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Things About UVA

April 29, 2011

I only applied to one graduate program. I knew I wanted to come here and by the grace of God (and my outstanding undergraduate record) I made it in. I knew that going from my undergraduate institution to a large public school with rich school spirits and actual athletics in the middle of Central Virginia would be different. I am sure there are other people who are in a similar situation and would like to know what to expect when you’re expecting a degree from the University of Virginia.  And I guess the best place to start is the rich history of traditions at UVA.

My undergraduate was historically a commuter school with hardly any sense of school pride and certainly no authentic traditions. Our traditions had been so clearly manufactured by some consultant to the school who similarly to the Emperors New Clothes sold such a tall crock of shit to our school’s president that he had no choice but to accept. And thus, the Order of the Hippo was born.*

UVA has a rich history dating back to its founding by Thomas Jefferson, our redheaded, slavery hating (except when dude was getting laid, amirite HIGH FIVE), 3rd president. Most of the campus traditions date back to him. Oh excuse me, the traditions on grounds–it’s not a campus, it’s the grounds. I think technically it’s the “historic grounds of the University of Virginia” but that’s kind of a mouthful. There are a bunch like that. No freshmen, sophomores, etc.–they’re 1st & 2nd years. And your instructors who slaved away for almost a decade earning that doctorate degree? Yeah, they aren’t doctors because Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a doctor. So everyone is a professor, which, fine, okay, it really doesn’t make a difference. There are the secret societies, Foxfield (an annual bacchanal at a horse race), there’s the wearing ties and dresses to football games, there’s the lawn, yadda yadda yadda, are you asleep yet? Because I am.

Let me tell you though about one of the most amazing traditions at UVA–one that people don’t remember to tell you. It’s so ingrained in the UVA ethos that I’m pretty sure that the students don’t even know it’s something that most other college students don’t do.

At the end of the semester, they applaud the professor if they liked the class.

Not a big deal, right? You probably think you did this at your own institution of higher learning. At first I thought I did too, but I definitely did not. The thing is, it is kind of a big deal, because if you didn’t like the class then you don’t clap. Then the professor knows that you didn’t like the class. Then the professor can guess what his or her evaluations are going to look like.

Clapping is tense because someone has to start it and I’m now at the point where my classes are small. Small enough that we all can look into one another’s eyes to decide whether the applause is going to happen or not. Last year, I was the only person who clapped in my Harlem Renaissance seminar. The rest of the class folded their arms and glared. I got an A in that class–not that it had anything to do with my clapping, but it might have had something to do with the fact that I enjoyed the class while everyone else clenched their teeth.

I can only imagine proposing this idea to my peers at GW. I can see them in their tights and t-shirts, Ugg boots and Chanel flipflops giving me the sideways eye. “Who do you want me to applaud? That guy? You mean the guy whose ass I’ve been kissing this entire semester for an A and he won’t give it to me because my work isn’t up to par? I mean, what does that even mean?” Conversely, “I’m not applauding that blowhard! I’ve been arguing with him this entire semester because he clearly doesn’t know anything about postcolonial texts. I mean, I went to Haiti. I think I know more than this guy with a PhD or whatever.”

Side note: I find that GW students are either overly laudatory in their appraisals of professors or that they think they are completely incompetent. This doesn’t quite match my GW experience, but then again I always wear pants so I’m not a great indicator of how that school actually operates.

Clapping is tense because someone has to start it and I’m now at the point where my classes are small. Small enough that we all can look into one another’s eyes to decide whether the applause is going to happen or not. Last year, I was the only person who clapped in my Harlem Renaissance seminar. The rest of the class folded their arms and glared. I got an A in that class–not that it had anything to do with my clapping, but it might have had something to do with the fact that I enjoyed the class while everyone else clenched their teeth.

* Yes, this is a real thing.

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