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09 Aug 2017
28 min 17 sec
Audio Overview
John Alexander

Grace: Alright, so my name is Grace Aheron and I am here interviewing Sarah. Could you please state and spell you name for us?


Sarah: Sarah Hainbach. S-A-R-A-H H-A-I-N-B-A-C-H.


Grace: Thanks so much. Alright, so today we are going to be doing an interview talking about the incident with Theresa Sullivan this summer. But first I think it’s important to-- sort of-- understand who you are and where you’re coming from in all of this. So, can you tell us-- can you tell me-- what your position in the University is right now?


Sarah: Of course. Should I state my consent first?


Grace: Oh, yes, you should definitely state your consent (laughter).


Sarah: Ok, I consent for this interview to-- you know-- be used in the libraries and what-not.


Grace: Thanks so much.


Sarah: No problem. Um, well to your question, I’m a second-year in the College of Arts and Sciences. I just declared my major in History.


Grace: Where are you from?


Sarah: I’m from Chevy-Chase, Maryland. Just outside of D.C., but not NoVa. 


Grace: And what made you decide to come to UVA last year?


Sarah: Um, there were a lot of little things and no one big thing to pin-point. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in college or where I wanted to go when I was in high school, so it was hard to make a decision, but in the end it was probably the best school I got into, it was close by, which I didn’t know was going to be a factor but ended up being important, definitely, um, and when I came to visit here in 10th grade, not on a college visit, I was just on a different sort of visit, and when I was here and I saw people in Charlottesville and the students are UVa all the people seemed so happy. And it was a Sunday and the weather was beautiful and everyone was hanging out on the Corner and I was like, “I want to go to school here. They look like they’re having fun.” Um, but also learning a lot and there’s so much history behind UVa. I think the history was a big thing.


Grace: Interesting. And has UVa lived up to your expectations in two-and-a-half semesters thus far?


Sarah: Um, yes and no. I don’t know what my expectations were, so I guess that’s hard to answer. But, even though I didn’t end up applying to small schools, I guess I thought I would go to a small school and I didn’t really realize the differences between a big school and a small school until I got here and talked to my friends at home who were at small schools-- my friends from home-- um, just that, there’s a lot of things you have to figure out on your own, which I think is good preparation for the real world, but it’s hard. Really hard. Um, and also having everyone be from Virginia at the beginning was, like, “Well, I don’t know anyone!” Um, but I met people and I think over the past year-and-a-half it’s, like, UVa has really become a big part of who I am. Um, and I don’t think I really appreciated it last year, but now I do.


Grace: Can you say more about that? Being a part of your identity?


Sarah: Yeah, definitely. I got involved in one of the typical ways as a First-Year. I ran for my Association Council-- my Dorm Council-- and I won and so I was part of that. And I was part of First-Year Council and, um, so I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into but we work through  Alumni Hall and plan events for the class of 2015 in this case to bring the class closer together. Um, and, you know, create that sense of unity, of identity. And I didn’t know what the difference between Class Council or Student Council or, um, College Council, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. At first I was kind of disappointed that it was more like event planning than actual student government, but, um, I, like, accepted that and I like it and it definitely introduced me to things that I wouldn't know about otherwise. Like, just like introducing me to people who are involved in other things. Um, and, like I just know about other things that are going on at the University because of these connections that I’ve made. And there are some things that we’re doing that I think are really important like, for example, we had the first “International Night” ever last year. And we’re doing that again this Spring. And I just feel like that’s a big thing that there should be-- a showcase of different cultural groups, a place for them to showcase whatever they are to the entire University community.


Grace: What was your initial interest in being involved in student government here?


Sarah: This is so hard to be because I feel like a lot of the things I’ve done I don’t know how much-- I don’t know-- how I reasoned through them, but, um, I didn’t-- I was never involved in student government in high school. I didn’t need to be because I had been there all my life-- not at the same school, but with the same people going through and I knew how things worked but here it was like a really good way to understand how the University functions and, um, to, like, make myself a place here and to influence it because I’m gonna be here for 4 years and maybe that’s not a very long time, but that’s long enough that I think I should give something back and I should also be able to-- if I don’t like something-- I should be able to find a way to try to change it.


Grace: I think an interesting thing to talk about in college is the role of the university. What were you goals coming in to college? In general? Like, what did you want to get out of your college experience?


Sarah: I wanted to learn and become a well-rounded person, whatever that means. And learn-- I didn’t know what I wanted to learn about or what I wanted to do after college which really does make it tricky, I think, because you’re spending your whole life in high school getting to college and then you get to college and you’re like, “Now what? What’s next?” So, um, I guess part of what I wanted to achieve in college it to figure that out. Figure out the “what next.” Um, and I haven’t gotten there yet, um.


Grace: You mentioned giving back to your community as a reason that you wanted to get involved with, um-- student government.


