Ryan facilitates conversation on U.Va.’s goals, shortcomings at ‘Ours to Shape’ event

Attendees underscored interactions between Charlottesville and the University, expanding research on climate change and sustainability

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University President Jim Ryan speaks at the Ours To Shape event in Newcomb Hall Tuesday afternoon.

Sophie Roehse | Cavalier Daily

The University hosted an “Ours to Shape” event with University President Jim Ryan Tuesday afternoon in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. The event, attended by approximately 120 faculty and students, provided a platform for members of the University community to discuss goals — including a focus on sustainability and community engagement — for the University in the context of Ryan’s “Ours to Shape” initiative. 

Since beginning his term in August, Ryan has emphasized the “Ours to Shape” program as a means to gather input from University members and surrounding communities about U.Va.’s future. The initiative’s website allows community members to submit essays giving input on the University’s goals for the future.

“[Ryan] knows that it’s not about knowing all of the answers, but asking the right questions,” Tabitha Enoch, an assistant dean and director of orientation and new student programs, said while introducing Ryan. “Ours to Shape is no different; framed with relevant and timely questions about how we can simply do U.Va. better as it relates to three key principles — community, discovery, service.”

During the hour-long event, Ryan posed questions to the room — including questions about what U.Va.’s priorities should be and how to strengthen the University’s community — then allowed time for group discussion at each table and listened to attendees’ responses on topics relating to the three highlighted themes. 

Conversation largely focused on community engagement. Of the small number of students in attendance, several voiced concerns about how to better engage with the Charlottesville community. 

“The class I have right after this talks about health equity, and kind of how medicine today is really shaped by the social environment we live in,” third-year College student Jean Nunez told The Cavalier Daily. “So I want to see what his perspective is on how we can help the community, because that should come from a place of solidarity.”

While posing their concerns to Ryan, many attendees stressed the importance of partnering with the local community on racial issues. In the wake of the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, the University is uniquely poised to work with the Charlottesville community to heal racial divides, some attendees said.

Ryan recently announced a working group designed to improve relations between U.Va. and the broader Charlottesville community, which could focus on racial equity in the City.

Ryan challenged those in attendance to “think big or think different” while coming up with one idea to strengthen community at the University. Responses included taking Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn to first-year resident halls, offering classes on the Downtown Mall open to the public and taught by University faculty, investing in more residential colleges and providing affordable local housing through the University.

A lack of available parking and limited public transportation services were highlighted by respondents as major blocks to facilitating community and interactions between Charlottesville residents and the University. Respondents also called for more open, honest and consistent communication from the University to improve the U.Va. community internally.

“It’s really necessary, since the University has a tendency to hold things close to the vest,” one respondent said. 

Attendees also stressed the need for expanding research on climate change and sustainability. The University should be on its way to becoming a world leader in climate change research, and there should be increased community and research efforts to make the University more environmentally progressive, faculty and staff told Ryan.

Ryan has hosted several other events to gather feedback from the U.Va. community, but this is the second “Ours to Shape” events on Grounds since August. The first event, hosted earlier this year, also focused on hearing community concerns.

As of today, Ryan has also received over 1,000 essay submissions through the “Ours to Shape” website. Ryan has carefully read through all of them, Enoch said in her introduction.

According to Ryan, there were several surprising common threads in the essays submitted.

“One thing is — there are a lot of people who are really interested in ice hockey coming back to U.Va.,” Ryan said in an interview. “The other is that there are a lot of people who are really interested in expanding opportunities for students to have international experiences. So those were two that I wasn’t quite expecting, but they were common threads.”

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