For nervous new students at the University, a supportive community can make all the difference between a lonely and fulfilling college experience. Many Wahoos find belonging in the arts and, by graduation, consider their artistic groups of choice a second home on Grounds.
Fourth-year College student Bobbi-Angelica Morris is one of those students. Morris joined CIO Flux Poetry and Spoken Word in her first year after writing poetry as an emotional outlet during high school. She has since found the club’s members to be some of her favorite people she has met on Grounds.
“I love the people and I love the safe space that they create,” Morris said. “They're literally just the most amazing people at U.Va., honestly, and they did amazing this semester.”
Particularly special for Morris was Flux’s willingness to accommodate her being hard of hearing, which has been a perpetual challenge for her in college. At first, Flux presented a familiar hurdle — Morris struggled to hear other poets without an interpreter or captioning. But when she decided to advocate for change in the club, Morris was relieved at how quickly Flux worked to accommodate her and ensure she felt included.
“We had a link with all the poems on it, so the deaf and hard of hearing students and community members that I invited to [the showcase] could go along with it,” Morris said of her experience performing at a Flux showcase this spring. “We also printed out all of the transcripts for everything, and we had an ASL interpreter at the performance. It was a really good experience, and I'm glad that my poetry coaches and teammates helped me advocate for that.”
Fourth years in other artistic communities mentioned a similar degree of warmth, love and acceptance in their respective groups. Fourth-year College student Parinita Kumar has been involved in a gender-inclusive a cappella group, the Harmonious Hoos, since her first year.
Kumar said that participating in a cappella helped ease her social transition to the University.
“I think one of the biggest things I love about it [the Harmonious Hoos] is I found a group that I can consider to be like my family, and in a place I didn't even expect,” Kumar said. “I didn't expect that this random group of people would be so open and so loving. That's really what I was looking for as a first year coming into U.Va. with knowing only five to six people from high school. It was crazy to just be taken in, and everyone showing me the ropes to college really meant a lot to me.”
Alongside student organizations, there are also a variety of University-sponsored opportunities to help students experiment artistically and exhibit their work.
Fourth-year College student David Askew has been heavily involved in the studio art program and recently completed a multi-work thesis project.
“My thesis show consisted of six pieces,” Askew said. “All of them have the same meaning — they all are basically me trying to recreate myself into a form of art. Recently, I just haven't understood who I am. And so I've been using art and the way I create to understand it. I use a lot of different mediums to represent all the different identities I have, and I adorn all of my pieces with glitter like I adorn myself with jewelry.”
Askew was also part of a cohort group through the studio art department that put on multiple shows. Askew described the cohort as uniquely supportive and welcoming, particularly for risky artistic decisions — in Askew’s case, significantly changing their thesis’s style shortly before exhibition.
“I know a lot of other [art] programs are very competitive and that a lot of the people in your cohort will be kind of against each other, whereas here … we're all super supportive and a great community,” Askew said. “I feel like the community of the art department is, what's made my time at U.Va. so great. If I went to any other school, the changes I've made in my work over the past semester wouldn't have been encouraged.”
Along with opportunities for personal growth, artistic communities at the University often aim to showcase other groups in performances or encourage members to attend shows. This semester, fourth-year College student Sarah Fayemi served as creative director for Africa Day, a fashion show put on by the Organization of African Students. In her role, Fayemi was excited to choose African performers for intermission and costuming changes, incorporating various art forms to highlight the breadth of African culture.
“We had a guest dance appearance from VCU,” Fayemi said. “They did so good, they definitely brought the energy. We had rap and a section of spoken word … I like when we can have different aspects of African and Black culture just come together and make one big, amazing show.”
Fourth years have different visions for how they will stay involved with the arts after graduation. After a brief gap period, Askew hopes to apply to a masters in fine arts program and work as a full-time artist, while Kumar plans to settle into a career in neuroscience and sing as a hobby. Regardless, their experiences at the University have instilled a passion for art that will persist after college.
“I want to give myself time to breathe and develop as an artist and figure out exactly what route I want to take, but I definitely can’t see my life without art,” Askew said.