For nervous students new to college, a supportive community can make the difference between a lonely and fulfilling college experience. Many Wahoos find their belonging in the arts and, upon graduation, consider their arts groups of choice a second home on Grounds.
Bobbi-Angelica Morris, a fourth-year college student, is one such student. Morris joined CIO Flux Poetry and Spoken Word in his freshman year after writing poetry as an emotional outlet in high school. She’s since found the club members to be some of her favorite people she’s met on Grounds.
“I love people and I love the safe space they create,” Morris said. “They’re literally the most amazing people in U.Va., honestly, and they’ve been amazing this semester.”
Flux’s willingness to adapt to her hearing loss was particularly special to Morris, which was a perpetual challenge for her in college. At first, Flux presented a familiar obstacle – Morris had trouble hearing other poets without an interpreter or captioning. But when she decided to advocate for change at the club, Morris was relieved at how quickly Flux worked to accommodate her and ensure she felt included.
“We had a connection with all the poems on it, so the deaf and hard of hearing students and members of the community that I invited to [the showcase] could go hand in hand,” Morris said of his experience at a Flux showcase this spring. “We also printed out all the transcripts for everything, and we had an ASL interpreter at the performance. It was a really good experience, and I’m glad my poetry coaches and my teammates helped me defend that.
Fourth years in other arts communities reported a similar degree of warmth, love, and acceptance in their respective groups. A fourth-year college student, Parinita Kumar has been involved in a gender-neutral a cappella group, the Harmonious Hoos, since her freshman year.
Kumar said that participating in a cappella facilitated his social transition to college.
“I think one of the biggest things I love about it [the Harmonious Hoos] it’s that I found a band that I can call family, and in a place that I didn’t even expect,” Kumar said. “I didn’t expect this random group of people to be so open and loving. It’s really what I was looking for as a freshman at U.Va. knowing only five to six people from high school. It was crazy to just be fooled, and everyone showing me the ropes in college really meant a lot to me.
Along with student organizations, there are also a variety of University-sponsored opportunities to help students experiment artistically and exhibit their work.
A fourth-year student at the College, David Askew has been heavily involved in the studio art program and recently completed a multi-assignment thesis project.
“My thesis show consisted of six plays,” Askew said. “All have the same meaning – they’re all basically me trying to recreate myself in an art form. Recently I just haven’t figured out who I am. And so I’ve been using art and my way to create to understand it. I use a lot of different mediums to represent all the different identities that I have, and I adorn all my pieces with glitter like I adorn myself with jewelry.
Askew was also part of a cohort group through the studio’s art department which held several shows. Askew described the cohort as particularly supportive and welcoming, especially of risky artistic decisions – in Askew’s case, changing the style of their dissertation significantly shortly before the exhibition.
“I know many other [art] the programs are very competitive and a lot of people in your cohort will kind of be against each other, whereas here … we’re all very supportive and a great community,” Askew said. “I feel like the art department community is, which made my time at U.Va. so good. If I had gone to another school, the changes I made to my work during the last semester would not have been encouraged.
In addition to opportunities for personal growth, the University’s arts communities often aim to feature other groups in performances or encourage members to attend shows. This semester, Sarah Fayemi, a fourth-year student at the College, served as creative director for Africa Day, a fashion show organized by the Organization of African Students. In her role, Fayemi was thrilled to cast African performers for intermission and costume 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 much good, they definitely brought the energy. We had rap and a spoken word section…I love when we can bring together different aspects of African and black culture and do one big amazing show.
Fourth-years have different visions of how they will stay involved in the arts after graduation. After a brief hiatus, Askew hopes to apply for an MFA program and work as a full-time artist, while Kumar plans to settle into a career in neuroscience and singing as a hobby. Either way, their experiences in college instilled a passion for art that will linger after college.
“I want to give myself time to breathe and grow as an artist and figure out exactly what path I want to take, but I certainly can’t see my life without art,” Askew said.