Anna-Sofia Olesen Yurtaslan, Ashley Blackwell, and Augustina Mensa-Kwao are the organizers of Challenging Diversity @ UVA, a project you’ve likely seen on your Facebook newsfeed in recent days. Are you curious about the story behind the photographs? The three collegiate leaders gave Her Campus the inside scoop about their goals, as well as the reactions they’ve had from students thus far.
What is the goal of Challenging Diversity @ UVA?
We have several complementary goals for our project:
1) To challenge how people think about diversity, as it extends beyond what you can see. This includes race and ethnicity, as well as religious beliefs, political beliefs, socioeconomic status, mental health, physical disabilities, etc. We seek to challenge how diversity is often seen as a polarizing issue by showing that everyone has multifaceted identities and everyone brings a diverse experience to the table.
2) To challenge who is considered to be part of the University of Virginia community. UVa’s impact extends far beyond students to include faculty, staff, and the broader Charlottesville community. We have received photo submissions and personal stories from alumni, students, and community members with personal stories addressing sexual orientation, racial/ethnic groups, religion, political beliefs, class, mental health, and a host of other aspects relating to diversity.
3) To empower students to share their experiences here at the University by creating a forum for discussing the issues that shape their lives. Everyone’s diversity needs to be recognized, included in, and embraced by the UVa community. Currently, there are many diverse communities that are disregarded or misunderstood, and thus their voice and experiences go unheard.
4) To allow people who may not know, or understand, the particular marginal experiences of others in the UVa community to gain insight. Hopefully this insight will facilitate people adjusting their behavior, and modes of thought, to create a more inclusive atmosphere at the University, where everyone can feel safe.
Why is this a positive movement for the University?
This is a positive movement because UVa is often stereotyped to have a majority white, affluent, elitist, conservative population. However, this portrayal erases much of the nuance of the diversity the community actually is composed of. We want to expand the image of UVa to include those whose identity is homogenized through this stereotype and those whose identity is not captured in this stereotype. This campaign is a platform to create a larger, ongoing conversation about diversity as a community, since often these conversations only take place separately and focus on one sole aspect of diversity. This campaign illustrates that we are more unified than meets the eye; if you look at the pictures, people from all types of backgrounds are expressing a part of themselves that often gets overlooked. We all experience moments when people may make assumptions about us, and this campaign is here to challenge those assumptions. We want our community to include the multiple aspects of people’s identities and the different voices who are all equally worthy of acceptance. Our hope is that the photo campaign facilitates both the recognition and the empathy for the diverse experiences shared.
How have students reacted?
In the five days since we launched the campaign, over 300 (+) alumni, current and prospective students, workers, faculty, staff, and Charlottesville community members have participated. People come excited to have their picture taken, and some have been so inspired by this event that they volunteered to help take photos for the Facebook and Tumblr pages. The reactions both expressed publically and to us personally have made it clear that the campaign has really resonated with many community members. Many individuals, including ourselves, have been moved to tears by the powerful and brave personal stories shared in the photos. There has been a critique that the “white, male” perspective has been under-represented in the campaign. This is linked to certain groups feeling that they have nothing diverse to share, because they feel their experience is reflective of the mainstream culture at UVa. However, all of us have multifaceted and dynamic experiences that make us unique, and we encourage everyone to share their experience, whatever it may be.
How can Her Campus readers get involved?
There are two ways! You can send a photo of yourself (white background please!) with your own personal message to firstname.lastname@example.org to be posted on our Facebook and Tumblr pages. We are also collecting personal stories, which can be submitted to us anonymously at:
The power of the campaign is in the community itself, who have embraced the project—we would love for you to be part of it!