I was at a Welcome Back Cookout this weekend when I first saw the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at U.Va. post about the vandalism of the Office of African American Affairs. Quite frankly, my first reaction was horror. Then, admittedly, a bit of relief that the vandalism was a few broken windows, rather than the racist graffiti that I nervously anticipated. While the post outlines OAAA’s crucial role at the University throughout its history, I would like to take the opportunity to go a bit more in depth about its services. Particularly as first-year and transfer students move to Grounds and find their place here, I urge the University to send a communication to University students — in addition to its regular vandalism update — asserting the importance of OAAA to the University and the Black community. Incoming Black students deserve to know that they belong here and that organizations who exist to support them are valued on Grounds.
The OAAA was established back in 1976 and to this day is a pillar in the Black community at the University. Currently, the OAAA’s goals include creating a supportive environment for Black students by providing academic and non-academic support, enhancing the sensitivity of the larger community to the needs, interests and culture of Black students, fostering “cooperative relationships'' between students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and the community and encouraging institutionalized change. In more straightforward language, the OAAA does a lot. It offers everything from peer advising, to programs that support Black academic excellence, to tutoring services and weekly social events. Located a bit inconspicuously on Dawson's Row behind Old Cabell Hall, the OAAA serves a community that spreads far beyond its four brick walls.
Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that the OAAA’s existence is common knowledge throughout the entire University community. It often goes unmentioned in University-wide communications and fails to receive University-wide attention. A little over a year ago, Opinion Columnist Aliyah White noted this trend, writing that the OAAA is “deserving of an upgrade.” Her article came in the context that four new and upgraded student centers added to Newcomb Hall in 2020, while the OAAA remains tucked away in its original, secluded design. I will admit that, as White addresses in her column, the OAAA should not have an upgrade if it does not want it — there is important history on Dawson’s Row. But to me, OAAA’s fairly marginalized status on Grounds, combined with its relatively small physical space and the University’s failure to make an official comment on the OAAA vandalism veers into negligence and disregard rather than respectful distance.
So, in the face of vandalism at the University, I am writing this column to repeat what should be a well-known fact — the OAAA is a vital institution on Grounds. To incoming Black students, the OAAA is an amazing resource, should you choose to take advantage of its support. It provides academic assistance and a social community when you’re still trying to find your place here and throughout your four years at the University.
And to the University administration — take a stance and stand up for the OAAA. It deserves more than relegation to the sidelines, and failing to comment on the vandalism does exactly that. Throwing two rocks through a window is not an accident. Send out an official University-wide communication asserting that the OAAA is important and valued throughout Grounds. Regardless of the vandal’s intent, students should feel confident that the University will protect Black cultural institutions on Grounds. I do not doubt that if the Rotunda were vandalized, the University community would have gathered together behind love for the institution, disavowed the vandalism and warned any future perpetrators. OAAA deserves the same.
Jessica Moore is the Executive Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.