The University’s Days on the Lawn have been in full swing since April 4. The warm weather has opened the curtains on Grounds as orange and blue balloons accompany blooming trees. Tour groups of enthusiastic prospective students accompanied by equally eager parents attempt to catch a small glimpse into student life on Grounds. Remarkably, this is the first year since 2019 that DOTL has been hosted in-person.
DOTL is an open-house style event taking place Mondays and Fridays throughout the month of April and is hosted by the Office of Admission for students considering attending the University. Opportunities range from school informational sessions led by professors to student activities fairs in Newcomb and a Pavilion social. All of these opportunities serve to provide insight on student culture and allow prospective students to become acquainted with University life.
Harini Peri, co-chair of DOTL and fourth-year Batten student, said the events aim to offer a glimpse of student life at the University. With current students performing their usual routines of walking to class, grabbing lunch and strolling through Grounds, prospective students are able to gain some insight as to what life is like as a student.
“It's basically a chance for prospective students to connect with current students without their parents,” Peri said. “It's very much more intimate and just as the student experience as well as raffles, games and food … emphasizing, with our hundreds of volunteers, that everyone's experience is unique and different but still special.”
This year is the first time in a few years that the event has been hosted in-person, though there are still virtual options for students who aren’t able to attend. The virtual option entails live Q&As with current students over Zoom to provide personal accounts of life as a University student. Given the decision to host an online option as well, Dean of Admissions Greg Roberts said the workload for the Office of Admissions was particularly heavy this year.
Roberts noted that when accounting for both in-person and virtual participants, attendance is roughly the same as to what it was in 2019, adding that one of the biggest challenges the office faces in putting on DOTL is handling the sheer number of prospective students that would like to attend, as DOTL is first-come first-serve, with no waiting list.
“There are a lot of students that want to come visit in a short period of time,” Roberts said. “Sometimes we are limited by space availability on Grounds, [and] we're limited by the size of some of the venues … this is the very first year that we've asked people to park at JPJ.”
Despite the heavier workload and logistical complications, Roberts maintained that his enthusiasm and excitement for finally hosting in-person events was still high, as he acknowledged the importance of the in-person experience for prospective students.
“It's nice to be back,” Roberts said. “It's nice to see our students back. It's nice to see visitors come back. It's really hard to accurately or effectively share what a college is really like from a camera, and so we did the best we could to learn a lot from our virtual programming, but it's so much more fun to have students here, and I think that our students would agree with that.”
Student ambassadors also expressed excitement about having in-person DOTL, looking forward to promoting the University and informing prospective students on what life on Grounds is like. Peri elaborated on the University community’s eagerness to welcome prospective students.
“The showout was absolutely incredible … [volunteers] are so excited to give back,” Peri said. “It can really speak to how they have found a home here and how U.Va. has been so special for them amidst everything going on … I think [DOTL] is a huge event of hope and happiness.”
Alita Robinson, co-chair of DOTL and fourth-year Education student, said she wanted to help students feel comfortable and demonstrate how they can find community at the University. As an out-of-state student and student of color, Robinson said she hopes to help prospective students understand that they are not alone and can find their place on Grounds.
“Days on the Lawn [is] where I can just talk to prospective students,” Robinson said. “And honestly, I think it's really important for me as a student of color at U.Va. to be a face that prospective students can see so they feel less alone in their decision of going here.”
Prospective students looked to gain a better understanding of life and opportunities at the University. The pandemic posed unique challenges and curveballs to high school students, so they had to find some innovative ways to learn more about colleges.
High school senior Farrah Azizi said she enjoyed watching Associate Dean of Admissions Jeannine Lalonde — commonly known as Dean J amongst prospective students — on social media to learn more about the University before and after she was admitted. Lalonde is the author of a popular blog called Notes from Peabody that offers tips and tricks related to the admissions process for applicants.
“I think I watched all of Dean J’s TikToks and I have been reading her articles and her blog and everything and all her tips help so much.” Azizi said.
Azizi came to DOTL to see what the University has to offer. For one, Azizi hopes that there will be sufficient mental health resources available after being dissatisfied with her high school’s resources. She is counting on better and more comprehensive opportunities at the University. She emphasized that this is especially important because of how rigorous college life can be.
