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The president’s home is an oasis for all U.Va. students

How opening the doors to Carr’s Hill led to an unexpected University tradition

Announced monthly through Ryan’s Instagram account, open houses at Carr’s Hill welcome all University students to the doors.
Announced monthly through Ryan’s Instagram account, open houses at Carr’s Hill welcome all University students to the doors.

Home to the past nine University presidents, Carr’s Hill has seen an array of distinguished guests. Last year, however, University President Jim Ryan began to add new regulars to the list — students. Now a budding tradition called “Open Carr’s Hill”, all University students are invited to the president’s house on designated afternoons, transforming the historic site into a haven for college students who may feel far from home.

Announced monthly through Ryan’s Instagram account, open houses at Carr’s Hill welcome all University students to the doors. For two to three hours, students may visit the house between classes and use the first floor as they please — many choose to grab a snack, study in the gardens, play with the Ryans’ two dogs or simply sink into a couch with a cup of apple cider in hand. 

The opportunity integrates students into University spaces that initially seem out of reach. For second-year Engineering student Lily Byers, visiting Carr's Hill reinforced a sense of trust between the student body and Ryan.

“I think a big part of being the president of a public university is making sure that students know you see them, you're listening to them, and you're not just a figurehead,” Byers said. “I felt [at] peace knowing that we have a president who is willing and excited to interact with students and not be tucked away.”

Third-year College student Ava Hogan echoed Byers’ sentiment. For Hogan, Open Carr’s Hill felt like a personal gesture from University leadership.

“I was surprised at first [to hear] that [Ryan] was opening his house,” Hogan said. “I felt in some way that I was closer to the University and the people who are leading the University.”

The first Carr’s Hill open house was organized the week after the Nov. 13 shooting. Ryan and his wife Katie Ryan opened up their house to provide a space for members of the University community to grieve and find solace in each other. Since then, Katie Ryan and Marie Pace, director for Carr’s Hill Operations, have spearheaded subsequent open houses, fostering continued support for students.

Matt Weber, senior advisor to the president and chief creative officer, said that the open houses stemmed from the Ryans’ care for the University community following the tragedy. 

“[The open houses] were a heartfelt response from the Ryans to do everything that they could to help the community heal,” Weber said. “That's what the Ryans do … they look out for students.”

The scheduling of the Carr’s Hill open houses remains in tune with the student body, but also depends on the house’s availability. Open houses occur more frequently during finals week, offering students a study space when the libraries fill. The most recent open house, held on the anniversary of Nov. 13, served as a dedicated space for reflection. For Hogan, observing Nov. 13 at Carr’s Hill gave her space to process her thoughts.

“That day, I was just running from place to place, so when I walked up [to Carr’s Hill], it felt like a nice, quiet place,” Hogan said. “There was time for me to relax and think about everything.”

Carr’s Hill continuously beckons over visitors both old and new. Weber emphasized that the tranquil atmosphere attracts people from all over Grounds.

“We've done this enough [that] there should be punch cards for people who show up,” Weber said. “There are regulars who've been [Carr’s Hill] almost every time … [and] there's no [single] type of student that shows up. You're meeting folks from the field hockey team and first-year Engineering students … It's a beautiful mix of everyone.”

As open houses at Carr’s Hill continue, what sets this new tradition apart from other community events is its emphasis on simple togetherness. Students are drawn to Carr’s Hill not for a specific event but by a sense of companionship. 

“There wasn't an objective other than just fostering a peaceful environment,” Byers said. “I walked into [Carr’s Hill] knowing it was a space that was curated for students’ benefit and for relaxation, which is different from going into a club meeting where I have an agenda.”

Brimming with students’ chatter, laughter and the trills of a piano, Carr’s Hill has become the president’s home in name only — Weber encourages all students to visit Carr’s Hill and build community with each other.

“Come up to this home, the Ryans’ home,” Weber said. “It's yours to enjoy.” 

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