Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Prestige. Tradition. UVa?

So in preparation for the beginning of finals week next week, I have been studying in periods of 3 hours in the Rotunda Dome Room. The Dome Room is open 9am-4:45pm, and contrary to general belief is open to students who are studying. It originally was and still is, to a lesser extent, a library and why can't students study in a library? It's usually empty except for the occasional UGuide group and the independent tourist.

After a while, I can't help but memorize tidbits of the stories that the UGuides give. Did you know that the Rotunda standing today isn't the original, because the original burned down? When it happened, lots of students and professors risked their lives trying to save the books in the library. Out of the 60,000, I believe they managed to salvage at least 12,000. A group of particularly Jeffersonian-dedicated students tried to save the two-ton statue of Thomas Jefferson that used to be in the Dome Room but now stands on the second floor of the Rotunda. When dragging the statue down the stairs, they lost control and it slid down the flights of stairs to the bottom. The scratches on the cape of Jefferson is proof of that wild escapade.

I'm obviously studying very hard, but let me digress a bit. Also to put out a disclaimer, the following information is a very real stigma, definitely controversial, and not true for all Lawnies. It is said, and I have been told this personally, to become a prestigious Lawnie, there are certain organizations that you should join. UGuides is stereotypically considered one of those organizations on Grounds. One of my friends struggle with this stigma and he has plainly said that he hesitates to apply for a Lawn room because of it. To me, this tells me that there is a hierarchy at UVa, and that if you do the right things, join the right organizations, and know the right people you are guaranteed a prestigious Lawn room. This has been both subtly conveyed to me and blatantly articulated.

What is this Lawn room that is so coveted? Honestly, besides the prestige and location, it is a pretty crappy deal. It is the most expensive room you can ask for on Grounds. It has the worst bathrooms on Grounds. If you like your showers, the Lawn rooms would not be my first recommendation. There are no kitchens or AC. You get tourists in your room all the time as if your room was historic Williamsburg and that LCD TV monitor over there was just part of the authentic colonial decor. It's small. You have to pay for the firewood that is stacked by your door. You have to pay for the fluffy bathrobe that has become so synonymous with the Lawnies because they have external bathrooms. In fact, back in the day, the Lawn rooms were actually considered the worst housing deal you could have. It became so unwanted that the administration put an application, told the student population that the application pool was "extremely competitive" (they were lying), and in a year, the Lawn rooms became the most prestigious and competitive housing rooms on Grounds. Typical UVa behavior?

Therefore, the Lawn rooms are now extremely prestigious to the point where students on a "fast track," such as Echols scholars and Jefferson scholars, believe that the Lawn room is the ultimate destination. This sort of mentality has led to cutthroat behavior, such as the aforementioned one of joining organizations just to get into the Lawn. To continue the idea of a hierarchy at UVa, only certain organizations on Grounds have their special Lawn rooms. With the prestige associated with Lawn rooms, what does that say about these organizations? It says if you join these organizations, you can get a Lawn room.

The purpose of the Lawn rooms is to "recognize students for unselfish service to the University and achievement in their respective fields of activity and academics" (Housing website). Are all the Lawnies representative of this? In response to this, a secret society last year sent a letter to the Lawnies. The letter criticized students who "desire[d] to be on executive boards, to participate in community service, to be in CIOs, to live on the Lawn even, only because they [felt] obliged to look better on paper than their peers." Instead, the letter advised "[gaining] tools needed to make the most of the mountainous horizons beyond where the Lawn ends." It is important to remember to take a step back, look beyond UVa, and do things because you enjoy them.