Lighting of the Lawn organizers plan to shorten event, change programming

Event will feature guest speakers, presentation of 200 bicentennial goals

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In 2017, the University increased security measures, adding metal detectors to entrances, requiring attendees to follow the University’s clear bag policy, limiting entrance to only two locations and prohibiting outside food and drink. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

The 18th annual Lighting of the Lawn is set to take place Dec. 6 on the Lawn. The LOTL committee, made up of all the Class Councils, has made several adjustments to the event, including a shortened duration, diversified speakers and a presentation of community goals related to the University’s bicentennial.

The LOTL committee, made up of all the Class Councils, has chosen this year’s theme to be “Brighter Together.”

According to their website, the LOTL committee hopes to use this theme to present “a space for everyone in our community” and to “[offer] a place for reflection, positivity, and most importantly: UNITY.”

The tradition began 17 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a way to promote togetherness within the community, the University Trustees commemorated those lost by hanging festive lights on the Lawn. Attendance at the event has spiked since 2012, when a light show on the Rotunda was added. 

Fourth-year Commerce student Mara Reichle said that she appreciates the fact that this year’s theme will promote togetherness and move away from just being a holiday celebration. 

“I personally like the idea of being a community and … unity as a newer component of Lighting of the Lawn,” Reichle said. “I like the idea that it is not just a festive events but it is also an event to bring people together.”

Katie Mendenhall, a fourth-year Batten student and co-chair of the LOTL committee, stressed the importance of LOTL in bringing together the University community, especially after the violent white supremacist rallies of August 2017.

“We think that LOTL is still fulfilling a need in our community, as we have been through a lot,” Mendenhall said. “It's a great way for people from all groups across our community to come together and enjoy a fun night before finals start.”

New additions to the event will include a reception on the South Lawn with programming, including food trucks, games and more for attendees to enjoy before the light show starts. Additionally, Mendenhall said the LOTL committee hopes to ensure greater variety in the groups that will be be speaking between performances during the light show. 

The Fourth Year Trustees did not provide The Cavalier Daily with a cost estimate for the event. 

Each year, LOTL attracts thousands of attendees. In 2017, the University increased security measures, adding metal detectors to entrances, requiring attendees to follow the University’s clear bag policy, limiting entrance to only two locations and prohibiting outside food and drink. According to the LOTL website, enhanced safety procedures will be in place again this year, including the use of metal detectors.

Organizers have been working with the administration to adjust safety measures so that lines to get into the Lawn will be shorter. These efforts include creating specific lines for individuals with bags and recommending that audience members arrive 45 minutes prior to the event’s start.

Like last year, the event will start at 7 p.m., but unlike previous years, the light show will begin at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. According to Mendenhall, these changes were made in an effort to address past complaints from attendees who did not want to wait for several hours in the cold for the light show to begin. 

The decision to shorten the tradition also stems from concerns about alcohol use at the event. Mendenhall said she and Gordon Bailey — a fourth-year College student and co-chair of LOTL — came to this decision after speaking with the administration about their concerns related to crowd control and drinking at LOTL.

“[We are] trying to find a way to curb heavy drinking at the event,” Mendenhall said. “We thought that getting everyone off the Lawn earlier was a way to do that.”

University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said the University supports efforts to increase safety at the event.

“As is the case with any large-scale University event, the safety and wellbeing of those attending the event is a top priority, and the University is supportive of any efforts to curtail underage drinking or any other inappropriate behavior,” de Bruyn said.

Jenna Wichterman, a fourth-year College student and Lawn resident, raised concerns about the event and the potential for dangerous activities to take place.

“As a Lawnie, I think I have a greater responsibility to be monitoring and to be making sure that everyone is okay and if they’re not … knowing what to do in that situation,” Wichterman said. “I almost feel like a little bit of a co-host this year.”

The planning committee is planning on making a few additional changes to this year’s event, including re-emphasizing the original purpose of Lighting of the Lawn as a memorial to those lost during the 9/11 attacks. 

“This year, we are focusing on bringing back the importance of Lighting of the Lawn and trying to create event norms and to make it safe space for people so they can remember the victims of 9/11,” said Emma Sisk, a first-year College student and LOTL committee member. 

The event will be a time for people to reflect on 9/11 and those who were lost as well as serve as a way for the people of Charlottesville to gather in an effort to collectively better the community.

Fourth-year College student Danya Abutaleb, a Lawn resident, said that they hope that they can create a more welcoming space on the Lawn for people of color and queer individuals during the event.

“I would say that [my] intentionality has changed because this is the first time where I get to  humanize the Lawn and show people … how despite the fact that no one ever expected me to be here, that I am going to be there and I’m going to open my room,” Abutaleb said. 

To celebrate the University’s Bicentennial in 2019, the event will also feature a presentation of the community’s 200 goals for the next 200 years. Goals can be submitted by students and members of the Charlottesville community through LOTL’s Facebook page. 

“200 goals for 200 years is meant to reflect on our commitment to making our community better as UVA starts its next 200 years,” Mendenhall said. “They will be displayed at LOTL as … a call to action to create positive change in our community.”

This story has been updated to clarify Abutaleb’s views about Lighting of the Lawn. 

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