Sarah: Definitely. I wanted to have a college experience: make your life-long friends, do things you’ve never done before, learn things you didn’t know existed.


Grace: Right, cool. So, do you think that-- I don’t know, it struck me that you came in as a First-Year wanting to get involved and to give back to you community. I think that, that’s, like, really important and I wonder if-- do you feel a special connection to the UVa community because of that, do you think?


Sarah: I definitely do now. And I think just the everyday things connect you to the community. When you go to the dining hall and you see the same people working there and the same people eating there. When you go to the libraries and I like to run, so just running around Grounds and, like, going to the same places every day, just, like, gives you, like a physical sense of connection. But I think that the relationships that you make are also extremely important.


Grace: So, were you in Charlottesville this summer?


Sarah: I was not.


Grace: So how did not being here affect your experience in hearing about the Theresa Sullivan stuff?


Sarah: Um, I was on vacation with my family and then I was home during the summer. So I was following everything online, basically, and in the newspapers. And I think it made me- I had to be more proactive to hear about what was going on that maybe if I had been here. I had to like, search for it, even though it was on the front page of the Washington Post, like, every day! So, not too much searching. But I definitely had to watch the videos online and things to stay involved and I really did want to stay involved and know what was going on. It felt really important to me.


Grace: Can you talk more about, um, really wanting to be involved? Because I know certainly there were students who just checked the email, deleted it, and carried on their merry way. What was it about the issues that made you want to keep being involved?


Sarah: It just seemed important-- the president of the University leaves the university and I go to this university, so should know what’s going on and understand the reason, if I can, in the change in leadership.


Grace: Well, what was your immediate reaction upon hearing the news?


Sarah: I was confused. There had been, like, a lot of weird emails that week. Well, not a lot, but a couple. I recall there was, like, someone was found-- a body was found in the woods behind O’Hill. And then this email came the next day and I was like, “This is weird. What is going on in Charlottesville?” Um, and, you know, that issue was resolved, so I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what to thing. I didn’t really have any reaction. I was confused and surprised. I guess immediately I would have thought that President Sullivan had done something-- something, you know, wrong with money or something had happened that the Board and her just wanted to cover up and more on and move past and get someone new. And I was like, “Okay.” But then nothing came to surface and it appeared that she really hadn’t done anything wrong other than not moving quickly enough. Whatever their definition of moving quickly enough was. Um, and then I do really think that my opinions were shaped by the media. Because not being here and not having other University students of members of the University community to talk to. I would read the paper of the Can Daily or whatever it was and that definitely shape my opinion a lot.


Grace: So, what had you experience been like coming back to school since all the stuff happened this summer?


Sarah: It’s been really interesting. I, um, definitely thought there’d be more buzz bout it, that more people would be talking about it. But people don’t really seem interested. It’s like, “Okay, this happened. Some people were really involved and she was reinstated and now she’s back and now classes are starting and we’re just going to move on.” Because we need to go to class and do what we need to do here. Um, so, that was surprising that there just wasn’t any conversation about it. Except, of course, in this class that we’re taking. That’s all we talk about. And that’s great, for a lot of reasons. To have an environment where we talk about this issue but also other things. It’s a small class and it’s much more conversation that any of my other classes have been. So it’s great. But, I don’t know, I feel like students either didn’t care or they, like, wanted her back and when they had her back they feel like the issue is over. And there were some students who definitely thought tat the board of visitors was right. Maybe not right in the way they went about it, but that President Sullivan wasn’t doing a great job. But they don’t talk about it either. It’s just not an issue people talk about. But I think that’s true of a lot of things people don’t talk about-- issues.


Grace: So what attracted you to this class?


Sarah: Well, I definitely had been following up on things online over the summer. And my mom initially told me to take this class. She was like, “I saw this online, you should take it.” And I didn’t want to-- I was like, “I have my schedule all set, I’m set to go. I don’t need to switch anything around. But she pointed out to me that I had been following everything over the summer and she thought that’s not everyone, not everyone had been doing that. And I assumed everyone would be, but from talking to my friends they definitely weren’t. So I guess I did have this interest in the school and the events. And I also, um, I guess my uncertainty about what I’m doing in college has lead me to like, wonder more about the purpose of college in general in higher education. Like, what’s going on here and what are we trying to achieve. And I’m really interested in how we learn and things of that nature so it just seemed like a good option, a good decision.


