’s red brick paths, Dandridge told me about his project, “Beyond Skin Deep: The U.Va. Experience.” Three years ago he stumbled upon Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” Facebook photo series. Inspired by the project, Dandridge created a Facebook page called “Friends of Friends” last year, which replicated the concept.
“I was inspired by how honest people could be when you interact with them,” Dandridge said. "[Stanton] just walks up to strangers and just begins a dialogue with them. When people are willing to share things about themselves and then, when you display that publicly, it’s really interesting.”
Dandridge brought his more recent project “Beyond Skin Deep” to Grounds through the Social Justice and Diversity Fellowship, offered jointly by the IMP Society and the Black Student Alliance. A screen outside Garrett Hall features Dandridge’s student portraits along with their quotes.
Dandridge said he wanted to focus this particular project on the discussion of issues the University community faced last year, including diversity, sexual misconduct and social justice.
Dandridge asked participants, “What does community mean to you?” and “Has race affected your experience at U.Va.?” Participants could respond to either of these two questions or opt for a third, more open-ended question, which prompted them to share an impactful experience they had at the University.
The project will be open for the rest of the school year, and Dandridge hopes to talk to as many members of the University community as he can to infuse as many perspectives as possible into the project.
“I think when you have a moment or two and you engage with students who may have a different idea or opinion than you do, I think that’s special,” Dandridge said. “So I hope that people can walk past [the installation] and see something from someone that they might not ever think could have an opinion like that and then reflect on their own interactions with people of different color and opinions.”
Dandridge came to the University as a transfer student from Old Dominion University after growing up in Richmond, Virginia. While he found a diverse community on Grounds, it was not as diverse as the communities he was used to.
“Coming here was really interesting because I found out immediately that U.Va. is a very segmented community at times, and I felt very uncomfortable presenting myself as that Richmond, ‘dress a little bit different, talk a little bit different’ type of person,” Dandridge said.
Dandridge said he assimilated to University culture.
“When I first got here, I kind of fell into the different categories that black students can kind of fall into,” Dandridge said, “so I dressed a little bit different, [and I] toned down the way that I used different words that people didn’t know the meanings of. I assimilated. I think that’s natural, but I think since then, I’ve really grown on my own and my independence, and I’ve really grown in my identity.”
Being a minority at the University is a unique experience for each individual, he said.
“I think that when you’re a minority in a majority community, you’re faced with things that, I feel like, people don’t really see,” Dandridge said. “I feel like a lot of my friends that are minority students here, whether they’re Asian or black or Hispanic or whatever, they have all had personal growth that they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been here.”
Being at the University, Dandridge said he realized he had the option to conform or embrace his own individuality.
“U.Va. forces you to realize, either you’re going to be yourself and just do it, or you’re going to be scared and conform,” he said. “I feel like everybody gets to that point, black or white, but I think that it’s more palpable in a community where you’re not the majority, and you’re always looking around, and people don’t look like you, immediately, because they’re a different color.”
Dandridge said he thinks the tension between individuality and conformity is something all students experience.
“People come here from all across the country, [and it] doesn’t matter what color you are — everybody has to deal with those same things,” Dandridge said.