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U.Va faculty responds with care, contemplation after the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 13th shooting

Faculty and administration continue to demonstrate a long-standing commitment to creating remembrance and healing

In the year that has followed the shooting, some faculty members have sought ways to create spaces for students to heal.
In the year that has followed the shooting, some faculty members have sought ways to create spaces for students to heal.

1, 15, 41 — three numbers splashed across the front of hundreds of t-shirts, lovingly etched onto the side of Beta Bridge and formed with sticky notes upon dozens of dormitory windows. They are the jersey numbers of University students and football team members Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler — three students who were killed in a shooting on Grounds one year ago. 

Davis Jr., Perry and Chandler were more than just teammates, sons, brothers — professors across Grounds recognize the lasting impact that the young men had on their peers and in the classroom. It is an impact that was just as significant as the one they made on the field.

In the year that has followed the shooting, amidst collective mourning and efforts to support affected students, some faculty members like Asst. Sociology Prof. Dr. Ian Mullins have sought ways to create spaces for students to heal. 

“It's nice for the students to hear from a professor that the professor understands that they're still dealing with this,” Mullins said. “And then it could still affect them personally, emotionally, it could affect whether they feel safe, but it can affect their coursework.”

While the University did not cancel classes on the anniversary of the shooting, Mullins did not hold any of his classes Monday out of consideration for the mental and emotional health of his students — many of whom are upperclassmen and were on Grounds during the shooting last year.

“It's just a little gesture,” Mullins said. “It's a little bit of time where they don't have to do reading for that particular class, they don't have to be in the classroom and they can just have that time to themselves to do what they think they need to do.”

In a similar effort, Assoc. Computer Science Prof. Nada Basit held a moment of silence for the three victims before beginning her introductory computer science class Monday. Basit said that even though many of the students in the class are first years who didn’t experience the shooting firsthand, she wanted to offer a chance to pause and reflect.

Professors did not receive specific instructions on how to acknowledge the anniversary in class, but a University-wide email reminded them to be flexible with accommodations for students. Basit says the University has overall done well in its efforts to remember the three students, with memorials on Grounds like the planting of an overcup oak tree by the site of the shooting.

“You can't undo the situation, but I think any gesture is a great thing,” Basit said. “And I think the University has done a number of things and that's a lovely sentiment, that tree is going to grow and continue.” 

While the year since the shooting has seen healing and compassion, Mullins described the difficulties that accompanied a return to routine last fall in the weeks following the shooting, particularly because he had students who were on the bus when the shooting occurred. 

“I just made significant modifications to my course, the content and tried to create a space where students could work through their reactions,” Mullins said. 

This sentiment is especially true of professors who taught the victims themselves. One such faculty member was Professor Ying Gao, who teaches Chinese in the East Asian Languages department. Gao taught Perry in Elementary Chinese in the Fall of 2020 and was deeply touched by his commitment to her class. 

Her experience instructing a student-athlete like him has encouraged her to reach out to the Chinese Language program director in pursuit of better support systems for language learners like her former student.

“The thing that we can do in memorial for them…is to offer support for student-athletes [in the future] who really want to learn critical languages,” Gao said. “They are time-consuming. I think the University can probably offer some…courses in a special way to help athletes who want to learn.”

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Gao expressed her sadness over the loss of her student in an email shared with fellow East Asian Language teachers and students. Within the email, she included screenshots of his online postings for the class, which ranged from introductions to class projects and reflections.

“Moving back here from home, I was unsure what the future had in store for me and the entire University,” Perry wrote in his final semester reflection. “I’ve been doing OK, just trying to stay level-headed through everything and keep going.”

While still teaching him, Gao — feeling touched by Perry’s unwavering commitment to taking such a difficult course on top of an already difficult sports commitment — gave him the Chinese name Xiāo (骁), a character meaning valiant.

When she returned to China over the summer, Gao frequently considered ways to give back to Perry’s family. She eventually decided on a frame that included her favorite discussion posts of Perry’s for his family as a token of her continued respect and remembrance of her former student.

“I very much cherish these things,” Gao said. “And I'd like to make it a gift to his family to let them know that he was very brave and had lots of spirit.”

Beyond individual choices by professors, the University has offered resources for students dealing with grief on the shooting’s anniversary.

On Monday at 12:55 p.m., the University Chapel rang its bells in an act of remembrance for the students. Students and faculty observed a long moment of silence in response. In a video statement released the day before, University President Jim Ryan expressed his hope that that moment might help bring the University community closer together in a time of great difficulty.

“Tomorrow will be a hard day. There is no single right way to spend it,” Ryan said in the video. “We can honor them by holding those who are still grieving close to our hearts, and we can honor them by supporting one another.”

Numerous resources were listed in the video to support community members, such as an open house at Carr’s Hill and the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program. Both Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Affairs were also listed as viable options for students to reach out to.

The University has not mentioned any further plans for new memorials in the near future, but members of the community are free to visit the recently planted overcup oak tree for Lavel, D’Sean and Devin on Arts Grounds.

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