Grace: So what, I mean, in your opinion, do you think we’re trying to achieve in college? I mean, you spoke to this college experience, but I think that there are---


Sarah: I think there are so many different things. I mean, some people come to college because they want to get a degree and get a job. Some people come and learn a skill so they can get a job. And some people just want to come and learn and that’s, like, difficult for the college to figure out, I think, because they’re trying to market to everyone. So they’re saying, “Oh, come here and get a liberal arts education. We’ll teach you how to do-- how to be a critical thinker and that will apply to your work afterwards.” I don’t know it that applies or not because I haven’t graduated and I haven’t been there, but I feel like, I don’t know, college can mean different things for different colleges and for different people, for different students. But it’s weird that we’re all, like, funneled into this You go to college-- it’s not like, “Go work and then if you think you need to, like, learn something else to, like, improve or advance or give back then go to college and learn so you can continue.” It’s like, some people come here and they know what they want to do. But I was not one, so.


Grace: How do you think you’ve changed since you first came to UVa? If at all.


Sarah: No, I’ve definitely changed. I think, um, definitely more into UVa. Because I wasn’t. I wasn’t, like, “I don’t want to be here.” But I didn’t know what I was doing here either, but I just feel more connected. And I think I’m learning that college is hard. And, you know, high school wasn’t that challenging. If I did my work, I would be okay. And here I can do my work, I can do the reading, and still not do well. So, I’m learning that I have to take that extra step and figure out what type of studying works best for me. And now to take advantage of my classmates and my professor’s office hours. And that seems like a really basic thing and I should have known that, but I didn’t.


Grace: So those are both more, like, academic examples. So do you think there is a way-- I mean-- does college facilitate something in us-- a change or development in us that maybe more experiential?


Sarah: I think so.


Grace: And could that only happen in college.


Sarah: I don’t know if that could only happen in college, but I definitely think that, like, different students groups that people are involved in helps with that because you have to learn how to budget your time and how to communicate with people. I think a lot of my learning has happened outside of class on that level. Just learning how to send and email that’s gets to the point and is polite. And how to talk to people. Just how to prioritize.


Grace: Yeah, definitely, um. So, I guess, thinking about this broader issues of college and the University, how has this event and processing through this class change the way you understand college or the university governance in our country?


Sarah: And one other thing, sorry, not to answer your question, but I didn’t mention that college is not- Universities are not just for the students. They are, but the University of Virginia has hospital. And so that is serving a whole other population. And there’s also all the research that goes on here. So I think that’s another difficult thing for the University to figure out how do we balance all those different goals and all those different project all those different areas. So, I don’t know. And as a student, where do I fit into that. Um, but you were-- sorry, what did you ask?


Grace: How you understanding of higher education has changed because of these events?


Sarah: Um, I guess I just didn’t realize that it was so... in flux? Unstable? I don’t know if it is unstable-- I don’t know if that is the right word. But, like, you know, you think of college as this thing that has been there and will always be there, end of story. But there are other systems, like, there are other ways to do it like a whole new system opening up with online education that didn’t exist twenty, thirty years ago. So, how is that going to be incorporated?


Grace: So, I guess I’m interested in-- you’ve already mentioned that maybe there’s not a lot of buzz with students around this issue. What kind of issues do you think-- and you just mentioned the issue of online education-- what’s still hanging in the air for you that has yet to be resolved in this?


Sarah: Um... online education and, I guess, I’m waiting to see... what, if anything, President Sullivan does this year and what the reaction to that is. But that’s hard to be waiting for because presidents, I think, and leaders of organizations generally their job isn’t-- maybe this is wrong-- but in some sense their job isn’t to actually do anything, it’s to make sure that everyone else stays on track. And if nothing goes wrong, then they’ve done a good job. But you won’t notice that nothing’s gone wrong. So, how do you measure that?


Grace: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, I guess-- thinking about “it’s all good until something goes wrong” and you’re doing something-- ostensibly your’e doing a good job as a leader until something goes wrong-- did you think that same thought during the crisis this summer? Or how do you think that thought applies?


Sarah: I think I did because.. I didn’t think it was fair of the Board of Visitors to judge her-- er-- on two years. Yes, they should evaluate her and let her know how they think she’s doing, definitely. But, I think with an organization of the size and scale of the University of Virginia, there’s-- you can’t implement change so rapidly. And I obviously don’t understand all the intricacies of all of it, but I just.. I don’t-- as a student I hadn’t noticed anything go horribly wrong, so nothing went wrong, she had to be doing something right. Maybe. But maybe that’s a backwards way of looking at it. I’m not sre.


Grace: Right. So, what is your perception now of the Board of Visitors given all of this?


Sarah: Um...


Grace: You spoke a bit about your perception of the president.


Sarah: Uh.. I don’t know. There’s still this big unknown. They haven’t come forward and spoken. I met the student member of the Board of Visitors this past summer, um, and she’s really nice. I met her, like, I guess a couple weeks before this happened to she had just become the student member of the Board of Visitors and had obviously no idea that this would happen, so, that’s interesting and it would be interesting to have a conversation with her about that now. But, um, I-- as for the adults on the Board, I do think that they’re trying to do their best, but it’s an odd position. It’s a volunteer position, they all have regular full-time jobs. They don’t come here.. they don’t live here. They’re not part of the community the way we are or the way the faculty are, so, in a sense, it’s good to have that outside opinion making sure that, you know, we’re staying on track. And, in theory, they wouldn’t be biased towards one segment of the University community or another. But, on the other hand, do they really understand everything that’s going on here? I don’t know.


