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Tragedy on UVA Grounds: How this longtime UVA professor and students are making sense of a decade of trauma

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Posted at 4:15 PM, Nov 13, 2023

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- University of Virginia Grounds are centered around the Rotunda, an academic village students and alumni old and young frequent for its tradition and beauty.

“I love all the nice picturesque postcard scenes that you see," said first-year Clay Grishius.

It’s a place that for years was quiet, and for the most part, stayed out of national news.

"For my first number of years here, you know, beautiful college town, wonderful, engaged students," explained media historian and longtime Media Studies professor Aniko Bodroghkozy.

But for the past decade, that certainly hasn’t been the case.

It began in May of 2010, when Yeardley Love, a fourth-year lacrosse player was murdered by her former boyfriend and fellow lacrosse player George Huguely.

"It was pretty awful," said Bodroghkozy. "It was my first experience of, oh, my university is in the national news for all the wrong reasons."

Then in September of 2014, second-year Hannah Graham vanished from Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. Her killer, Jesse Matthew Jr., was later tied to the death of Morgan Harrington, another teen girl who had gone missing years prior.

Two months later, in November of 2014, Rolling Stone published an article, alleging a violent rape at a UVA fraternity, though the story was later retracted and proven to be false.

In the spring of 2015, UVA was back in the spotlight after police pinned third-year Martese Johnson to the ground, bloodying his head during an arrest. Images and videos of the incident went viral.

In August of 2017, Charlottesville and UVA experienced their most violent 48 hours. White nationalists with tiki torches marched across the UVA Lawn, before the deadly Unite the Right rally on August 12th killed counter-protester Heather Heyer and two state troopers whose helicopter crashed.

"It was awful," recalled Bodroghkozy, who also counter-protested the Unite the Right rally and wrote a book about it called Making #Charlottesville: Media from Civil Rights to Unite the Right. "It was really like, what is happening here?”

Most recently, on November 13, 2022, UVA experienced a mass shooting that killed three football players and injured two other students.

"That had never happened at UVA until it did," said the longtime professor.

Bodroghkozy has been on Grounds through it all.

"UVA administration and faculty, I think, kind of in a horrible way, we've kind of gotten used to dealing with, you know, crises and traumas," she said.

Bodroghkozy's job involves teaching students about major news events, including some of the trauma UVA has experienced during her 22 years on Grounds.

But last year's shooting isn't something she will talk about in class.

"This is still a hole in our hearts," she explained. "That was really, really, really difficult. They were succeeding. they were doing great. My heart broke for those parents."

The deaths of Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry are still being strongly felt across this college community.

"It's definitely been an experience trying to support people and just making sure you're here for everyone," said third-year Chloe Edwards.

Edwards says she’ll never forget that Sunday night, as she and her friends were on lockdown in their dorms.

"Definitely fear, just a lot of confusion, you know, because no one really knew why any of this was happening," she explained.

The New York native realized what she thought of as sacred grounds weren’t immune to the reality of the world.

"When you come to college, you expect a safe, like fun carefree environment where you can just focus on your studies without worry for like instances like this," Edwards said. "Now I feel like obviously, like, whenever you go somewhere, it's going to be a thought in your mind."

"UVA is not a safe space, but that's not because UVA is any different from any other American college campus," said Bodroghkozy.

The university's painful past has seemingly strengthened its students and their relationships with one another.

"We've definitely put our hearts and souls behind the football team, kind of rallying behind the team, even if it's not for a win," noted Grishius, who applied to UVA 9 days before the shooting, but couldn’t imagine his college life anywhere else.

"I've enjoyed all my time here, and it's something that I look forward to coming back to," he said.

He and his fellow Hoos will gather on Monday to remember the lives of the three students who no longer get to call this place home.

"We all experienced that tragedy in different ways last year, and, you know, just because it's a year later, that doesn't mean that we should forget what happened," said Edwards.

They won’t forget, but just like in years past, they will move forward, remembering what brings so many new faces here each year.

"I find that UVA as a community is actually a community," said Bodroghkozy. "I couldn't imagine teaching anywhere else.”

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