Correction to This Article
A Sept. 22 Metro article about racial issues at the University of Virginia incorrectly described the details of the admission of the first black undergraduate to the university. Amos Leroy Willis entered the university in 1958 through the School of Engineering, an undergraduate professional school. In 1961, he transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences, becoming the first black student admitted to the college.

Slurs at U-Va. Undermine Efforts to Thwart Racism

A University of Virginia student said he found ethnic and racist slurs last month on a dry-erase board outside his dorm room.
A University of Virginia student said he found ethnic and racist slurs last month on a dry-erase board outside his dorm room. (By Andrew Shurtleff -- The Daily Progress Via Associated Press)

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By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The recent surge of racist incidents at the University of Virginia is a blow to a two-year effort by the institution to end a lingering legacy of racial segregation and inequality, and has left many black students feeling shaken and looking at their colleagues with a wary eye.

Reports of nine incidents in which black students were verbally assaulted in the past few weeks are unparalleled in the school's contemporary history but reflect the type of problems the school said it has been trying to solve with new strategies.

"We are going to stay the course," said Patricia Lampkin, vice president for student affairs. "We want to move to another place, a new place -- one that's better, we hope."

For the 9 percent of black undergraduate students, the assaults simply amplify their awareness of themselves as minorities at a university that fully accepted black undergraduates only 35 years ago.

Although the school stands as a beacon of independence and excellence in education for Virginians, it has long wrestled with racial strife. But now, things look different. Some parents of black students are considering removing their children, and about 60 students, many of them white, have tried to help by patrolling the campus in small groups each night to aid security.

Officials are responding with unprecedented actions: President John T. Casteen spoke Friday about the incidents on the steps of the school's Rotunda and is planning to speak again at Saturday's homecoming football game -- to a crowd of more than 61,000 -- on screens at the stadium.

"The act of standing together, of refusing to let our sisters or our brothers be cut off from us . . . that, in the end, is the fundamental gesture that can be made," he said at the Rotunda. Such appearances are rare by Casteen, who previously has communicated with students about racist incidents via mass e-mails.

Yet black students said this week that dealing with outsider status is simply part of the experience of being at a university where 65 percent of the student body -- including graduate students -- is white. Nine percent is of Asian descent and 2.6 percent is Hispanic.

Angelique Lynch visited the school as a high school senior in fall 2001 and fell in love with the stately campus, the warmth of the people and the idea of an education so first-rate that she could go on to do anything. But she soon learned from other black students that the best way to thrive is to be part of a network of support for one another. She heads a black singing group and mentors younger black students, the sort of thing you need "at a school like this," she said.

"A lot of it goes back to the history of this university. . . . I don't think a lot of people were open to African Americans being here, and that has carried on in the hearts and minds of students," said Lynch, 20, a pre-med senior from the District.

Her equilibrium, however, has been thrown off balance by the incidents that some officials are calling "racial terrorism." Racist epithets have been shouted from cars, left scrawled on apartment and dorm doors and on a note under a windshield. Although officials are conducting interviews and dusting for fingerprints, no arrests have been made and university officials have said it is probable that no one will be caught -- as no one has been for other racist incidents in recent years.

"I used to feel relatively safe here, I could go alone at night, but now I wouldn't even think of it," said Lynch, who returned to her off-campus apartment one recent evening to find a racist and sexist message for her and her three roommates on their door.


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