Third-year College student Ashley Grullon received exciting news during a surprise Zoom call Saturday — she will be living in West Lawn Room 15 next year. The room, known as the Gus Blagden “Good Guy” Room, is reserved each year for students who exemplify the Class of 1963 alumnus’ altruistic qualities.
Students are nominated by their peers to live in the Good Guy room, which was endowed in Blagden’s honor in 1968 by a fellow classmate. According to the letter soliciting these nominations, peers who recommend students to live in the Gus Blagden room must explain how their peer “selflessly commits their time to serving the University community; maintains good moral character; conducts themselves according to a high standard; displays genuine concern and care for fellow students; may be distinguished by academic merit (but not need be); may be in a recognized position of leadership (but not need be); and carries these fine qualities with the utmost humility.”
All nominations are read by a committee composed of Dean of Students Allen Groves, the current room’s inhabitant — this year, that’s fourth-year College student Sam LeFew — a representative of the semisecret I.M.P. Society, the president of Student Athlete Advisory Council, Housing and Residence Life staff co-chairs and representatives from the four Greek councils. While students are often nominated by several different people, Groves noted that it is the quality of the person that matters — not the number of nominations.
To surprise Grullon with the good news, her roommate told her that they were going to have an interview and needed to meet a journalist on Zoom. When they got on the call — which had 34 of Grullon’s friends, mentors and the selection committee — it took Grullon a while to realize what was happening.
“I was very confused at first,” Grullon said. “I was like, ‘Why are there so many people on here for this interview, what is going on?’”
Grullon, who hails from the Bronx in New York City, said that she never planned on coming to the University, but after she attended a Young Alumni Reunion with her brother, a 2013 College graduate, and financial aid worked out, she found herself in Charlottesville.
An American Studies and Latin American Studies double-major, Grullon focuses her energy on three main initiatives at the University. These include the Hispanic-Latinx Peer Mentoring Program — an organization that provides resources, advising and community to first-year students — Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society — a CIO that advocates for social justice in the Latinx community — and the Afro-Latinx Student Organization, a group that celebrates intersectionality within perspective identities.
Though she noted that the organization was very non-hierarchical, Grullon is the president of ALSO — a group that holds more intersectional, Afro-Latinx-focused events, such as a poetry event just before break and learning traditional Dominican and Caribbean dances.
She also serves as open-mic co-chair for PLUMAS, which was founded in 2017 and promotes discussion among members about social and political issues facing Latinxs in the University community.
Grullon said that PMP — an organization she has been a part of since her first year — has been one of the most rewarding experiences she’s had while at the University. The program is coordinated through the Multicultural Student Center and matches mentors with mentees to help them transition to the academic, intellectual and social culture at the University. This year, Grullon is a familia head, which means that she manages her own group of mentors and mentees and is part of the program’s executive board.
Grullon said that being involved in the organization has introduced her to many of her current friends, taught her to be more outspoken and allowed her to foster welcoming environments for first-year students on Grounds.
“It’s really rewarding to watch mentors and mentees who maybe don't think that they would pair up very well and knowing that you did a good job pairing them up,” Grullon said.
Grullon hosted Sunday night dinners nearly every weekend of fall 2019 for the first-years in PMP and has planned movie nights and study sessions during her time with the program.
Grullon’s dreams about living on the Lawn are certainly a long time coming. During her first-year orientation, Grullon told her roommate to “just watch” because one day, she was going to live on the Lawn. Though her friend was unconvinced and questioned why she would ever want to live there, Grullon remained steady in her conviction.
“I was like ‘I'm gonna do it, watch,’” Grullon said. “And then I did it.”
Grullon — who has many ideas for her room — said she was really excited to enjoy long-standing traditions like Lighting of the Lawn and Rotunda Sing from the comfort of her own spot on the Lawn. Her plans include starting a tea time and a book club that’s open to all students.
Other than living on the Lawn, Grullon is looking forward to her fourth year in general and noted that she really hopes that students can return to Grounds in the fall. Though she thinks the year will be bittersweet, she’s excited to see friends again and wants to check things off her bucket list before Final Exercises.
Grullon added that as a first-generation, low-income student from New York City and the daughter of two Dominican immigrant parents, being chosen to live on the Lawn is much bigger than her — but noted that other students shouldn’t see the accomplishment as a measure of their individual success.
“I think a lot of people think living on the Lawn is the way you should measure how successful you've been at U.Va., but that's not true,” Grullon said. “Success is different for every individual, so find your version of success and live up to that standard.”