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Diversity at the University's residential colleges

The on-Grounds housing environments consider applicants’ ideas on topics like multiculturalism and social awareness

<p>Brown College's co-chair of membership noted that 66 percent of residents identify as LGBTQ+.&nbsp;</p>

Brown College's co-chair of membership noted that 66 percent of residents identify as LGBTQ+. 

In the University’s residential colleges, diversity is created through a holistic process of considering application questions rather than through the explicit consideration of demographics. In other words, rather than use an applicants demographic background to create diversity, diversity is built through different thoughts and ideas that are expressed through the application questions.

The International Residential College, Hereford and Brown all boast high diversity statistics of some sort, with over 30 percent of residents in the International Residential College holding foreign citizenship from a broad variety of countries, and a nearly majority-minority population at Hereford, where 47 percent of the population are racial minorities.

Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, principal of Hereford and associate professor of education, said that upon gazing over the audience at a Hereford dinner, University President Jim Ryan remarked “that [they] might be one of the most diverse residential areas on Grounds.” 

According to Jay Rothenberger, a third-year Engineering student and Brown’s co-chair for membership, over half of residents identified as LGBTQ+ on the College’s internal census.

“One thing that is really over represented in Brown in terms of the U.Va. community is definitely our LGBTQ+ faction,” Rothenberger said. “We do an internal survey every year [through] our listserv, and I think typically we get like 66 percent of people who respond to that identify … as LGBTQ+.” 

The University has three major residential colleges — Brown, Hereford and the International Residential College — as well as a variety of language houses. All of the residential colleges at the University are selective, determining which students will have housing through the college extended to them through an application process.

Discussing the topic of creating diversity explicitly through application demographics, third-year College student and prime minister of the International Residential College Grace Leffler stated, “It's a tricky business in that we don't have any quotas — nor does anyone want them.” 

At the major residential colleges, no demographics are considered aside from binary gender. Brown College makes a special point to compare what applicants indicate as their gender to University records to help transgender students get their preferred gender rooms to create a more accepting atmosphere.

Hereford and the International Residential Colleges attempt to create diversity through consideration of applicants’ responses to questions regarding their thoughts on social awareness and multiculturalism. 

“I would argue that one cannot share those values without having a strong commitment to diversity in all of its forms,” Inkelas said.

Leaders of the University’s residential colleges say they hope that the creation of diversity is more the result of a process of self-selection into an atmosphere that is accepting of a broad variety of perspectives, rather than something that they must control directly through the application process. 

“[We] are attracted to living spaces where we feel comfortable, whatever that may mean,” said Leffler. “No matter how we change our application or outreach process, certain elements outside of our control will serve as the catalysts for a current or incoming U.Va. student to apply.”

However, according to Leffler, the International Residential College does try to create a “comfortable” living space by evaluating applicants on their “enthusiasm for our core values of open-mindedness, multiculturalism, acceptance and intellectual discourse,” among other criteria.

Brown College differs from the other two in that it bases its application process off of question responses that are comparatively abstract and unique, allowing groups within its community to evaluate the applicant's personality and whether they would mesh with the atmosphere at Brown.

“All of the questions are meant to assess the personality of a person… They’re usually kind of wacky,” Rothenberger said about their application questions. “One of them from my year was ‘You discover everyone besides yourself is a puppet filled with bees, what are your next steps?’”

Like the other colleges, Brown understands that diversity flows from having an open and accepting atmosphere. Any time the group hosts events that they hope will draw new applicants, they try to make sure people know that Brown is an open community and everyone is welcome to apply.

The deadline for accepting housing offers from the residential colleges was No. 25.