Currently sitting on a $9.5 billion endowment, the University earns a spot in the top five wealthiest public colleges in the United States. This outrageous wealth has fostered an environment of elites with a silver spoon in their mouth, believing the community owes them more than they owe it. As a result, the institution, its money and its students are failing to give back to the greater Charlottesville community and to itself. Thus, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, the University has allowed students to bask in their own imagined glory.
Like cavaliers riding in on their high horse, University students are aware of this status, as is the rest of the world. Referencing several posts in Urban Dictionary, the environment of exclusiveness and sophistication found at the University is no secret, nor is it amusing. Described as students who posses the mindset of “we’re better than you and we think we know it,” the University is not painted in the best light. While Urban Dictionary is commonly used to create comical, dramatized descriptions of the world, there is a frightening amount of truth underneath the descriptions. The fact of the matter is that the University does sit in a bubble of exclusivity that has had disheartening repercussions.
Most of this elitism culminates on the already existing stereotype surrounding Greek life and its participants, which constitutes approximately 35 percent of students at the University. This becomes ever so apparent with the most-valued mixer between fraternities and sororities — the spring Foxfield Races. An exclusive, high-priced derby exists at the heart of spring drinking at the University, simultaneously celebrating and reinforcing the sophisticated level of privilege students indulge in. However innocent this day of Lily Pulitzer, sun hats and bus rides may appear, a deeper level of glorified prestige exists within it, and it is taking over student life.
Students have lost accountability and responsibility to themselves, their school and their community. There has been a steady increase in rape, sexual assault and hate crimes on Grounds, but the rate of disciplinary sanctions remains the same. Ranking fifth in the nation for reported rapes, it is unacceptable that the University has the lowest expulsion rate for sexual assault in the Commonwealth — but that is the reality. Thus, students are taught that life really can be all fun because no one will ever be punished — at least not here. And with this level of posh, can you blame them? Students are continuously told that a U.Va. degree will take them anywhere they want to go in life. It’s as if the elitism of the University translates beyond the school, onto a piece of paper and into the world, following students wherever they go. Thus, the question arises, is it too late to change?
While this level of elitism is both expected and praised, students must realize that a certain level of responsibility is also demanded. Students at the University do have the power and position to facilitate change at the school, in the greater Charlottesville community and throughout the state. Yet, it seems extremely hard — if not impossible — for students to look past the amount of opportunity presented to them. Even still, it is essential to understand that the University and its students do not make the Charlottesville community — they exist within it. Additionally, it is equally important to note that attending the University is not a right — it is ironically a privilege within itself.
However, none of this criticism is to discredit the University or the hard work of the students who attend it because I do believe this institution has earned some of its reputation within its own right.
With that being said, I urge the University and its students to put their money where their mouth is. The economic and physical growth of the University monopoly in Charlottesville calls for an increased sense of responsibility towards the community, the school and the students. We need to hold ourselves and our peers accountable, and checking our own privilege is a good place to start. In addition to adjusting some our norms around U.Va., the University needs to consistently sanction students when they violate codes of conduct, and likewise, students should not tolerate misconduct and brush it off as the norm. This change may not solve the problem entirely, but we must use the institutional mechanisms available to address it. Students, faculty, staff and members of the University community need to take off their rose-colored glasses and stop letting the prestigious culture blind them from giving back and upholding the basic values the University aims to represent. There is much more to the University than finals, Franzia and Foxfield, and I think it is time we show it.
Hailey Yowell is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.