Students are sleeping outside for the cause of social justice. In conjunction with the Slave Dwelling Project, University of Virginia students hosted an event in which students sleep where slaves once did.
More than 75 were in attendance, consisting of students, faculty members, residents of the town of Charlottesville, Va, and even out-of-state guests. The overnight festivities took place after a formal discussion at the University’s Pavilion Garden IX, which was once used as a vicinity for slave labor and living.
The sleep-in was structured as part of a four-day symposium entitled “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape” with a focus to remind students of the history of slavery at their academic institution.
Isabel Yoder, a third-year undergraduate at the university, stated how an insufficient comprehension on U.Va.’s past of slavery, as well as the atrocious events that transpired in the Charlottesville rallies in August, propelled her to attend the event.
“Definitely the interest [in the University’s history of slavery] heightened after the events in August,” Yoder stated. “I think it’s something I should understand while I’m here.”
Charlottesville resident April Burns expressed her fondness for the U.Va.’s commitment to address the history of slavery at the university.
“I think the university is very progressive in their dealing with slavery here at the institution,” Burns said. “I directly [credit] that to Terry Sullivan, who I think has done a phenomenal job in bringing that dialogue out. I’m very proud of the conversations that are happening here right now.”
The Slave Dwelling Project was founded in 2010 by Joe McGill with a mission to “identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve extant slave dwellings,” according to the project’s website.
“[It was] a very intentional choice ... To section off these people,” third-year U.Va. undergraduate Brendan Nigro expressed. Nigro, who also serves as chair of the University Guide Service, stressed the necessity to develop a “more complete story” of U.Va.’s history, including the legacy of the university’s founder Thomas Jefferson.
“The walls [were] also higher than they are today, in 1825. And so this is very intentional architectural segregation for Jefferson,” Nigro added.
The Slave Dwelling Project has held more than 100 sleep-ins in 19 states as well as the District of Columbia.
“We find slave dwellings wherever they exist because the slave dwellings tell the stories of those who were slaves,” McGill explained. “We have a tendency to tell the stories of the enslavers because that’s a comfortable place to be, but for those who were enslaved, we tend not to want to go there. And this project takes us there.”
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Florida studying economics and political science.