By Jim Meyerle
How often do a group of people with almost endless opportunities for upward mobility vigorously compete to live in 10’ by 10’ rooms without a/c or bathroom?
All the time, in Charlottesville at least. Every December more than 200 UVA students apply to live in rooms some might consider solitary confinement; their appeal is that they surround UVA’s Lawn. Every April, 54 are lucky enough to be chosen.
Clearly, the competition is fierce for students who want to live in the glorified, historical closets that line the Lawn. And the selection process– current Lawn residents choose those who will live in the rooms the next year– is not immune to controversy, especially this spring.
Lawn rooms are supposed to be reserved for students who have performed exemplary service to the University community. And yet some students contend that as the process is currently run, all that matters are the organizations the applicants have been part of. The actual service they have performed is beside the point.
Taking the criticism one step further, the author of a recent editorial in The Cavalier Daily claims, “Although the Lawn selection process supposedly is blind, committee members can easily pick out their friends' applications based on their unique combination of activities and personal essays.”
Responding to such criticism, the student council has pledged to reexamine the fairness of the selection process.
Debra Pink, a member of this year’s Lawn selection committee, insists that she looked for the way applicants "devoted their time to the University so as to either change the community for the better, or support important traditions.”
Just what makes these cramped quarters such a hot and contested commodity?
Perhaps it’s the history. The 54 Lawn rooms were the very first dormitory rooms at the University. Completed in 1825, one year before the Rotunda, they were once the only on-Grounds lodging available for students. Little about them has changed. Services such as toilets and bathing facilities were, and still are, a short walk from the Lawn. Sinks (occasionally used as toilets, some Lawn residents admit), electricity, and radiator heat are the only major upgrades.
With such dubious amenities, is the honor of being selected to take part in tradition really worth the trouble?
Current Lawn resident Julie Verma bemoans how “very lonely living on the Lawn actually is, since you live by yourself in a tiny room and it is easy to shut the door and close everybody out.”
Then there are the expectations that attend such a visible manifestation of worthiness. Verma regrets another condition of Lawn life, since “you can hear everything going on outside, and when people talk about what it takes to get one of these rooms, it causes a lot of pressure.”
But regardless of the pressure, students continue to chase after Lawn rooms with enthusiasm. Third year student Andrew Borchini says that he looks forward to living on the Lawn next year so he can “meet all the other interesting people. And, of course,” he adds, “it is the best front yard in the world.”
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