Grace: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, I think, um-- I’m also interested to hear, just your emotional trajectory or your emotional arc throughout all of this. Just starting from when you very first heard it up until now. How do you think your emotional response has changed as a student?


Sarah: Okay, so first I was confused and surprised-- I went over that. And then, I guess, this sounds awful, but should I have second thoughts about going to UVa? Like, is UVa going to do down hill? What’s going to happen? I didn’t have any super-compelling reason to come here in the first place. Did I make the wrong decision? But then once people starting to come out and protest I was like, “No, I made the right decision. I am here at this university where everyone seems to care as much as I do.” Or enough people do-- people care-- and it was, um, that was really uplifting and exciting to see the photos of the Lawn filled and I wished I could have been there. Um, I really should have gone. It was a weekend and I could have just gone for the day. But, you know, I didn’t know. I didn’t know I’d be missing out on history. But, um.. yeah, that changed my opinion and then taking this class this semester, I think, has also made me more, like, proud of the University and made me understand more, like, although it’s shown me-- I’ve seen more, um, problems than I knew existed in UVa and in higher education in general, it still been good because we’re talking about them and I think that’s the first step in solving them.


Grace: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean-- I guess--


Sarah: And I think-- sorry-- that the events of the summer definitely made me identity so much more with the University and people like my neighbors-- my friends from home-- knew I went to UVa so they’d ask me about it. All of the sudden I was a spokesperson for UVa and I had to have something to say. So, I think that definitely shaped my identity as a UVa student.


Grace: Do you think your experience through the summer and being someone who’s very engaged and then also taking this class-- continuing to be engaged-- has this changed they way you act in the community at all? Or changed they way that you perceive our community? Just in a daily kind of way?


Sarah: I think I notice the community more. I notice the different groups of students that are here. And I’m really careful. I read all the emails that come to me. Sometimes not right away, but I do try to read them and see what else is going on. And try to go to these events that I might have otherwise skipped over. Um, and it’s really interesting to get to know people that aren’t the typical UVa student because I feel like for a lot of people that’s what UVa is. There’s this typical “whatever” and you don’t realize it that there’s a whole lot more to it.


Grace: Yeah, so maybe changing the way you understand the community in that way?


Sarah: Yeah.


Grace: That’s really interesting. So I guess, maybe, in an ideal world, what should students be doing right now?


Sarah: I think students should be keeping their eyes and ears open. Just trying to listen to the things that are sent their way. Last year I used to go to the dining hall in the morning and I would read the Cav Daily almost every morning and most people don’t do that. But just think that’s important-- whether you’re skimming the headlines or actually read it to know what’s going on and to listen to your friends and also to listen to people who aren’t your friends who are coming from different backgrounds, who are involved in different groups it just, you just see what’s happening at the University. Because one day, it could be something big.


Grace: Yeah, definitely. So I guess I have one last question for you. It comes from something that I think Dean Groves said and it was just, in all of this-- the reaction this summer-- he said, “This just isn’t the way that we do it at UVa.” What do you think makes this community so special?


Sarah: There’s a lot. There’s our history, our founding by Thomas Jefferson, there’s the traditions that we have. We have the Honor System and the system of Student Self-Governance and I’ve heard Dean Groves, I remember him saying that or I remember reading it and I also remember him speaking in a different group about Student Self-Governance and how he would go to these conferences of deans somewhere and they would all ask him, “Allen” (because that’s his first name-- that’s how he said it!). He said, “Allen, why do you let the students make these decisions themselves?” In reference to, like, Honor. Students decide whether or not a student stays at the University of Virginia. Which some people think is crazy. I don’t know whether it’s crazy or not. But he said, “We do it because it’s so valuable to the students in the long-run. It’s such a learning experience. They get out of this university into the real-world and they can make these decisions by themselves.” And it’s more of a headache for the administration to deal with it. If they just dealt with it themselves and they didn’t have to communicate with the students, life would be a whole lot easier. But they think it’s such a valuable experience that they keep it. And I think that relates to-- that shapes our university and that’s why students and alumni felt they had to step up. And also just the foundations, like, initially we didn’t have a board of visitors or a president. Thomas Jefferson wanted this university to be governed by the people that were here-- the faculty and the students. And so I think that the faculty and the students still feel like we should have a say.


Grace: And do you feel the same special connection to UVa as Dean Groves?


Sarah: Yes.


Grace: Well, that’s awesome! And thank you so much for the interview.


Sarah. Thank you.