“[In high school], sometimes you don't always want to go to your counselor and talk about things like that, maybe like student ambassadors who can talk to you [would be good] for the sake of your own mental health, because I know that U.Va. is pretty rigorous,” Azizi said.
Azizi also came to explore the extracurricular activities available at the University and how she could possibly pursue applying to the McIntire School of Commerce. She applied to the University through its early decision option, so she will be enrolled this fall. Coming from an Afghan background, Azizi said she plans to enact change in the world as a student through cultural organizations.
“I want to get closer to the Afghans here because where I'm from there aren't a lot of Afghans,” Azizi said. “I want to be one of those students that wants to change the world versus getting rich.”
One of the driving factors that prompted Azizi to apply to the University was because she believes that there is more to college than simply receiving a piece of paper after four years of studying. Her college search revealed to her that the University can offer that — an experience that looks beyond just a degree. This inspired her to apply to the University and she looks forward to starting to pursue her goal next semester.
“I want to get the most diverse education out of [the University] rather than get a good degree from a good university,” Azizi said. “I want to [do] all these things so I can make the world a better place.”
DOTL also offers some more specific opportunities for students of color. Spring Blast and Spring Fling took place on April 8 for Latinx and Black students, respectively. These events serve to specifically connect with prospective students of color and present the variety of resources available for them at the University.
Victor Villanueva, third-year Engineering student and first-year engagement chair of Cultural Organization for Latin Americans, participated in Spring Blast as a panelist. COLA and the Office of Admissions collaborated to put together Spring Blast.
“It was me and other Latino engineers — third and fourth years — and we just answered questions from parents and students about the engineering school,” Villanueva said. “The second [panel] was called community advocacy and culture panel, and they were asking how people of different backgrounds across the Grounds found community within U.Va. within a multicultural space.”
DOTL is not always balloons and confetti, however. Some current University students have expressed mild discomfort with the sheer number of prospective students and families on Grounds and feel like zoo animals.
Mica Vilanova, fourth-year College student and Lawn resident, said she sometimes feels like DOTL poses an invasion of privacy for Lawn residents, who are encouraged to open their doors to anyone who comes knocking.
“Living on the Lawn is already a public space and sometimes you feel really observed,” Vilanova said. “When [the University] say[s] that they would like for you to graciously open the door for others and also open up your private space for the public — I feel [that] it is okay to ask, but I don't feel like we should treat it as an obligation of us, as students living on the Lawn, to be forced to show [everything].”
Vilanova also expressed frustration that some of the DOTL events can feel like an exaggerated demonstration or facade for prospective students and portray an idealized representation of University life.
“I feel like we put on a facade during those days in order to create a spectacle for them, but [instead of] really showing them what the experience is at U.Va. and being as honest as we can,” Vilanova said. “Students shouldn't be forced to sell U.Va. — we should be comfortable sharing our own experiences and the difficulties that we have [faced] transitioning in this space and also expressing the changes that we want to see within this space and inspire incoming students who [can] be that change themselves by coming here.”
Meanwhile, Noor Sharif, third-year College student and DOTL resource fair tabler, said witnessing the prospective students roam through Grounds prompted feelings of nostalgia as she reminisced on her time at the University.
“[It’s] nice to see all the eager students coming in … it's reminding me of my own first-year experience,” Sharif said. “I think my biggest advice is to take it slow and try the first-year experience, especially because the past couple years have really highlighted how much we take for granted.”
In the end, all participants desire to gain or impart a more comprehensive understanding of what the University has to offer and what life on Grounds is like. As DOTL co-chair, Robinson felt the need to address a less obvious feature about student life at the University — that despite the size of the University’s undergraduate student body, the school still exhibits a strong sense of community.
“I really hope that prospective students understand that we're a big community here and that [we] have so many smaller communities that make us a big community,” Robinson said. “You'll find your friends from your clubs, but you'll also find friends in your classes and be able to walk across Grounds and have a smile on your face because [you see] someone that you know … Particularly for Black students, it's really important for me to know that this can be their home, no matter the fact there's only 6 percent or less here and things of that nature.”
Peri also finds shared meaning in DOTL. She found a sense of home and community at the University and strives to share that positive experience with future students.
“It's just this magical feeling — I was here and I felt home, and no matter where [prospective students] choose I just hope that they get that sense of home,” Peri said. “And that's the [sense of] community that we all feel so strongly here because everyone deserves that from a college experience.”