UVa is really a very special place. Not only is the campus (“Grounds”) impossibly beautiful, the academics amazing and the student body very motivated and really very attractive, but there is a real feeling from the university administration that they want to support the students and give them the best possible experience, plus tons of great schemes and projects from the Student Council and Parents Committee (parental involvement… perhaps a good topic for another post) that just make things… nicer. This is easier to explain with a few examples.
- UVa Dining Services have a system where if you get sick, you can give a friend your I.D. card and they can either pick up a to-go box of dining hall food for you or a special Flu Relief Bundle – a pack of soup, jell-o, and other ill-type foods to help you feel better.
- During exam season the Student Council provides free ice cream sundaes and other treats at the libraries for those studying late at night.
- Around a construction site on the centre of Grounds, they put up boards which were dark-coloured and kind of like blackboards, and were soon covered with chalk graffiti by students. However, not obscenities or insults as may be expected, but instead adverts promoting student society events, life-affirming sayings or slogans, and several verses of poetry.
- Safe Ride, a free taxi service, runs late at night and you can call them to pick you up and get you home safely from wherever you are. There is also SafeWalk, where if you have to walk alone at night you can call a number and people will come and escort you safely where to you need to go.
- There is a Student Garden where those who want to can grow plants and vegetables or whatever – kind of like a free communal allotment for students. Adorable.
- Clemons library has charger bars – tables with all different kinds of laptop charger cables, for you to just plug in and charge your computer while you work.
- Clemons also has free writing tutors available three evenings a week so that anyone can stop by and get some tips and advice for their papers.
Lastly, of course, there is the Honor Code, which I think I mentioned here before but haven’t fully explained. The Honor Code is a student run system with the intention of creating a safe and honest university community. It is very simple – don’t lie, cheat or steal. In any way whatsoever. Every student signs a pledge to that effect when they join UVa, and also sometimes professors get you to write the pledge “On my honour as a student I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment/exam” on the work you submit. It doesn’t sound like much, but it actually is quite a big deal. If you are accused of violating the code in any way you are sent before a panel of students who will decide if you are guilty, and if you are, the only punishment is immediate expulsion. No warning, no second chances, however small the violation was.
The result of this is that professors will regularly give out an exam paper and say to the class, “Take it away, spend two hours on it, closed book, bring it back on Monday morning.” And you are fully trusted to not spend longer on it or use the Internet or any books or resources. Now that is trusting. Another result is that you frequently see people’s bags, wallets, laptops, etc. left around in the libraries while people go to the bathroom, get some coffee, leave to go and get dinner, whatever. Nobody steals anything. It is quite amazing. Having the Honor Code really does make you feel more safe and more part of the community.
The flip side of this is that you get used to it and become very trusting and laid back about the security of your stuff, which can be dangerous since obviously the Honor Code doesn’t exist in The Real World. Plus, of course, things are not perfect here, nowhere can be. It’s not as if every student is an upstanding, morally perfect, flawless human being either. There are plenty of petty, bitchy girls and plenty of guys who are arrogant “douchebags” (to use the common term here). But there’s no doubt that the university community is in many ways somewhat of a mini utopia and it’s a lovely environment to be in while you have the chance. I saw an article written about this in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper, the other week. The author said, “Entering Charlottesville is, in some ways, like walking into a fairytale…. Re-entering the real world is like being violently awoken with a bucket of ice water. I have become far more trusting of others as a result of being here, while also developing an appreciation for beautifully dressed students and classical architecture. And really, living with an honor code is a fairy tale which I am more than happy to be in.”
I know one person who transferred here from VCU, another college in Virginia. When I asked her if she preferred it here she said, “Oh God, yes. This is the happiest place on earth.” Whether or not that may be true, I feel insanely lucky to be in it.